Design Thinking

Empathy: It’s How to Deliver Human-Focused Solutions

At Revelry, we use Design Thinking in order to apply an active, empathetic, and relentless focus on optimizing the user and customer experience. This is how we solve complex problems and guide business decisions.

As we pursue innovation, we believe in applying human-focused solutions to technology problems.

In large organizations, innovation often comes at a price: Multiple departments are utilized, many product owners and stakeholders must weigh in, and the risk of launching a solution that fails is great.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, whether you’re building a small startup or launching a massive consumer product. Incremental, iterative feedback can be sought in each step of the process. We apply Design Thinking to our Lean Agile weekly sprints so that we can steadily improve the product until we achieve customer delight. 

While the Design Thinking process isn’t linear, just like all things, it does begins with a foundation. And that foundation is rooted in empathy.

Wait, aren’t we all designing products for humans?

Yes, we are. But without empathy, it’s easy to forget that our experience isn’t the experience. So it’s important not to take for granted what you may assume is common sense.

Design Thinking means we are going to gather a wider understanding about the user we’re trying to serve, instead of relying on assumptions.

Our product teams observe real user behavior with empathy at the focus. This illustration depicts a pair of giant ears behind a product team member who holds a clipboard.

Our product teams observe real user behavior, test low fidelity solutions, and draw conclusions – again and again – about what customers want and need.

They’re directly empowered to empathize with the customer by implementing these processes.

Optimizing the customer experience with empathy: listening and research

We can apply design thinking to any solution, hypothesis, or idea.

If an existing product needs improvement, we’ll research the product and interact with it. We’ll make assumptions about what customers are experiencing and what problems they’re facing. And then we’ll watch customers interact with the product, asking them to share their own expectations of the product.

This user observation must be inspired directly by empathy, and not by ego: This is not a product demonstration. When gathering information about user experience, it’s important to be the listener and not the driver.

Even if we have conducted several interviews or developed several similar products, we approach every interview with a beginner’s mindset. That is to say that we suspend judgments, lead with curiosity, and drive an authentic conversation.

We ask a series of open-ended questions, leaving space to allow the end user to provide thoughtful, multiple-sentence answers. And, we ask “Why?” a lot.

The more times you’re able to ask that “Why?” follow-up question, the more opportunity you have to get a more truthful and accurate answer.

Ideas are plenty, but we apply a process to validate them. This illustration depicts a product team member working on ideas as lightbulbs surround their head.

Ideas come to Revelry to be born.

Design Thinking is what allows us to learn about which ideas deserve to be products.

What’s the struggle that your potential customer is having with existing products? We can learn by empathizing, and we do that by asking the right questions.

Want to ask the right questions? Get our User Interview guide, a COMPLETE list of discovery questions here!

By learning everything there is to know about a particular user challenge, we can start to create better solutions. Then, we develop rapid prototypes to help build confidence that a new solution might succeed in meeting the customer’s needs.

The customer’s wants and needs include things that can’t be measured

Empathizing with an end user means that you’ve tuned in to what they want to feel. And this is not a quantifiable thing. Our product teams have to be ready to notice the desires and aspirations of the intended customer.

Perhaps, the solution we build will make the customer feel smart. Or empowered to achieve something without the help of a professional. Or included. Or productive. A description of the product’s requirements and the product’s utility will feature heavily on the product brief, but so will the emotional language that demonstrates how we have deployed empathy to observe behavior and draw conclusions.   

A culture that values experiments 

Our product teams build incrementally in an open-minded culture. This illustration depicts a product team member who is stacking blocks one at a time.

Our product teams are working in an open-minded culture, where we really value the learnings that come from bold experiments.

We know that we have to explore different ways to solve a problem.

Because we work right alongside the product owner as we test solutions, we like to say that we “work in public.” Working in public also means learning in public. Our first drafts are public. Our first assumptions are public. We share our rough prototypes.

Kicking off a project at Revelry

When we onboard customers to the Revelry Platform, we set out to learn how we can add the customization to their project that will delight their customers and help their business grow.

Applying Design Thinking, we deploy a set of tasks to be sure that we know the answers to these questions:

  • How is this piece of the problem solved?
  • Who uses it?
  • What is the result? 

The product owner participates in our project process.

  • Our product manager drafts the stories that describe the desired outcome.
  • Our engineers and designers create solutions that bring us to that outcome.
  • The product owner helps define the problem and confirms assumptions, each step of the way.

This participative approach helps us practice empathy not only for the end user, but also for the product owner, our partner in innovation. After agreeing on the problem statement and the desired outcome, the product owner reviews and approves each drafted story so we can keep moving forward.

Empathetic Product Development is Scalable

When empathy is valued as our guiding value in Design Thinking, our solutions can adjust for different applications: The people who will use the product, the environment where they’ll use it, even the different cultural contexts that must be understood about the application of the product must be completely understood.

The value that a good customer experience brings to a product often can’t be measured.

An empathetic foundation to product development works to de-risk business processes. Therefore, it’s fundamental to the success of a business to apply Design Thinking to products, services, and innovation.

Multiple, small steps – not large, life-changing processes

A brilliant product design should not be – and today, likely can not be – the result of one person’s astute ideas.

Even the most truly awesome and talented team – and the folks at Revelry are exactly that – is not all you need to design the most successful products.

With empathy for the end user in mind, we perform careful user observation. This illustration depicts a checklist on a clipboard set against a heart shape in the background.

It’s the willingness of the product team to be open and empathetic to the end user, and the patience of a product owner to participate in these small, incremental steps that leads to true customer delight and a successful product.

But, no matter how deep anyone’s understanding of a problem or market need is at the outset, we still cannot accurately predict users’ reactions to the final product.

This is why each half-baked idea, each roughly-sketched prototype, and each basic implementation of a function must be tested with real users.

Without prototyping, we can’t achieve the innovation we set out to build. We know that it’s pretty difficult to come to the right solution the first time around. So we create very simple prototypes in order to validate assumptions.

We’re solving specific problems for specific people facing those problems, and this information serves as our guiding focus throughout the product build.

Great! So when do we test our first prototype?

Agreeing on the problem is the essential second step, after you’ve gotten to know the user.

Read next: Before getting to the proposed solution, we must agree on the problem.