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My (Em)Path to UX Design

For over 20 years, I worked at large ad agencies creating campaigns for USAA, Chevy, Coke and McDonald’s. Five years ago, I never considered a career in UX. Yet, it feels like my experience as a creative supervisor has led to this.

I've had some great opportunities to share some UX knowledge at some events. Working for an insurance brand, empathy is key to connecting to our customers, but it's applicable to any brand. Here are some highlights from my talk, "Taking the (Em)Path to Human-Centered Design at UX Camp Chicago:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said.

People will forget what you did,

But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

- Maya Angelou

Author Maya Angelou never worked in UX design (to my knowledge), but this quote best summarizes the empathy effect on UX. Users won’t recall content verbatim and good design is defined by their ease of navigation. That’s all users care about experiences.

Compared to many brands, I believe insurance brands probably struggle harder to achieve this kind of connectivity with customers, which is why an empathic approach to design is so important. When you think about it, UX design has two goals regarding customers:

  1. Get people to do things they may not want to do – even if it’s good for them. People need to protect themselves from the “what-if’s” in life. What if the house burns down? What if you die? Yes, they are important questions. And no, they don’t make pleasant family dinner conversations.

  2. When the “what-if’s” happen, UX is often on the front lines helping customers get through some of the more difficult situations in life. Then we are the reassuring voice that says, “We’re going to get you through this.”

Speaking at UX Camp Chicago

Getting you to do things that are good for you… Helping you through tough times… Sound like things any parent can identify with, which is why I jokingly refer to moms and dads as “the accidental architects of empathy & UX design.”

Can’t get “know” satisfaction?

When it comes to UX design, customer satisfaction is everything, so empathy is a critical skill. Your interactions with the user must be open, transparent, informative, and warm. The formula is simple:

Empathy + UXD = deeper user satisfaction

By definition, empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings by learning how to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Know them by growing your awareness of shared emotions.

Empathy is often confused with sympathy. By definition, sympathy is showing concern or compassion for someone else without fully understanding why they are reacting this way. Not the same.

Also, do not make the mistake that empathy creates authenticity. To be authentic, you’re sharing a genuine truth about your brand, hoping it connects with users. It’s still asking them to understand you first, where an empathic approach is the reverse.

Walking in someone else’s shoes

To help identify user needs, Allstate has a human-centered design exercise called “Walk A Mile Immersion.” It involves these steps:

  • Identify stakeholders. In this particular case, see customers as your top stakeholders to build a shared understanding of them with your UX team.

  • Gain new perspectives through interviews. It’s easier to empathize with customers when you hear from them directly.

  • Affinity Clustering. As you examine responses and data, patterns reveal themselves. Often, they challenge your personal assumptions and bias, helping you engage your customers with fresh approaches.

  • Create opportunities with statement starters. Finally, take a step toward solving the problem by asking the right questions. Don’t start a project with a dictatorial statement like, “We need an easier way for customers to file claims on their smartphones.” Instead, frame it as a question: How might we help customers file claims easily on their smartphones? This encourages solutions that take in customer needs, based on information you’ve collected.

Empathy can be taught

We can develop insightfulness to connect to people different than ourselves. Empathy can be taught if marketers regularly put in the work. Don’t just read a data report – interact with your customers. UX design is never ending, because our customers are always requesting, “Get to know me.”

In the end, are you willing to forgo a pet project that advances your performance goals in favor of something that addresses your customers’ needs? If we don’t, they’ll find another brand that better empathizes with them.

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