3 Steps to Building Digital Empathy in Your Products

Ilanid Garcia

Ilanid Garcia

"Empathy isn't something they teach us in school or in colleges, but it's something we all long for." I read this phrase some time ago and felt the need to share it at the start this article. Empathy not only improves how we relate with our teams, but also, it opens the possibility of creating wonderful products for our users.

There's a lot of talk about empathy, but do we actually understand it? According to the Cambridge Dictionary empathy is: "the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation."

How, though, does this shared feeling span across networks, sites, and content? What is the nature of the connection itself? There are conceptual frameworks that can help us not only categorize the types of empathy, but also help us understand the nature of empathy across our digital channels, and can remind us of simple practices we can undertake to help bring more empathy to our daily lives.

3 types of empathy

A simple way to categories expressions of empathy are as one of these three types:

Cognitive empathy: 

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another person's way of thinking. You may not necessarily share someone's conclusions, but the ability to follow along with the way that someone thinks about a subject is the expressed ability to empathize with them on a logical level.

Emotional empathy:

Empathy at the emotional level allows us to connect with the emotions of others, even without necessarily understanding the way they are thinking about a particular subject. You may not understand a complex physics problem or engineering dilemma, but you can still emotionally connect with someone who may be frustrated or anxious to find a solution.

Empathic interest: 

Empathic interest allows us to know what another person wants or needs from themselves. Aside from the logic of their thoughts or identifying their emotional states, this category of empathy focuses on understanding incentives and desires on an empathic, emotional level.

6 tips for practicing empathy

"How do I know if I am an empathic person. How can I start to be one?"

While none of these are necessarily simple to adhere to, they are important to always bear in mind if you want to be more empathetic. Here are 6 tips to practice empathy in your daily life (a good start to bringing empathy to your products):

1. Eliminate prejudices and stereotypes.

2. Avoid jumping to conclusions.

3. Show interest in other people.

4. Talk unhurriedly and respecting communication times.

5. Validate the ideas and emotions of others. Even if you do not share them or do not agree with them.

6. Understand that everyone has their own way of seeing the world.

This framework provides a path for self-analysis of our ability to relate to society and sharpen our soft skills.

How else can we put this framework in practice? How can we bring this skill to our products? Through digital empathy.

What is Digital Empathy?

Digital Empathy is the process in which a person analyzes, reflects, projects, predicts and feels through communication or interaction with the digital world.

Digital empathy is crucial to be able to formulate and form responsible, sustainable and cohesive products from a multidisciplinary creation context.

A digital strategy will be the way to make empathetic decisions that will later become creative opportunities for your product.

Empathy and insights 🌈

If you walk in your users' shoes, you're able to generate more personalized insights. You're able to trace an accurate path to follow. Think of insight as an important piece of information we needed to solve an equation. Now, let's imagine the quality of that information, as it goes hand-in-hand with empathy.

It's important to remember that an insight is not a piece of data. As such, an insight isn't a user desire, nor an observation. An insight is the understanding of a real need, this can be an opinion, an experience or even a behavior. If we work with an insight based on empathy, we're able to solve user conflicts with our digital products in clearer, and more creative ways.

Building products with digital empathy: 3 key steps

Some time ago, the Modyo Design Lab assembled a digital strategy that consisted of 3 basic steps to generate creative and empathetic ideas with our users:

Step 1: User Personas or ProtoPersonas

The first step is to generate a Protopersona or User Persona. Before we continue, let's clarify: User Personas are semi-fictional characters, almost always based on our potential market, that is, our target audience. These User Personas are almost always obtained through interviews or previous research. Protopersonas are also fictitious users, but they are built when we do not have resources to obtain information about users, this collection is indirect and sometimes we can rely on demographic and sociological aspects, behaviors or the needs of our users.

For this exercise I introduced Fred to the Lab. A character, Fred is a protopersona with certain parameters already defined:

Step 2: Empathy Map

Once Fred is presented, as a team we build an Empathy Map. 

Empathy maps are an excellent tool to know the psychographic characteristics of our users, this way we better understand the wants and needs of our potential customers. 

How do we start? 

1. We place a picture of Fred.

2. We divide our board into four sections.

3. In each section we write a series of questions:

🎲 What does he think and feel?: What gives his life meaning? What worries him?  What makes him happy?

🎲 What does he say and do?: What have we heard him say? What is he going to do today? What behavior have we observed?

🎲 What does he see?:  What does he see in his immediate environment? What does he see others doing and saying? What is he watching or reading?

🎲 What is he hearing?: What is he hearing his friends say? What is he hearing from others about the Krusty Krab?

All of us as a team write on sticky notes what we consider Fred's feeling, doing, seeing and hearing. For 4 minutes we write down all our ideas and continue with the next quadrant until we finish. Once we complete all quadrants we read our ideas and put them in order.

Step 3: Insights

After the empathy mapping exercise is complete, it's time to generate our insights based on Fred's experiences that we've identified. These insights allow us to identify which creative elements would be of value to Fred in our digital product.

Why pursue a digital empathy strategy?

The digital empathy strategy allows you to: 

  • Reach niche audiences more easily.
  • Relate your brand or product with a lifestyle or personality.
  • Justify in the user's mind why your product is better.
  • Create a differential value in the product.
  • Increase communication and feedback with your users.
  • Justify the act of purchase or consumption in the user's mind.

Generating a process and a strategy based on digital empathy allows you to trace a path of loyalty with your consumer. Designing your product based on good user experiences allows you to stand out in a space already saturated by coldness, indifference, and a lack of empathy. 

I hope this article serves as a spark for change. I hope it gives you ideas, ideas to generate products that go beyond a screen; and that social and digital empathy will allow you to generate deeper and more meaningful interactions.


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