Understanding Audience and Empathic Design

Starting point in design: Understanding your audience needs

In the field of medicine, the doctor/patient relationship is seemingly straightforward, with a clear path for success. The physician's job is to understand their patient's condition, prescribe the best possible therapy, and evolve that therapy over time based on the results. But the starting point is the key. If the doctor doesn't take the time to understand the individual needs of their patient and instead makes assumptions regarding that need, the result will be less successful at best and catastrophic at worst (see: malpractice). Designing a digital product requires a similar approach to understanding your audience through empathic design research. As technology evolves daily, and user needs change rapidly, digital design projects demand heightened critical thinking.

Essential questions in design research

Throughout the process, we address problems and answer key questions to diagnose solutions effectively.

So what are these essential questions? While there are many, three questions rise to the top and must be adequately answered before all others, no matter the specifics of the project at hand:

  1. Who is this for?
    The User - the people we're collectively trying to engage.
  2. What needs to be communicated?
    The Message - our mission and value proposition.
  3. What's the best delivery method?
    The Experience - the journey we're taking the user on by way of design.

Keeping the user and their needs at the center of the design process may seem obvious, but it is often forgotten, resulting in a series of uninformed decisions based on personal preference. While our personal taste is an acceptable starting point, it cannot be the finish line because brands exist for their customers.

Your users are real individuals, so we must do our best to understand the target audience and their needs. Rather than making assumptions, an empathic design approach dictates how we effectively communicate with our audience. As strategists, designers, and technologists, it is our responsibility to understand the unique requirements of those on the other side of the screen and create for them.

So how do we measure the success of a user-centric approach if we're not in the same room as our users, performing focus groups and consumer testing? In part, we now have analysis tools at our disposal to help in this process. By reviewing metrics such as engagement rates, average visit length, unique page views, heatmaps, and more, we can limit assumptions while gaining a deeper understanding of our user's behavior. This data collectively shows us the aspects of our design that are successful, as well as those areas that need to evolve.

Examples of design elements that can have a significant impact on user behavior include:

  • High quality, properly positioned content
  • Considered typography
  • Visual cadence / whitespace
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Macro animations
  • Page transitions / snappy load times
  • ...and more

Designing with empathy

Websites and digital products are living things that must evolve to remain relevant. Thanks to these insights, we can now leverage data over time to continually refine the experience for our users, watching and learning from their interaction in real-time. We refer to this process as adaptive design. It is an exhaustive pursuit that keeps our user's needs at the forefront, all the while ensuring more success for the brand itself.

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