Recently I watched this TEDx talk by Doug Dietz about empathy in design. He had a very interesting talk in my opinion. Doug is an industrial designer at GE and this talk revolved around the medical division and MRIs. Doug starts off by telling a story. He had just finished designing a new MRI and it got installed at this children’s hospital. He’s admiring his hard work when the MRI tech asks him to step out as they need to use it for a patient. The patient was a young girl. Understandably she had a lot of anxiety about the MRI. She was sobbing in the MRI room when she had to get the scan. That led him to want to create a solution that could make kids less anxious about diagnostic procedures at the hospital. Before his new system the hospital had to sedate about 80% of kids before doing the scan. Using design thinking and empathy, he was able to reduce that to less than 1%.
This goes back to the idea of having empathy in design. I’ve talked about this before and it stands to be re-iterated. Without empathy, you cannot understand a user’s pains – and more importantly, what solution they need. This is why at my day job as an IT professional I always try to understand my users’ pains and issues. At the end of the day, not only is it my job to ensure my users to be happy and productive but it’s also just the right thing to do. They can’t be happy and productive if I’m not making sure their needs are met. And I can’t properly ensure their needs are being met without understanding what those needs are. That’s why you need empathy – to understand what your users’ needs and pain points are. This also means you need to be in the environment of your end user. Without being in the environment of his end user, Doug couldn’t have been able to figure out how to make a solution that would reduce kids’ anxiety.
Another facet of solution designing I think is good to consider is looking at things from a beginner’s mindset. This plays into the whole empathy thing. I don’t think you need to design overly complex solutions in the name of designing overly complex solutions (looking at you, vim). If you want to design a solution that truly can work and work well for an end user then it should be accessible to beginners. As in, someone unfamiliar with your solution or the problem should be able to navigate the basics of the solution without hand holding. My test for ease of use is the proverbial “Janice from accounting”. It’s not a reference to anybody specific but just the stereotype of the technologically inept person. The idea being, if someone who calls their computer a “CPU” can use this technological solution, then anybody can. I like to apply that to any kind of solution or explanation I make.