The first step to design? Say what?

empathy 1

Stanford’s D school has a design methodology that is a true miracle.  The D School is an interdisciplinary school that teaches design.  The first step . . . wait for it . . . is . . . EMPATHIZE!  When I talk to engineers about this method, they are dubious.  What?  Empathize?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Isn’t that that crazy, soft stuff we’ve been hearing about?  That soft stuff that’s so important to the success of projects?  That icky stuff that contributes to collaboration?  Can’t we just give you a solution right away?  Do we really have to empathize?

The answer is YES YOU DO!

The steps are:


Define the problem




I will be going through the other four steps in future blogs, but for now, let’s focus on the first step, which is to EMPATHIZE.  You must ask the right questions of your user  and find out what they truly need.  And needs doesn’t mean ONLY technical needs.  Needs extends to the emotional, the physical, even the spiritual.  There is a great tool called an empathy map.  See the link at the bottom for a pdf of this method.  Basically, you explore four areas during this inquiry:

When you have a session with the user, you ask lots of good, leading questions.  Then, you start noting details of the following four areas:

SAY: What are some quotes and defining words your user said?

DO: What actions and behaviors did you notice?

THINK: What might your user be thinking? What does this tell you about his or her beliefs?

FEEL: What emotions might your subject be feeling?

So, when faced with a problem, remember the first step:  EMPATHIZE!


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