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User Research is the Key to Empathy

At Dribbble, we get a unique opportunity to stay connected to thousands of designers around the globe, watch their skills and careers progress, and see how the industry is continually changing. In the last few years, we’ve noticed that companies all across North America have focused on amplifying their design practice by growing their design teams. This bodes well for us designers as many companies are realizing that design is a competitive advantage and that good user experience is good business. We could even go so far as to call this the golden age of design and, indeed, many have.

As designers, we have an important job of putting our users first and striving to build things that people will truly love. This means relying on empathy in our process and deepening our understanding of our users.

Yet are we all doing enough to build deep and lasting empathy?

Increasing our empathy

Of course, none of us can ever fully understand our users, but we can invest in quality research that helps us bridge the gap. Here are some ways we can accomplish that:

1. Choosing qualitative research


Image Credit: Matt Lavoie. Here’s an example of the value of each type of research. Quantitative can help you uncover “how many” or “how much” while qualitative can help you uncover the “why”.

Both quantitative and qualitative research are important to the product creation process, but qualitative research provides you with something that quantitative research simply cannot, which is understanding the “why” behind a user’s behavior or thoughts. Understanding that “why” is what builds empathy and understanding with our users.

2. Getting involved with the research

Another key way we can build empathy is to be part of the research process. If it’s not possible for you to conduct the research yourself, ask the researcher on your team if you can sit in on the qualitative research sessions (i.e. interviews, usability testing, observation, etc.). This helps you see first-hand what the user is saying and what they are feeling. Seeing is believing, as they say — it’s much easier to keep the user front and center after you’ve seen and heard directly from them.

If it is not possible to sit in on the session, then watching/listening to a recording is the next best thing. If you only hear clips or read a research report, you are missing out on key context on why the user felt and thought the way they did. This opens the door for assumptions to creep into the process.

3. Creating tools for understanding

After conducting quality research, it’s important to do what we can to keep those users top of mind. It’s also important to be discerning and not react to everything we learn. For instance, if one user told us they only want to see shots that contain purple because that’s their favorite color, but all other users mentioned loving the variety of colors present in shots, then it doesn’t make sense to change everyone’s default shot view to purple. Instead, we need to focus on the pattern of findings that are similar between users. For example:

  • What goals do our users have?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What are their behaviors?

Distilling this information down into research-based-personas, user stories, and journey maps can be a great way to share the findings with the team. Also, be sure to tell a story with your findings, so that other team members can build some empathy as well (after all, you’re the user champion!).

4. Testing often

Learning is something that is never done. People change. Products change. The world changes. A continuous cycle of learning helps to keep our empathy deep and lasting. Understanding our users makes good business sense as it enables us to build the right products.

Final thoughts

At Dribbble, we’re driven by our core value that community comes first. We believe that it’s not enough to guess at what our community wants, or to design for what we would want. Even though we’re largely designers on the Dribbble team, we are not our users. To understand our users we must bring research into our practice and be connected to that research in a deeper way. Only then can we steer in the right direction and build something our community truly loves.

This post was originally published on Medium. Follow the Dribbble team on Medium for more updates.

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