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This past September I made my way to San Francisco to attend the HOW Interactive Design Conference, surrounding myself with many hopeful and ready-to-be-inspired designers for three days. There were many great speakers and UX/UI design pros willing to share their personal experiences and knowledge. We covered all kinds of topics, from ways to expand creativity with your team to quick and dirty UX hacks. But the theme that came through most clearly was the importance of designing with empathy.

Empathetic UX/UI Design

“We are all in this together. We are responsible as a profession to continue to mature and understand how we design.” —Joel Beukelman, Interaction Designer at Google

Beukelman’s message was reflected in many of the conversations and presentations I took part in at HOW. While his words are true, I can’t help but wonder: doesn’t this feel like something we should all already know? Isn’t it why we were all at that conference (beyond escaping the daily grind for a few days)? We were there to revitalize our approach to design by being together, sharing our current processes and discussing the lessons we’ve learned in this fast-paced business. We were there so we could take a new perspective back to our teams.

As designers, our goal is to shape and guide user experiences by harnessing emotion to create a connection with the end user. But “We are all in this together” is more than sharing ideas with other designers. It’s a shift in perspective to be openly present and embrace others’ thought processes to gain insight from approaches that may differ from our own. This can be as easy as allowing ourselves to be humble and start listening to our surroundings—stepping out of our comfort zones, putting our phones away and having a conversation with the person next to us. We have to keep in mind that we may not always think like the end user. We have to put our personal experience aside and approach design in a better way.

Embracing Your Team and Your Organization

How do we take a more empathetic approach to design? One way is to include all team members in discussions. Allow all ideas to spread and come to the surface by keeping an open mind, staying positive and saying “Yes, and…” with our teams. Everyone has a bias and a perspective, but as designers we must encourage each other to speak up in a safe and constructive environment to share valuable ideas. The next time your team is slinging around ideas for a new feature, don’t knock any of them. Allow everyone to speak freely, and say “Yes, and…” to keep the conversation moving. Doing this will allow your brainstorm to become saturated with all sorts of ideas. This approach may even speed up the brainstorming process because it doesn’t allow time to debate, argue or get stuck on a single idea. Maybe you’ll come up with the next best product!

“We’re all in this together” isn’t limited to UX and UI designers—it touches every part of your organization. Allow other departments in your company to stimulate the design process with their valuable suggestions and ideas. You’d be surprised what you can learn by engaging with other departments about the creation of a product.

At Phunware, we encourage transparency and openness throughout the design process. We work well as a team that includes program managers, sales and marketing executives, developers, QA, UX/UI designers and more. We support team members at any level voicing their ideas and observations about a product during the iterative creation process. It’s revitalizing to engage with someone from another department or office—you get a fresh set of eyes and a fresh perspective. Remember, we are all people creating products for people, and it’s our job to understand those people. Let’s work together to make great products with a humbly open perspective.

Learn more about Phunware’s design process here.

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