Curated by: Sergio A. Martínez

Imagine you’re trying to use a new piece of software, but it’s just not working the way you want it to. The buttons are in the wrong place, the interface is confusing, and you can’t figure out how to do what you need to do. Now imagine that the person who designed that software is sitting right next to you, watching you struggle. How would that make you feel? Most likely, it would be pretty frustrating and uncomfortable.


Now, imagine that same scenario, but instead of the software designer being a detached observer, they’re genuinely empathizing with your experience. They understand how frustrating it is to try to use something that isn’t well-designed, and they’re committed to making it better. They care about your success, and they want to help you achieve your goals. That’s the power of empathy in software design.

When designers take the time to understand the needs and goals of their users, they can create products that are truly helpful and easy to use. Empathy leads to better design decisions and ultimately results in a better user experience because good software design is about more than just writing code that meets the requirements of a project. It’s also about creating an experience that meets the needs of users, through empathy with their expectations. Empathy allows designers to put themselves in the shoes of users and understand their perspective to create products that offer a solution instead of making a problem worse. Without empathy, designers are more likely to create software that is confusing and difficult to use. Simply put, empathy is a crucial element of good software design.

However, how can a designer use the element of empathy properly? And what goes into understanding the perspective of a hypothetical user to create the best product a designer possibly can?

What is empathy?

Empathy Design Disorder 1

In today’s world, we are increasingly reliant on software to get through our daily lives. From ordering a coffee to communicating with our loved ones, there are few aspects of our lives that don’t involve some form of software, and thus, require a level of technology literacy that can overwhelm the average user if they are not used to it. With this level of dependence, software must be designed with a few things in mind. 

This is where empathy comes in. When we talk about empathy in software development, we are talking about the ability to see things from a perspective outside of the product itself. It’s not just about understanding what they want, but also why they want it. And it’s not just about users, but also stakeholders, project managers, and clients; they all have different roles to play and different perspectives to bring to the table, so empathy is essential for bringing everyone together and getting everyone on the same page. Only with this level of understanding can they create truly user-friendly products.  

Poor outcomes are more likely because the developers are out of touch with the users of their solutions. Like many who claim to be software “engineers”, they are not engaging in deep user empathy which ultimately leads to unappealing solutions. These engineers are implementers who are insensitive and largely oblivious to the people who use these tools and most important – why they need solutions. […] In my view, these “implementers” cannot work alone; they must be led and fed every element of the business and technical requirements with precision and detail.

This holistic view of development is what enables the creation of truly great applications. And in an age where we rely on software for everything, this empathy is a crucial element to reach the most successful outcome possible. Furthermore, anyone who has ever tried to use a piece of software that was clearly not designed with the user in mind, or when unclear communication throws a wrench that can derail a whole project, knows how frustrating it can be. 

These disconnects between the designer and the final user and everyone involved in a software development project, have been called Empathy Design Disorder (EDD) by Bill French, Chief Analytics Officer at Stream It Inc. In short, EDD stipulates that “user empathy is a fundamental part of building meaningful user interfaces. For some engineers, though, developing a highly sensitized capacity to inject the feelings and state-of-mind of a user can be challenging.

Getting into a different headspace

Empathy Design Disorder 1

But what does it mean to design software with the user in mind? Because it’s not just about making sure the software is easy to use; it’s about understanding how people think and what they need, getting into their headspace to discover which pain points are more likely to occur during the development and use of a software applications. This means constantly testing and iterating on the design, and when done right, user-centered design can make a big difference in the success of a software product.

Think about how the user is going to interact with it. What are their needs and how can your design meet those needs? It’s not enough to just create something that looks good on ‘paper’; you need to get into the headspace of the user and think about what they’re going to want to do with your software. This means considering things like usability, functionality, and even the emotional response that your design is likely to evoke. After all, they’ll be the ones using your product day in and day out, and you want them to have a positive experience. To that end, here are some starting points to use empathy in a software development environment: 

  1. Put yourself in your users’ shoes. Designing software with your user in mind can be challenging, as you may not share the same perspective, so thinking from the end user’s point of view is the only way to go. Ask yourself these questions: What do they need? What are their expectations? Do your best to answer these questions, so that your design meets their needs. You should also look for ways to add a personal touch to the design and make it easier for them to interact with your product or service. Overall, by taking the time to think from your user’s perspective, you will create something that will help build a strong bond between you and them.
  2. Pay attention to the details. Attention to detail is so important when it comes to the user experience of an application. Small details can make or break the usability of an application – after all, a great user experience needs to feel effortless and intuitive. An application that pays attention to even the smaller elements of design, such as how easily navigable its menu is or how visually pleasing it appears on different devices adds immense value for users. When designers are considerate enough to pay attention to these types of details during the development process, they end up creating applications that have the potential to become part of a user’s daily routine. Simply put, with great attention to detail comes greater success.
  3. Be responsive to feedback. If users are having trouble with your product, listen to their feedback and make changes accordingly. As a software designer, it’s essential to prioritize attending to the users, and taking time to consider the opinions of those who are using it, which is key in creating something that fits within their parameters. Listening to feedback also helps designers gain insights into how users approach solving problems and can help inform future design decisions. At times, it can be difficult to stay open-minded, but being proactive in addressing suggestions and concerns provides an excellent opportunity for creating even better applications. Ultimately, the success of any application depends on its users, so hearing them out is critical in making sure their expectations are met.

Empathy as an outcome

When developing any software, it’s easy to lose sight of the people who will be using the product, which is why empathy should be a core part of any software development project. After all, software developers create programs that are meant to be used by people and it’s important that these people feel genuinely understood. By baking-in empathy into the development process, developers can access a greater level of insight into what users want and need out of their experience with the software. This helps to ensure the product does not just solve problems, but also can be integrated into the lives of the users, making individuals feel appreciated and respected. Empathy in combination with skillful development leads to robust, user-friendly software that a wide range of users can enjoy and benefit from.

In other words, technology is meant to improve our lives, so by taking the time to understand what users need and how they may interact with the product, developers can design something with real impact, offering an experience that feels natural and intuitive, helping to boost satisfaction and creating a powerful sense of connection between users and software. In short, building empathy into every development project isn’t just good for users–it’s essential if you want to truly develop something impactful.

The Key Takeaways

Empathy Design Disorder 2
  • Software development is a delicate process where a lot of elements have to come together to ensure a positive outcome.
  • This makes it easy for a team to create an application that, theoretically, solves a problem, but in practice, nobody can use it effectively.
  • This can probably be due to a failure of empathy in the development process, which is failing to thoroughly consider the needs, expectations, and pain points of the average user.
  • By allowing empathy to be part of the development process, the result can only be stronger applications that not only solve a problem but also integrate with the experience of the user, the mark of a successful product.

Scio is an established Nearshore software development company based in Mexico that specializes in providing high-quality, cost-effective technologies for pioneering tech companies. We have been building and mentoring teams of engineers since 2003 and our experience gives us access not only to the knowledge but also the expertise needed when tackling any project. Get started today by contacting us about your project needs – We have teams available to help you achieve your business goals. Get in contact today!