Good design is all about empathy


I don’t pretend at all that I’m a designer.

I can’t create a logo, lay out a brochure, nor design a website. I don’t have a portfolio to show anyone.

But I think I know the difference between good design and bad design, primarily because I have empathy.

I’m sure designers of all types are rolling their eyes right now.

I think anyone who has empathy with a user of a product or anything where design is important (which is pretty much everything) can be a good judge of design. We may not know the techniques or secrets of how to properly design something, but as an end user, we know when we experience good or bad design.

Sure, Apple makes beautiful products. They are certainly amazing at product design.

They’re also very good at experience design. Walk into an Apple Store and you’ll see.

The interior design is striking. The product displays are interactive. The Genius Bar experience is great.

That’s the thing – design doesn’t have to be limited to products.

Design is everywhere, from physical products, to online interfaces, to waiting to check out at the supermarket. The best designs are the ones that empathize with the user, while bad designs prioritize other factors over user experience.

Case in point – I was in Austin a few weeks ago and waited on a line for 1.5 hours to buy brisket, pulled pork, and other barbecued goodies at La Barbecue.

Good design was when they provided umbrellas to shield customers from the hot sun and rolled out a keg to serve free beer to everyone on line. They know that waiting on line isn’t a pleasant experience, but they empathized with the customer and provided services to make the experience less painful.

Bad design was only having two people work the food truck. That may have been an economical decision; regardless, it caused the wait to be unnecessarily long and detracted from the experience.

Additionally, the guy who prepared the meat was also taking orders and writing them down with a fat sharpie on the paper on which he served your food. Not efficient.

And after you got your food, you had to walk to another window toward the back of the line to pay. Then you had to cut through all of the people on line to get to the tables to eat. Really bad layout and flow design.

Design can be as complex as designing a software operating system and as simple as the layout of a queue.

You may not be able to always prioritize design, but when you do, make sure that you empathize with the user as much as possible.

What are your thoughts about empathy and design? Tell me about them in the comments!

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