Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to be an Empathic Web Designer

Designing with respect for the user ...

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” - Douglas Adams

Part of being a web designer is trying to understand and make sense of how people are using your design. Therefore, being empathic, or having the ability to share and understand the feelings of another, is a valuable trait to have. The more empathic you are, the more you can understand how people are using your design, how they think and feel about it, and what you need to do to make it great.

But how do you become empathic? What if you’re not naturally an empathic person? Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when I feel like I’m getting too far away from the people I design for.

Keep an open mind

It is a great irony that the people who claim to have open minds probably have closed ones, and the people who fear most a closed mind probably have the most open ones. But fear in this case is an enabler, as it allows the designer to keep up their energy and watchfulness for something new, something they didn’t understand before, something that is key to the success of their design. Once you have everything figured out, it’s time to stop designing.

Realize that people make sense to themselves

No matter what people do, however irrational it may appear, they probably make sense to themselves. So even if they do something that seems completely off the wall, try to understand it, at least from their perspective and in their context. Often this has the effect of changing the way you see what you’re working on, not temporarily but permanently.

Take a partnership role

Too often we take an expert or specialist role in what we’re doing. This is normal, as it reinforces our need to be there. But if we can take a partnership role, especially with the people who we design for, then we open ourselves up to many more opportunities to learn. This is partly because we are more ready for it, and partly because most people like being in a partnership more than other types of relationships. One of the tricks of usability testing facilitation is to always talk in terms of partnership…as in “we need your help and together we can make this product better”."    (Continued via Bokardo)    [Usability Resources]

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