empathy

Screenplay, Novel, and Poem: The Value of Borrowing From Three Literary Genres to Frame Our Thinking as We Gather, Analyze, and Elevate Data in Applied Ethnographic Work

MARIA CURY ReD Associates MICHELE CHANG-MCGRATH ReD Associates Applied ethnography still struggles with the fundamental challenges of (1) framing research to obtain ‘thick’ data, (2) making sense of data in teams and with clients, and (3) making a convincing case with data in challenging environments. We have observed that borrowing from literary genres can be effective in addressing these challenges. We therefore argue that in an age of data science, it is just as important to draw from the literary arts when gathering, analyzing, and elevating evidence to inspire change in applied ethnographic work. We raise three specific applications of literary genres to distinct project phases, to improve how data is collected and analyzed, and how data travels. In this paper we show: (1) how the screenplay can help solve challenges in research framing, to obtain thicker data; (2) how the novel can help solve challenges in analysis, to turn data into meaningful evidence; (3) how poetry can help solve challenges in the opportunities-development...

Regarding the Pain of Users: Towards a Genealogy of the Pain Point

DAVID PLATZER Berggruen Institute This essay offers an analysis of the “pain point,” a commonplace figure of speech in UX design and contemporary business contexts more broadly. By situating this everday trope within a wider discourse of pain, and its politiciztion in the United States, I seek to problematize the modes of relationality and forms of care entailed in the practice of design research. Ultimately, I will argue, while the “pain point” can be an effective tool for communicating with stakeholders and fomenting alignment about research objectives, it also implicates the more troubling ethical dimensions of applied practice. Through a narrative account of an innovation focused ethnographic research project conducted within the design unit of a major tech company, I argue that questions of solidarity, and its contemporary aporias, can be obscured by the humanitarian rhetoric of contemporary design praxis; a rhetoric of which the “pain point” is a prime example....

“Empathizing” with Machines

CHRIS BUTLER Philosophie PechaKucha Presentation When we study human systems and organizations we have a job that requires to empathize or at the very least be compassionate towards the experiences others are having. This allows to understand their goals, problems, and how we can best make their lives better. When machines start to do things that we can't imagine how do we continue to work with them? What is necessary to create great combinations of humans and machines? What is a machine's purpose? Very simply: it is to serve human purposes. As technology continues to build facades that hide the human element we need to pull back the curtain (like the one in the Wizard of Oz) and see that the tools we build are really us reflected back. We have the choice to make tools that are good or bad for us. Chris Butler, is the Director of AI at Philosophie and frequently speaks on the intersection of product, design, and AI. He has extensive experience from Microsoft, Waze, KAYAK, among others. Through his practice he has created...

Empathy Is not Evidence: Four Traps of Commodified Empathy

RACHEL ROBERTSON Shopify PENNY ALLEN Shopify Product teams, including our own, often interpret empathy as evidence. However, in practice, empathy is actually something that drives us to seek evidence. By observing and evaluating various examples within Shopify, we have identified 4 traps that are common in the way empathy is manifested. We modelled the relationship between empathy, problems, evidence, and decisions to provide strategies for how to use empathy effectively while being sympathetic to its limitations. Since empathy drives us to seek evidence, and thus cannot be considered evidence itself, empathy must be used at an appropriate level of abstraction throughout the product decision-making process in order to influence good decisions....

Developing Empathy through Research: Martha Cotton, A Profile

By ALANNAH BERSON How do you make 1000 designers better at research while ensuring quality and rigor at the same time? This is the kind of challenge Martha Cotton gets tackle at work everyday as Group Design Director for Research at Fjord—and as the newest member of the EPIC Board. “If we are going to deeply understand the people we are designing for, I’m passionate about helping my design colleagues get that understanding in the best and most efficient way. It is definitely a very fun part of my job, thinking about elevating how we do design research, and creating the tools and resources to support roughly 1000 designers around the world in their efforts to be better researchers.” One of the reasons Martha is so passionate about mentoring and teaching future researchers is that for her, becoming an ethnographer was a bit of an accident. “I was incredibly lucky early on to have the support of mentors who patiently nurtured what has turned out to be my life’s work.” This “accidental career” that Martha found...

Empathizing with the Mind of a Child

ARI NAVE The Kind’s Indian, Inc. Download PDF PechaKucha—Empathy is an indispensable tool in design. But poorly executed, the application of empathetic thinking can lead to worse results. When examined more closely, empathy is problematic both in concept and in practice. Deconstructed into the component parts — compassion, sharing and mentalizing — we can begin to explore the particular nuances of empathy. Beyond the incentives of the designer, compassion, successful empathy requires the user to be able to share their experiences with the designer. Translation and articulation limits of the user can make this difficult. Designing for a pre-verbal child, for example, is extremely difficult. Finally, mentalizing, the act of the designer creating a proxy of the user’s internal state, is problematic when they do not share the same cultural foundations or basic cognitive similarities. Designers are most facile when designing for people similar to themselves. But as design anthropologists, we are tasked with creating bridges...

Empathy as Faux Ethics

adbusters image with text "me, myself, I"
by THOMAS WENDT, Surrounding Signifiers “The term ‘empathy’ has provided a guiding thread for a whole range of fundamentally mistaken theories concerning man’s [sic] relationship to other human beings and to other beings in general.” —Martin Heidegger Popular design discourse is full of articles, books, and conference presentations on the role of empathy in design. In both commercial and non-commercial settings, most designers argue the same thing: designers should attempt to build empathy for “users” so they can better design for them. But empathy as it’s generally practiced ultimately subverts its own goals. It tends to reinforce “otherness”, promote anthropocentrism, and ignore ecological considerations. Everyday Empathy I recently moved from Manhattan to Queens. My old neighborhood, NoLita (north of Little Italy…thanks, real estate agents), had fully gentrified, with storefronts quickly transforming into cold pressed juice bars ($10/cup) and men’s shaving supply stores ($25 “beard oil”). My...

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and (Empathic) Understanding

by JOHN PAYNE, Moment In the early 1970s, Nick Lowe wrote a song from the perspective of an old hippie character. This character laments change as he witnesses the cultural pendulum swing from the peace and love 60s into the hard-edged 70s. It’s not clear whether Lowe—or Elvis Costello, who later recorded the song—intended a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the character or a straight-forward critique of the times. But in the years since, “What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” has become a sort of call to action—an anthem to lost empathy. As I walk through This wicked world Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity I ask myself Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred, and misery? When I read the increasingly frequent criticisms of empathy, that same cultural pendulum comes to mind. Yale Professor Paul Bloom, the architect of much of the recent anti-empathy opinion, has written critically of empathy for several years. His thesis: Empathy is a “parochial, narrow-minded” emotion that misleads...

On Empathy, and Not Feeling It

TIFFANY ROMAINRicoh Innovations TRACY PILAR JOHNSONNurun MIKE GRIFFINRicoh Innovations Recently Tracy was asked whether a plan to have everyone in the office go about their day with an “impairment” would be a good way to “practice empathy” and learn more about assistive technology usage. Her response was that while wearing prosthetics demonstrates the shock of becoming impaired, it is questionable what it reveals about living a full life with an impairment. “Empathy” is getting around, especially in the worlds of design thinking, start-ups, and technology. But in these varied contexts, what does empathy really mean? Such questions led us to explore empathy as a method, attribute, and commodity, in turn raising more questions. When we generate and spread “empathy,” are we participating in creating a veneer of care that obscures tensions between consumers and businesses, and ultimately, value extraction? If so, can we improve how we inspire the corporate imagination, and the ends to which that imagination...