In spite of an overwhelming group of people communicating their personal perspective on the internet, it still remains nearly impossible for us to understand how others see the world. We experience our lives in vivid 3D with a depth of emotion and experience that makes our perspective seem obvious. Meanwhile, we experience other’s perspective with the emotional depth of a government fact sheet.
As a result, the act of empathy is very difficult, and yet incredibly important. If we seek to communicate, help, and live with others in harmony, we must seek to understand how they experience life. This is important not only in our relationships, but also in how we create value for our customers. Companies should design products in a way that comprehends their user’s perspective, and yet sometimes the customer approaches your product in a way you never expected.
Recently, I came across two blog entries, written by experts in designing user interfaces, relating their frustrating experiences:
- Receipt Woes – Discusses the poor wording when the credit card machine prints two identical receipts but still has the text as though it was a carbon copy (i.e. Top copy – restaurant, bottom copy- customer). However, since the receipt was printed twice, they are identical put next to each other, so which one is the top copy?
- Turbotax Fail – Discusses how repeat Turbotax customers want to use their information from the previous year’s return – but the first dialog box that shows up makes it impossible to do this as the first step (even though it seems as though you could).
In both cases, my first reaction was to question: Why are they complaining about those things? They both seem trivial and non-confusing to me. This is because my perspective always seems obvious to me. What’s more, before hearing of this confusion, it would have been difficult for me to even imagine that this caused people consternation.
Yet, here are two experts chastising the companies for their poor product design. So how does one challenge their own “obvious” perspective? The only way to do so is to ask questions whose answer seems obvious, but may illustrate the differing perspective of others. For example, the Turbotax designer could ask several repeat customers, “What is the first think you want to do after installing Turbotax”? When someone surprises them by saying “import last years return” instead of “start a new tax return for this year”, they learn something that they could not have discovered any other way. The result is that this makes their product more usable by everyone.
The challenge in designing products is not only imagining what others might do and empathizing with them, but also asking questions that challenge what you are capable of imagining. These questions may seem obvious, but in the answers, you are able to learn more about how others see the world than in any other way. This is true both in product design as well as in relationships. We must challenge how we see the world in order to better serve those around us.