The analogy of map and territory has its limits.
“If you ask a user experience person—academic or practitioner—whether empathy is important to design, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a resounding ‘Yes!’ Indeed, statements like the one above seem to imply that empathy is a silver bullet that will transform design and lead to innovation. Before empathy was a buzzword, many of us would still have said that helping product teams develop empathy for their users was a core function of user experience research. After all, what else could it mean to study another’s experience and share those insights with others? As often happens in business, though, once a concept like empathy catches on, it’s treated like a fresh discovery. The groundswell is then translated into a small number of new techniques that instantiate the concept concretely. As these techniques become codified, too often reification takes over and their artifacts, or deliverables, seem to substitute for the more abstract virtue they supposedly represent. We act as though the map is the territory.”
David Siegel and Susan Dray ~ ACM Interactions (XXVI.2) ★
Changing perspectives can become lost in translation. It’s a competence, not an activity.
“The UX industry devotes considerable attention to the concept of empathy, and rightly so, as understanding our users and their needs is foundational to delivering quality experiences. Still, empathy and insights alone do not automatically create those experiences. What matters is how cultivating empathy alters our decisions and behaviors.”
(Lyle Mullican a.k.a. @mullican ~ A List Apart)
In the end, empathy will also have its limits for great design. But we’re not there yet.
“Empathy — it’s a buzzword in the UX design world. Everybody’s doing it! But what exactly are they doing? There isn’t a quick ‘Empathy Filter’ that we can apply to our work or our team, no formula to pump out results, and no magic words to bring it forth. There is, however, a simple workshop activity that you can facilitate with stakeholders (or anyone responsible for product development, really) to build empathy for your end users. We call it Persona Empathy Mapping.”
(Nikki Knox ~ Cooper Journal)
Design thinking is thinking based upon empathy.
“I fundamentally believe empathy is a foundational soft skill in design practice. And in service design – with its aim to connect and orchestrate people outside, inside, and across organizations – empathy is the first skill I recommend to people to build and sharpen.”
(Patrick Quattlebaum a.k.a. @ptquattlebaum ~ Adaptive Path)
Timeline forgets the very first personas for design: Henry Dreyfuss’ Joe and Josephine (1955).
“These steps (solid research, creative analysis, and compelling presentation and rollout) can bring teams back around to a tool that they badly need. Feel free to dump the shallow personas that people roll their eyes at. It’s time to reengage with empathetic work by making your users real, and letting their real voices be heard.”
(Kyra Edeker and Jan Moorman ~ UX Magazine)
Would this also apply to non-textual data?
“Our job is to help make useful, usable web things. Our job is also to ensure that the passion is passed along to the next in line – that we provide some level of empathy and empowerment for the people who will work the content long after we’re gone.”
(Corey Vilhauer a.k.a. @MrVilhauer ~ @MrVilhauer ~ Eating Elephant)