3 Ways Empathy Can Be a Powerful Tool for Web Design


Patrycja Paprotny
Visual Designer
Patrycja Paprotny
Each new project is an exciting challenge for her. She always tries to look at it from many different perspectives. At work and in life she values most empathy and sense od humor.

When designing anything we have to stick to a set of rules we all know well: readability, clarity, visual hierarchy of information and so on; but there is one more thing that must be taken into consideration — you don’t create apps or websites for yourself – your users are the ones that would deal with your creation every day. That’s where empathy comes in handy.

Empathy is the awareness of emotions and feelings of other people. You can think of empathy as a tool that allows you to meet the needs of your users. 

1. Empathy gives context to your work.

Did you know that users are more likely to choose, buy and use products that meet their needs than products that just meet their wants? In order to understand users we need to understand that their true goals are often hidden – even the user is not aware of them.

Before starting a new project try to talk with some people, listen carefully and observe them. It will give you insights into a completely different perspective. Empathy map can help you organise your knowledge:

  • What does your users think and feel? What really matters to them? What worries and aspirations do they have?
  • What does your users hear? What are friends, family and other influencers saying that impacts their thinking?
  • What does your users say and do? What do they do in public? What is their attitude towards others
  • What does your users see? What does their friends do? What things in their environment influence her?
  • Pain What fears, obstacles or frustrations are they facing
  • Gain What are they hoping to get?

If you take into consideration all those aspects, your work becomes an opportunity to help people, not impose incomprehensible rules and processes on them.

2. Empathy helps in providing accessibility

Nowadays accessibility is not a feature, It is just a part of good design practice.

The most commonly discussed disabilities affecting website accessibility are sight and hearing impairments. These specific impairments encompass 6.8 percent of the population age 15 years and older – and climb to encompass 21.3 percent of the population when you look specifically at the population over 65.

Incorporating those people among your happy users is not that hard. The devil is in the detail! Remember about small things like:

  • Use big enough buttons – for users with mobility problems, it can be difficult to click on small items within a tiny clickable range.
  • Organise your text – break it into smaller paragraphs, use headings to organise the structure of your content. This will help people with learning disabilities to understand you.
  • Use color with care. Remember that some of your users may not see them as you do. Be sure to add some other indicators to your design.

We can also think about accessibility in a bit different way: cultural background, skills in using computers and technology in general also affects the way people use websites or apps. Norman Nielsen’s Group research shows that almost 43 percent of adult users (15 – 65) are “less technical”. That means their computer skills are based on:

  • The most important information or commands at hand.
  • Small amount of steps in processes and few operators.
  • Few monitoring demands (e.g., having to check one’s progress toward the goal).
  • Identifying content and operators done through simple match (no transformation or inferences needed).
  • No need to contrast or integrate information.

On the surface, it may seem that placing these restrictions in your design limit your creativity, but on the other hand these guidelines will enable you to create consistent designs and gain a wider set of users.

3. Empathy makes collaboration easier

The collaborative process built on empathy is based on emphasizing the importance of multiple perspectives. That helps people make better decisions and involves them in the design process.


Empathy is a process of discovery rather than an instant blinding flash of insight. It demands time, attentiveness, and perspective to fully comprehend and act upon the user’s true environment. But remember that empathy in not a cure for all diseases. It’s just another superpower that your team can use to make your products a little bit better.


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