As a web designer, having the ability to empathise with the users you are designing for is one of the most important skills you can possess.

But what is empathy and is is essential in UX design?

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to relate to someone's needs, thoughts and emotions. If you are empathetic, you are able to put yourself in the shoes of others. Psychologist Alfred Adler describes empathy as "seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another". It is a vital component of social interaction and in the building of human relationships.

Empathy is often mistaken for sympathy. Whilst the two are very similar and are related to suffering, there is a crucial difference. Sympathy acknowledges someone else's pain but not necessarily sharing those feelings. Whereas, empathy is about choosing to feel the pain.

Empathy in UX design

Empathy plays an important role in UX design and is used at various stages of the design process. It allows UX designers to put themselves in the shoes of their users to get a deeper understanding of their needs, desires and frustrations. As Tim Brown, chair and designers at IDEO, states, empathy is "the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel and experience, design is a pointless task".

To achieve this, UX designers will conduct interviews to gather in-depth knowledge about users. This information is broken down and used in user personas as well as empathy and journey maps. User personas are fictional yet realistic representations of typical users that highlight their goals and motivations. Empathy maps visualise a user's thoughts, feelings and actions, and journey maps ensure the user flow, design and content is always aligned with the user's needs. These maps are shared with the wider team to not only improve collaboration but to gain new perspectives.

Throughout the design process, UX designers are encouraged to make design decisions based on facts rather than on assumptions. A good UX designer is one that is always aware of their own boas and doesn't assume users think or act the way they do

Key takeaways

Having empathy for users is something that all UX designers should practise and apply to their projects. Through user personas, empathy and journey maps they can identify the needs and expectations of users. With this knowledge, UX designers can begin to adopt an empathic approach which will result in websites becoming user-centric and functional. They will also resonate with users more on an emotional level.