Empathy: The Heart of Good Design

Reading Creative Confidence By Tom and David Kelly of IDEO made me realize more than ever how much empathy plays a role in creating truly great and impactful designs.

We all know of this age-old rule: Art is for the Artist and Design is for the User.

So why is it that so many designers today are forgetting this rule and continue to design visuals and experiences for themselves?

I’m the first one to admit that we have made a few selfish designs in the past. Though not always intentional, we’ve placed buttons in locations where we’d like them to be, chose fonts that we just liked and even chose colors without really taking a deeper dive into who the audience really is. And by doing so, we were not doing our job as professional designers and ultimately made a disservice to our clients and their users.

So, how can designers prevent unintentional selfish designing from happening?

The answer: Design Empathy.

Design empathy is an approach that draws upon people’s real-world experiences to address modern challenges. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is simply a pointless task.

Empathy is a powerful force. Research shows that when we are empathetic, we enhance our ability to receive and process information. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes—a part of our subconscious behavior—causes measurable changes in our cognitive style, increasing our so-called field-dependent thinking.

Our work as designers is to fully understand our users or at least try to put ourselves in our user’s shoes. And in order to understand users we need to understand their needs and goals that are often hidden – or at least the user is not aware of them.

The best way to understand the users (and probably most popular among designers) is observation. By observing how people use products in their natural environments, a designer is able to get into other peoples’ shoes and see what otherwise would be incomprehensible.

So next time you find yourself stuck with a project or find that a design isn’t performing as you imagined it would, get out in the world and see how real life users interact with your design. Are they levitating towards something you didn’t expect them to? Are they helplessly clicking on something they were hoping was a link? Are they getting distracted by some design element? These observations will help you design something that solves their problem and needs. Not just something new and beautiful.

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Ignazio Lacitignola

Founder & Designer

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Ignazio Lacitignola

Founder & Designer

Meet Ignazio, affectionately known as “Igi” to friends and colleagues. An Italian designer, creative and entrepreneur who finds it a bit peculiar to refer to himself in the third person, but he’s willing to do so for the sake of this bio.

From his earliest memories, Ignazio’s mind has been a canvas of creativity, and his love for digital design ignited as soon as he could afford a computer and an internet connection that wasn’t the sluggish 56k dial-up.

Growing up in the less glamorous corners of Milan, Italy, Ignazio defied the odds, earning honors at Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti without ever brushing shoulders with the law.

Following his heart’s call, he ventured across the Atlantic to San Francisco, USA, to immerse himself in the startup and User Experience world. It was here that he kickstarted his journey with Meno Design, a digital design studio dedicated to distilling complex digital experiences into their essence, while learning through experimentation.

In Ignazio’s eyes, every piece of design is a potential masterpiece, an artistic expression in its own right. His ongoing challenge is harmonizing his meticulous attention to detail, sometimes bordering on OCD, with the practical timely demands.

Beneath his approachable and calm exterior lies a delight of colorful Italian cursing that surface whenever he stumbles upon poor design choices—though it’s worth noting that he’s incredibly friendly, and a simple “ciao” is always welcomed.