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User-centered design: Empathize, don't assume and always research.

By Michael Sasorith | April 2017

Sometimes inspiration and creative design solutions can come out of nowhere, but often times a great idea is the product of an extensive amount of research. This is an essential part of the design-thinking process. Diving deep to gain an understanding of your users and the problem you’re trying to solve will result in a stronger design solution.

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Although removing biased preferences from design can be challenging, it’s important to try to be objective and focus on the end-users so that the final product will work for them. Doing the research to understand your users’ feelings and language can influence how they will interact with your product and prevent bad experiences that may damage your brand.

Empathize with your audience

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For the most part in life, making an assumption doesn't end positively – the same goes in design. Solutions based on guesses and uninformed beliefs can result with confusion or can even disrespect your audience.

For example, I once was involved in a logo redesign project for an animal welfare organization that focused on animals on Native American reservations. The decision-makers wanted an image of a puppy placed inside of a dreamcatcher and in the beginning of the project, I only understood the dreamcatcher to be the symbol it was in mainstream society.

Luckily, because of an extensive amount of research, I learned that there there was a viewpoint from the Native American community that associated this symbol with cultural appropriation, commercialism and materialism. This new understanding encouraged me to push for the design to go in a different direction.

Empathy plays a large part in design, and it’s important to understand your audience’s worldview. Researching and understanding their perceptions – positive and negative – will help build a strong foundation that produces a successful design.

Talk their talk

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We all have knowledge and expertise in different professions and so we often forget that industry-specific jargon doesn’t translate well to others. Understanding the language your audience speaks and applying it will help prevent confusion.

I once worked on designing a simple flyer for a nonprofit organization that would be used at an event to build awareness of their mission. The author of the flyer’s content was accustomed to grant writing and applied those same skills to the organization’s marketing materials. The use of complex words and sentence structures wasn’t translating well to the general event attendee, leading to a lost of people that were unwilling to lend their support.

Copywriting isn’t often seen as a design concern, but it plays an important role in communicating an overall message to the target audience. Through research, making sure that the language used in the final design and by the target audience are the same will assure that it’s comprehensible and that the message is clear.


Design is often seen as a one-off solution to “make things pretty.” However, design requires a sufficient amount of research and understanding of your users to create a solid solution. This solution needs to speak to the audience in an intuitive way. It’s imperative that the your designs keeps users in mind from beginning to end.

Topics: Web Design, User Experience Design, Digital, Design Basics: Learning Center

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