The profession of Experience Design requires you to have empathy for the people who will use the service of product. The best designers I have ever met are highly emphatic, very humble and of course very able. Empathy is however often confused with sympathy and it is often not well understood who much we need to work to create empathic designs. This is ultimately what is man by "delighting he customer".
Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions that someone else is feeling. Empathy is about recognising the emotions that someone else is feeling and being able to identify with them, to put yourself in their shoes. You share their feelings.
Sympathy on the other hand means that you can identify the feelings of another, not that you share in those emotions. You acknowledge hardship, but don't necessarily feel the emotion.
It's possible to have empathy for someone and have no sympathy, for example if someone does something stupid and hurts themselves (think back to all those Fail videos on Youtube), you might feel their pain but feel no sympathy. On the other hand, if someone hurts themselves coming down the stairs, you might feel both.
Active empathy is when you react through sensations and feelings to the emotions of another. You might feel stressed if they show fear for example. You experience active empathy from when you are a baby, through sensing emotions physically.
Cognitive empathy is your ability to understand and identify other people's emotions. You develop this around 3-4 years old, when you begin to understand that people experience the world differently.
Compassionate empathy is your ability to understand and identify with emotions, but also feel spontaneously moved to help. This is something you develop yourself through a deep understanding of yourself and others.
Having empathy is the first necessary step towards compassionate action. Nurses, medical doctors, counsellors, teachers,...all require compassionate empathy. So do experience designers. When you have empathy for the people who will use the product, or the service, you enter into their experience of it.
It's even tougher for experience designers, because they need to develop empathy for a large number of people who they will never meet. There lots of tools that we can use to cultivate the empathy required to design something great, as well as triggering compassion in the team. Personas have long been used to remind everyone of the people we are designing for. Storytelling allows us to role play the experiences, and develop a greater understanding and awareness of user needs. Dogfooding (using your own service/product) allows you to experience everything first hand, with the caveat that it is one kind of experience amongst many other perspectives.
Emphatic people are good communicators because they can undersand that people can have different perspectives. They know how to allow room and respect for those different points of view, and can change their communication style to adapt to the situation. It allows you to get a software team on board and to listen and learn from to all kinds of people.
Emphatic experience design examples:
- Shared language
- Pre-populating form fields
- User research (listening & observing)
- User journeys
It pays attention to the feelings of the people using the product / service.
Sympathetic experience design examples:
- Help text
It ensures that the people using the software / service can accomplish their task.
Empathy is crucial for experience designers, much more important in my opinion than the ability to code or do visual design. Without an empathy-driven design process, it's impossible to create something people will enjoy being a part of, a valuable and delightful experience.