The power of empathy

One of the most powerful nuances of Human Centered Design compared to traditional research methods is the mindset with which they are both executed. The nuance makes a world of difference and I speak from having partaken and experienced both scenarios.

Traditional research often has a factual, data driven, matter of fact approach that often serves a very factual purpose. There is nothing wrong with that, depending on what your aim is. Businesses have used these methods and continue to use them with tremendous success, especially when people represent a market, a demographic, and a bottom line. These methods still work. For design on the other hand,

The Human Centered Design approach continues to surprise me in how much depth, honesty, quality and substance the approach, when done right can deliver. I am 5 minutes from such an experience, the hairs at the back of my neck stand after such a powerfully honest conversation.

I was speaking today with a group of commercial sex workers (male and female) in a context where the subject is taboo and illegal and therefore I didn’t expect much. I spoke to them as a human centered designer with empathy as the guiding principle and they were amazing. The brutal honesty, the raw emotion, the vulnerability and depth of substance gave me goose bumps. I am always humbled by the power of empathy. It is inherently human to want to be truly heard. Not to be a statistic, a bottom line, but to be truly heard.

When we truly listen, it is no longer a mere scientific exercise, but a human connection and experience, which bears more that data. It provides deep contextual nuance that is as informative as it is inspiring, a perfect foundation for innovation and design. It is days like today that I am buzzing, inspired and humbled to be an African designer working deep in this beautiful continent and tackling hard design questions.

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