Saturday, 19/Oct/2019

Blog entry
Predictive empathy

Predictive empathy

Photo credit: quinn.anya ⇥ / CC BY-SA ⇥

If your job is even remotely associated with the User Experience Design field it is almost guaranteed you came across the word 'empathy'. Rarely you find an industry so attached and grounded to a single human trait.

So what is it about empathy that makes it so important to User Experience Design? Before we examine this relationship, let us explore the trait itself.

What is empathy?

The Oxford dictionary defines empathy as 'The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.' There are largely two kinds of empathy, Cognitive and Emotional.

Cognitive empathy can be summed up as the ability to understand another's feelings, and Emotional empathy as the ability to share another's emotional experience. Both kinds of empathy are a direct response to someone else's emotional and mental state.

A different kind of empathy

I would like to introduce a third kind of empathy, Predictive empathy.

Predictive empathy, as the name suggests, is the ability to construct a hypothetical situation in mind and predict, understand, and emulate another's potential emotional and mental state while in that situation.

Predictive empathy is quite crucial in the field of User Experience Design. The UX designer is designing experiences intended for others. For an experience to be pleasant and have the desired effect, the designer needs to be able to empathise with the intended user. Quite importantly this includes edge cases, irrespective of how few or far fetched they might be.

Quite often these experiences are designed first, based on assumptions, and validated with intended users afterwards. This holds true especially in agile approaches.

The ability to predict the emotional and mental state of intended users and exercise empathy becomes very important. It can save time, effort and more importantly can account for any use case the experience is not validated against.

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