Empathy is not an overused or empty word. In the user experience field we can often hear about the empathy, but do we do everything to stimulate project team to feel deep compassion? I consider that the ability of deep understanding of people is a base of good design. I think everyone is able to be empathic.
Personas, empathy maps and another tools are waste of time if people in project team are not sensitized. When I present results of research I often use short videos or quotes. It usually helps to understand users better. I also invite team members to watch interview or test sessions, to hear what people say and to watch what people do. But recently I stronger believe that knowledge and understanding of wider social context is a must. I see the necessity for project team to know social phenomena from macro perspective and to adopt quantitative data about society.
Numbers have the power and they get even stronger when we work on complex or more distant subject. For people who earn a lot and have no debts it can be hard to understand those he earn less and deal with loans. From this perspective it is easy to judge single person as a loser and absent-minded. If his life is distant from ours we can easily come up with unfair opinion. What if we recognize that his financial condition is average and most of people live this way? What if we see that he has problems as millions of others? And what if we get know that our incomes are higher than money earned by 70% of population?
Financial issues are only one of the examples. We also like to judge people because of different level of self-agency, social involvement, cultural activities, taste, etc.
I think this problem is a real challenge for an UX researcher.
Sensitizing project team should start from getting a bigger perspective. Giving team members knowledge about society is a chance to understand single user they design for. It could be helpful to understand users in a good way and build a real impression about them. It is important to present team members quantitative data, including numbers in qualitative reports. Numbers can show the scale of the phenomenon.
Researcher’s knowledge is something more than the ability to make a tests. It’s about being between the world of designers and diverse society.
We live in bubble of colourful post-its, mac’s computers, high incomes, home offices, meet-ups and new technologies. From this point of view the world can look different. We have to learn a lot about society and empathy. Thanks to this we will be able to better understand people who we design for.