Understanding the key ingredient to Design Thinking - Paul Strike

Understanding the key ingredient to Design Thinking - Empathy

By: Paul Strike

In 2015, we asked many organisations “do you know how connected your customers are with your brand?”  It was staggering to learn how many executives were completed disconnected with really knowing what customers were doing or not doing with their products or services. They were more caught up in persona types and website visits than core drivers and accessibility issues. And this, I’m sure you’d agree isn’t enough.

The insight isn’t about knowing customer persona types or how many times they have logged on or off. It's knowing more about their motivations and intentions in context to their changing behaviour and the technology they use. Now this is the biggest game changer we are seeing across industries right now as this is what shapes expectations of every micro-moment within a products user experience. 

So how do you further understand this? 

Well, it all starts with a term I'm sure everybody has heard of but perhaps not frequently delved into. It's empathy and it goes way beyond basic likes and dislikes.

Empathy is key to creating a rich and rewarding experience that will actually engage customers and drive product and service participation. It’s a form of detailed understanding, insight and awareness that comes from intimately knowing people.

I'll take some recent work we did with a medical institution as an example. For us empathising with this organisation's primary audience being surgeons, was a case of immersing ourselves into the lives and environments of these specialists to really observe and understand the following:













And the most overlooked one of all... TIME!

Understanding these insights better positioned us to more accurately design an experience that adapts to the behavioural variances of surgeons across different screen types. And I do stress adaptability!


Not only were we better informed to craft something useful and intuitive but we helped the organisation grow and mature in ways they had never done before. Design Thinking can help every organisation form a kind of lifelong DNA that morphs into habits that solve problems, achieve goals and helps make the lives of others better.

The value proposition

From empathy comes the promise of utility coupled with emotion.

The focus on great experiences through empathy starts from the top but isn’t limited to product designers, marketers, and strategists—it infuses every customer-facing function. Take finance. Traditionally financial firms only contact with users is through invoices and payment systems, which are designed for internal business optimisation or predetermined “customer requirements.” But those systems mean much, much more.

They are touch points that shape a customer’s lasting impression of an organisations brand. If your culture is focused on customer experience, then these financial touch points need to be designed around the micro-moments of users’ needs and the contextual “Human Conversation” rather than internal operational processes or technology.

We are all capable of reinvention and if executives and managers shift their focus from trends and KPI driven projects, jam packed with tonnes of features, to actual people focused needs, then the results would speak for themselves.

When we address empathy and designing thinking with organisations we are often faced with 5 significant challenges;

1. Getting executives to think about the needs of customers

2. Empathising with the contexts of their lives

3. Investing and committing to making a difference

4. Culture

5. Ensuring the principles of Design Thinking are never forgotten

It’s a very exciting time right now and with so much change and exploration happening it’s challenging for most to keep up. As an experience designer and strategist, I must always find ways to educate and guide organisations through digital change but never forget to leverage the good teams may already be doing.  At the end of the day, whoever your audience is if your outcome isn’t an experience that is not only pleasant but also meaningful and empowering then take a step back and ask why.

Last but not least, remember GooB! (Get out of the Building) Empathy isn’t achieved from inside your own four walls. And always;