How User-Empathy Defines User Experience

By Arundati Dandapani, CMRP 

When was the last time you were exasperated by how long it took for you to make an online payment of your phone bill because the webpage wouldn’t load or your login details were not saved? Or remember when you nearly landed in a pothole enroute to work,  before you discovered Waze? How excited were you about Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for e-commerce properties and its high performance across devices?

None of us are immune to preferences that shape our expectations of products and services. For Microsoft Object Sharp’s Al Sajoo, our user experience (UX) is best built through “user empathy” where empathy equals “ease of use” and “clarity”. Products and services that get user-empathy right, are serving good UX.

No two users have the same experience and every user is different. Every UX project’s goal is not to satisfy every user, according to Sajoo, who also thinks that “UX is about meeting expectations than just gathering them. First you define the business objectives or design problem and then you create short stories that define user expectations and desired outcomes.” On the contrary, Kristina Cigic, a Senior User Experience Research Manager, highlights the problem with putting business objectives ahead of user needs, “The beauty of UX is that business needs come second. You don’t begin with business objectives. Actually, business objectives often compete with good UX.  Discovery research is (almost) always the starting point. You begin with a blank slate to uncover unmet user needs—those that can and cannot be articulated by the customer. Then you design to fit those needs, rather than the other way around. The goal is to satisfy every user, by recognizing that not every user is the same—this is where user personas and journey maps come in.”

Sajoo warned that in UX, 70% of your clients say everything is fine with their products and that they just want improvements to reduce training times, costs, heighten appeal, etc. If every user is unique, so is every industry. Blindly following industry standards is bad UX, instead trying to build from scratch and innovating would beget more success. What works for one interface, system or industry will not quite work for another. Cigic agrees, but only to the extent that there are accepted UX design principles. “You never take something on your assumption – you always go out and test, learn and iterate,” she cautions.

Sajoo’s UX best practices are captured below:

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User Empathy in Action

“UX hits and misses” from Sajoo’s presentation included:

Amazon Tide

Amazon’s innovative “Tide button” was introduced to eliminate consumers’ commutes to the store and to enable a direct online delivery to your cart before a purchase through Amazon Prime. The cons included being unprotected by a “child-lock”, and not leading to direct (one-click) checkout. Sajoo says it went out of the market quickly but predicts the product will return with improved features. clip_image003.png

TTC Transit app

The TTC website was cited as a complicated busy website, until its app came to the rescue of thousands of daily commuters. The Google Map app was even better, didn’t require an additional download; it was organic and on every phone. This was only superseded by Google’s Alexa voice-aided AI-powered experience.

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Google Glass vs. Snapchat Glasses

The clunky robotic overpriced Google Glasses ($1600) lost the competition to more functional, aesthetic, cheaper and easily vend-able Snapchat $25 dark-glasses! Serving dual-purposes and the customer’s pocket helped.

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There’s no such thing as a full-stack designer. According to Sajoo, it’s better to hire “UX people” than to grow an in-house UX team, although each company may have a different scope, budget, and resulting parameters for what’s best practice with their projects, within their industry frameworks. UX designers are passionate about interpreting user expectations and design to exceed them.

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Elements of user empathy can feature as vivid images, link blocking (ie., enabling an entire area to be clickable) and lots of parallax scrolling to create the effect of moving layers and a 3D-vision allowing users to experience many dimensions of an environment in real-time. Animation, video walkthroughs (and more recently augmented reality) are also exciting components of UX design.

Designers also need to understand the difference between responsive design and adaptive design. “Adaptive” is when you design for different devices – allowing you to use elements specific to mobile. Responsive is when your layout smoothly adjusts itself to the device regardless of the device it’s viewed on.

Slack as a team-platform offers the best example of iterative UX with its “first test then fix” philosophy. Great UX is thus all about knowing nothing or coming from a place of no assumptions.

Sajoo’s interactive workshop tasked my group with re-designing the following employee login page:

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We responded with – version 1.0 (left) and version 2.0 (right):

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Our audience critique was fair and aligned with our vision. “When mental models match, it’s a sign of intuitive design,” offered Dakoda Reid, Principal UC and Product Designer at Symantec, leading another UX workshop at Bitmaker.  Reid believes that UX design has the power to make ordinary people superheroes, whether with a simple calculator or with a complex design tool as Google Analytics. His secret sauce? “Why” is the best word in UX, and something you need to keep asking as a UX designer—Reid finds himself obsessing over the “why’s” relentlessly.

Regardless of your preferred UX research methodology, not adhering to strong UX design principles nor weaving the right research questions around your users could prove costly for your brands. The consequences of not displaying user-empathy could range from hot spills to the more jocular Halloween gig!

Additional Reading:

UX Dribble, Daily UI, Material UI, Adobe Cloud, Adobe XD

 

Most visuals pictured above are from Microsoft Object Sharp’s workshop presentation. 

Arundati Dandapani, CMRP (@itadnura).