Empathy for the Devils

 The theme of more than one of my discussions last week with fellow leaders in the industry was empathy, and why more designers don’t have much of it. You know that thing when you’ve designed your baby and now you just want everyone to say it’s cute? That’s a missed opportunity. One story I heard was a perfect example of the issue:

A young designer arrives as a consultant to an established business and offers advice. Senior business leader shouts at young designer, “What do you know about our customers and our business? We’ve been doing this for 20 years! We know what we’re doing!” Young designer learns valuable (painful) lesson.



We who work in Experience Design like to fancy ourselves empathetic champions of the user, but we forget there are multiple audiences for whom we need to develop empathy, and from whom we can learn. If you are doing design for Art’s sake, then ignore this. But for the other 99.9% of us who are designing toward a profitable end, we have to hone our skills in listening and empathy toward all our clients, not just the “end users.”

Business partners, product managers, folks in other disciplines, folks on other project teams…it’s tempting to think that your ideas are better, that you are most in touch with the problem and solution at hand, but I’ve seen countless hours wasted unproductively questioning direction or feedback. I’m not saying sit back and buy everything you’re told. And I am sure as hell not saying you should push the pixels at another’s command. I’m saying listen to your business partners.

Ask questions and digest the answers. Really absorb what the people around you are saying; imagine having their desires and knowledge. Remember that you have shared goals. Have some empathy for when none of you know. Make some collaborative assumptions and move on.  Everything you learn from your business partners makes your own business acumen that much stronger.


What are you doing to get curious?

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One Response to “Empathy for the Devils”

  1. Karol Czyrka →
    March 13, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    It’s about a culture that supports and builds off of ideas, vs one that shoots ideas down. It is so much easier for people to be negative. i wonder what drives that.