To be a UX designer is to understand the holistic picture of an experience while simultaneously paying attention to minute details in the pursuit of identifying and solving problems. Whew! Approaching this subject may seem overwhelming or intimidating at first, but good UX design is an invaluable asset for a product, service, or brand. That’s a tall order. No matter your project, to create a good user experience you must understand some of the key principles of UX design.
You can’t solve a problem you don’t know about. Seems like an obvious concept, right? But too often we don’t follow this advice. We assume we know what the problem is going into a project and just jump straight to coming up with solutions. To find out what users need, you spend the first stage of the design thinking process conducting research - often in the form of interviews, observations, and surveys – in order to empathize and better understand the needs of all users in a product’s ecosystem. Your research findings then inform the second stage of the design thinking process, define, and help you craft your project’s problem statement.
No one website, app, or piece of software can cater to the infinite number of differences its users may have. You simply can't design everything for everybody. You can, though, look for the common denominators in people and solve for those problems. While a website may have a million users, each with a unique experience on the granular level, you may create just 3 or 4 personas into which most of them would relate in some way. You would do this in order to keep your project user-centered, but out of the weeds and focused on attainable goals.
By using empathy, a UX designer can recognize people’s needs and design products, services, or experiences that work for them. The reality show Undercover Boss is an example of how someone can gain empathy for users. I watched an episode featuring the CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop to show just how much user information you can gain in a relatively short amount of time. My empathy maps of the company's CEO and an employee demonstrate how multiple people can have different experiences, even within the same company, and why UX designers must gain insight into every type of user in the ecosystem of a product or service.
Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand their feelings, even if you haven’t had the same experiences as them. It's an important part of the design thinking process. In order to gain empathy for users, UX designers conduct extensive user research. Empathy maps are a great visual tool for organizing, communicating, and synthesizing this research into helpful user insights.