I tried hard to keep this major secret to myself, but looks like it can't wait anymore. I will unveil it now.
Empathy is the most important tool of a UX designer.
In other words, a feeling of affinity with others.
Everyone has heard that to catch a criminal one has to think like this criminal. To understand users, one has to become a user and start an account with any new web app that happens to come around.
There's a very simple technique that can be used to develop empathy: watching yourself. You need to ask yourself such questions as:
- What makes me happy at this very moment?
- Why do I often mix right and left?
- How did I know that this non-underscored text is a link?
While others suffer from muzzy reflections, phobias and clumsiness, you can easily turn those faults into advantages.
Once you've come to terms with yourself, move on to your loved ones. Ask them questions and try to guess the answers:
- Sweetheart, why are you so hysterical about this witty thing I've just said? Why this very thing?
- What motivates you to put bread to the fridge?
- How did you know that this blue button represents a call to action?
Do whatever it takes to retrieve honest answers as you check your assumptions.
With time and practice, you'll learn to see the world with any stranger's eyes. Closing your eyelids and relaxing in the chair, you will effortlessly visualize how your user scenarios are followed by a globe-trotting freelancer in Thailand, or a boxer politician from the Ukraine, or by Angela, the lady who cleans the office on Thursday late afternoons.
The personas method popularized by Allan Cooper will seem an innocent child's game.
Slow down, slow down, it's not all that blissful.
Empathy does not endow magical powers to read everyone's mind, understand the motives and predict which button will be clicked. In most cases there's even no need for that.
What empathy does though: it helps UX designers to get a bit higher above such coolish things as kerning, "pixel perfect", skeuomorphism, flat designs, mock-ups, UI kits and discover completely new challenges.
You won't get bored for the rest of eternity helping real people with real problems.
*rendered into English by Olga Kouzina. The original article is in Russian.