How to Keep Designers from Defaulting

What is the best way to protect yourself from defaulting to an existing product?

Search for Empathy

Bringing empathy to design is very important if you want to add meaning to the products and services we create. In this series Indi Young (author of Mental Models and founding partner of Adaptive Path) shares her thoughts about this subject.

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At the end of a workshop I taught in Silicon Valley in April 2011, where I had emphasized the difference between evaluative and generative research, a participant asked, “So I’m still not sure how I would research why people decide to buy an iPhone or an Android or a Win7 phone.”

Smiling, I turned to the rest of the people in the room and asked them to answer her. Silence ensued. Wide eyes and cocked eyebrows stared at me. True, it was nearly nine o’clock at night and everyone was tired. Yet even at midday, fired up on caffeine, smart professionals get stuck at this same point. We still couch our questions based on existing artifacts or ideas.

Instead, ask the root question. “When on the go, why do you stay in touch, and with whom or with what?” This root question is a generative question. It will enable you to empathize with the person who might buy one of the phones listed—or might not. This empathy will help you design better tools for them.

Indi Young

Indi Young is a problem solver by heart. She is the author of 'Mental Models' (Rosenfeld Media) and has been working as a consultant on web applications since 1995. In 2001 she co-founded Adaptive Path. Indi has worked with many different clients, including Visa, Charles Schwab, Sybase, Agilent, Dow Corning, Microsoft, and PeopleSoft.

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