Empathy-Driven Development: A Game-Changer

The success of a company does not rely solely on the technical capabilities of its employees. 

In fact, since the 1980s, companies have placed increasing value on non-technical skills; communication skills, emotional and social intelligence, and personality traits are just a few examples of what are now known as “soft skills.” These attributes help employers identify great fits for their company, regardless of job function, and consequently have a great influence on principles and culture.  

Nowadays, these core skills have become just as valuable as technical skills, if not more. According to a study conducted by LinkedIn, 57% of employers consider “soft skills” to be more important than technical skills.

The tech industry hasn’t been an exception to the trend. Skills like collaboration, leadership, communication, and time management are some of the most common traits that software development companies align with. There’s one skill, though, that is often underestimated, but can make a big difference when applied to the digital world: EMPATHY.

In this article, we’ll explain how empathy-driven development improves user experience and usability, and how it can transform team dynamics. 

What is empathy?

In a few words, empathy refers to the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Being empathetic means understanding the feelings, emotions, and constraints that other people experience in a specific context.  Although empathy is not merely a human capability, it plays an essential role in human interaction; it allows us to communicate in a better way, to socialize, to learn from each other, to collaborate, and to love.

Why is empathy-driven development important?

Digital products are developed to solve specific problems our users are having. The better we are able to understand the problem and its implications, the easier it will be to define an appropriate solution. This is where empathy comes into play. 

Empathy helps us comprehend the needs, demands, and limitations our users have when facing a particular situation. By putting ourselves into their shoes, we—as digital product developers—will be able to assess the whole picture. Therefore, we will design products more accurately, following a clearer path with well-defined goals aligned to our user’s expectations. For instance, if we are creating a product for older adults, we may want to pay closer attention to things like readability, cognitive load, and accessibility. Additionally, empathy can help us to achieve a better understanding of our clients and their business needs. What are they looking for? What are they trying to achieve? How are they visualizing the product we are developing? 

Being empathetic also helps improve team dynamics. Getting to know your teammates on a deeper level, and learning about their careers and previous experiences, will create a stronger connection within the team. An emphasis on empathy creates an opportunity for the team to bond, producing enhanced communication and a healthier working environment. 

Who should learn this skill?

According to Georgiy Kassabli, iOS Accessibility Lead at Facebook, those working in the technology field have lower levels of empathy, specifically males, when compared to other industries. But at the end of the day, everyone can benefit from the practice of empathy. From UX designers to software engineers, to scrum masters and project managers, empathy-driven development can help all of us better understand and connect with our users. 

Being empathetic can have a great impact on any software development project. For instance, when working on a legacy system, software engineers with a higher level of empathy will leave clear evidence and documentation of their work. By doing so, when someone else has to work on the system, they will have a better understanding of it, no matter if the engineers who initially wrote the code are no longer available.

How can we develop empathy at work?

There’s a strong connection between communication and empathy. Good communication allows you to discover and understand different perspectives. Try to listen carefully to what your users and teammates have to say. Avoid interrupting them and be open-minded. 

You can also try to analyze in-depth who your users really are. Observing, conducting interviews, and analyzing your findings are excellent ways to be more in-sync, not only with your end-users, but with your clients as well.

Last but not least, stay on the path of humility. Embrace using “We” instead of “I,” celebrate your teammates’ achievements, and remain humble. 

By applying these tips to your work life, you will notice how your mindset will start to change, and you’ll see your projects from a completely different point of view. It’ll be easier for you to set goals and make decisions because you’ll know exactly what is expected. Additionally, being empathetic at work will also be reflected in your personal life. You will be more compassionate, communicative, and kind to the people around you.

In conclusion

Empathy-driven development results in more effective software and more successful teams. If we take the time to fully understand the problem and provide an accurate solution to our users, adoption will increase and all the hard work and investment will be worth it. 

To recap, some of the benefits that you will get from applying empathy to your digital products will be:

  • Software that fits your user’s and client’s expectations
  • Improved team communication
  • A healthier workplace

Remember, working with empathetic individuals also improves teamwork. People are happier in an understanding and open-minded environment.


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