Best Kind of Design Empathy

Cognitive and Affective Empathy have the highest appropriate response

So calm and charming to annoying in seconds. What happened? Something at work was a little annoying. I was irritated and was talking with my wife, hoping to change the thought. My 8 year boy starts acting up and is seeking negative attention. Even when he is asked to redirect, he continues …

As he grew up, my son always had an interesting ability to feel someone else’s energy. He is an empathetic person. People like to say that you need to be empathetic to be a good designer. My son experiences other people’s energy all the time but it has taken years to understand what is going on. Physical Empathy does not always enable him to give the correct response.

The 7th grade class assignments were handed out and my daughter ended up in the smallest and most challenging differentiated class again. Kids in the class wear headphones to focus, another had a cardboard shield, and most left the class for an hour or two of instruction. My daughter was placed in these classes from an early age because she could work with boys, girls, in groups, or with people who were having a hard day. She was always sympathetic.

My daughter was able to respond appropriately not because she puts herself in other people’s shoes, because she can sympathize with what they are going through.

Emotionally we have the ability to be in synch with people or out of synch. There is a long spectrum in between and the extremes are very difficult to provide the appropriate response or to create the correct analysis. At one extreme, Pity is completely out of synch with the people we are working with. At the other extreme, Physical and Emotional empathy are so in synch that it is very difficult for most people separate to be objective and create an appropriate response.

As we look at other responses , we can see an improvement in assessment and response as the person Sympathizes or can think about putting themselves in someone else’s shoes using Cognitive Empathy. Ultimately, a well practiced researcher uses Affective Empathy to understand the human context in the deepest of ways that allow for the optimal analysis and appropriate response to the people they are working with.

Pity, Sympathy, and Empathy – let’s define for a UX Researcher and Designer:

  • Affective Empathy: The optimal balance of putting oneself into someone else’s shoes and the real ability to provide valuable insights in the human context
  • Cognitive Empathy: Course work and Design Thinking encourage us to get in other people’s shoes. With this in mind some of us become very proficient at assessing the situation … at least at an arms length
  • Sympathy: Very in the middle … cannot really get in the other person’s shoes but senses enough to be able to assess the basic needs of the situation
  • Emotional Empathy: So in synch that there is an emotional response that inhibits the ability to assess the situation
  • Physical Empathy: So in synch that there is a somatic/physical response which is very difficult to interpret
  • Pity: Out of synch with people and not able to make appropriate decisions

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