Empathy in Pop-up Experience Design - Medallion Retail
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Empathy in Pop-up Experience Design

POSTED ON: 08/10/17 Holiday Retail

My workmates and I are revamping a website, so I‘ve been thinking about user experience (UX) creation a bit more than usual. Specifically, how it applies to pop-up experience design. I’m familiar with many UX principles – visual consistency, simplicity, organic navigation, testing, cognitive flow – because I use them every day when creating pop-ups.

One surprised me, though: empathy.

Empathy is an awareness of the feelings, needs, concerns and emotions of other people. Sympathy is what one feels for someone. Empathy is feeling with another person.

And while I always did research and created personas as part of my pop-up experience design process, I never felt I was being particularly empathetic. The word felt mushy and unscientific. But by looking at empathy as a concept through the eyes of the UX designer, I got it.

Empathy fuels connection.

How? Here are four great articles and one cool video that help explain what empathy means in a design context, and how it can be applied to awesome – and connective – pop-up experience design.

Explore Empathy

What is Empathy?

Seung Chan Lim examines empathy in great detail, and offers some actionable tips on how to become more empathetic.

He considers empathy from a holistic perspective, stating that people like to think that they possess this quality if they’re able to listen to others. But in actual fact it goes deeper than that.  Empathy is about giving, receiving and feeling unity with others.

As designers we need to avoid false empathy – when we listen but don’t really hear. Paradoxically, the best way to get great user insight is to not focus solely on getting the insights. Instead to try to really understand the user. We need authentic empathy rather than tossing it around as a marketing buzzword.

The author recommends that we stop thinking of users as a problem to solve and instead become aware of our prejudices. Engage users in conversation, listen without judging and then wait for a sense of understanding that will lead to a valuable insight. Then design.


Empathic Design: Is Empathy the UX Holy Grail?

This piece provides a good introduction to the UX design process, noting that there is often a lack of closeness between designers and users during the design process.


How to use empathy in design without killing millions of women

An interesting look at the dark side of empathy, and how it can be used as a tool to sell more products to people.

The title refers to an event that happened in 1929. Cigarette companies, in a bid to reach women, capitalized on the feminist movement. Edward Bernays paid women to march in the Easter Sunday Parade while smoking cigarettes, or as he described them, “Torches of Freedom.”

The article recommends making research a team sport. The goal is that the whole team, not just the designers, think and create with the user in mind.


Adapting empathy maps for UX design

And finally, once able to understand how to be more empathetic, what should we do with the insights gained?

The most common empathy-related deliverable is the empathy map. In this classic post, famous UX-strategist Paul Boag gives the traditional map a twist by turning it into a poster.

Boag also stresses the importance of adapting UX tools to the specific circumstance. The type of deliverables needed can vary depending on the project and the stakeholders involved.

Dr. Brené Brown on Empathy

Not strictly for designers, this well-made animation features Dr. Brené Brown discussing the differences between empathy and sympathy. She examines Theresa Wiseman’s four qualities of empathy: perspective taking, staying out of judgment (which she admits is really hard for most of us!), understanding another’s feelings and being able to communicate that you understand.

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