Empathy for user centeredness – Part 2


Continuing from previous blog post empathy for user centeredness – Part 1, lets dig deeper into different forms of empathy and further.

Empathy can be divided in two forms: internal and external empathy.


External empathy

For any design thinker the only work includes is to focus on user and customer orientation and design something which is useful for customer. The litmus test of achieving real usefulness of design is acceptance of design by user herself. Make no mistake the entire design thinking process demands cooperation, collaboration and communication engagement with active customer.


Empathy for the people for whom you design for and feedback from those user is foundation and fundamental to every good design. Often seen high failure rates in few business sectors from major organizations when engineer or financial planners or business analyst or strategists take from seat and where customer is not epicentre of new product of service definition.


External empathy demands practice in daily work life of design thinker. Primarily design thinker should observe real user is their natural environment where customer pain is realised or where customer is executing end-to-end processes. Design thinker must speak in context of the customers “living” environment. Mere outsourcing market research to external vendor is not enough. Customer experience cannot be designed by few so called “experts” in swanky meeting rooms of company head office.


Secondly, understand the customer or user directly by interviewing them in their work environment. Observing and learning from the customer’s actual work context is a gold mine moment for design thinker to understand, get better insight, realise customer work environment and context of challenge.

Finally design thinker should put herself into customer shoes and follow or trace the challenge journey which real customer goes through. For example design thinker cant realise the challenges faced by elderly person without using their wheelchairs and walking stick. The daily usage nitty-gritty and challenges are only realised when you really use the customer usage of products or services in their work environment and in from customer context perspective to foster the empathy.


There are two misconception about external empathy while integrating it during design thinking process.

Firstly, external empathy is both cognitive and emotional which is often source of major confusion for company employees.

Often employees’ participating in design thinking workshops question me that – should they immerse themselves into customer context and challenging situation or should they keep logical distance from customer to think without biasing the user problem.


Undoubtedly I always reply – My friend requirement of being empathic is twofold and not explicit henceforth you don’t have choice between either and or; company employees must balance between their cognitive and emotional dimensions while engaging with customer for during empathy phase of design thinking.


Its often different matter that most of the design thinking workshop participants are not clear about empathy per se and don’t have any idea about how to interact and engage customer to realise customer’s experience. So balancing usage of cognitive and emotional aspect will only arise if you “unlearn” your old habits of analysis, engineering and master strategist and think creatively during design thinking workshops and reflect true external empathy with your customers.


Internal empathy

Internal empathy is all about mindset with focus on multidisciplinary teamwork. When employees with vibrant subjects’ expertise, different aspirations, goals and ideas work together in design thinking workshops, than undoubtedly creative tensions will arise leading to difference of opinion and managers trying to control the workshop to establish their supremacy from decision making to deciding point of view in define phase and in creative brainstorming during ideation phase.


Its challenge for employees with distinct perspective and experience should collaborate and coexist by adjusting with similar radical thinker. It demands self-control, resilience, respecting others perspective in order to work collaboratively for collective wisdom oriented solutions. Internal empathy is all about workshop participants using their emotional and rational empathy dimensions to work together for common good.


Undoubtedly experienced design thinking coach are high in demand to liaison, collaborate and engage every workshop participant to have their say and avoid egoistic frictions and conflicts and keep team focused on solving design challenge for better customer experience.



Engineer by training; Business value advocate by choice. User, Coach, Trainer and active promoter of Business Model Innovation and Design Thinking. (after all its moral obligation when you learn from the best - Stanford Uni) Pivoted from merger and acquisition to digital transformation to defining innovation strategies to building startup to lean and agile delivery. Always inquisitive by nature and creative thinker in action believe in continuing life long learning journey.

Leave a Reply