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4 Tips for Building User Empathy Into Your Website

4 Tips for Building User Empathy Into Your Website

Being in the User Experience (UX) design industry for more than 10 years results in young UX designers or students occasionally asking me to review their portfolios. I appreciate these opportunities. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see new unique perspectives and impressive skillsets from a variety of designers.

However, after doing this several times, I can’t help but notice one common theme that consistently emerges. Interestingly, I also see a similar trend in client work. The pattern is that their work thoroughly explains and documents user research; however, when it’s time to design a website or write new content, the user research takes a back seat. Any final products seem to address a few or none of the insights from user research and, instead, pages end up focusing on showcasing the user interface (UI) or other cool features. 

This can happen for multiple reasons, but one big reason is people don’t plan how to incorporate user research knowledge into their work. Instead they assume that having user data will improve their work later. 

Applying user insights is different from knowing user needs. Just as user research needs a strategic approach to gather relevant data, applying user findings to practice requires one. At the beginning of a project when your team is doing user research, your attention is 100% invested in learning about users. During this time, it seems natural and intuitive to approach your work from a user point-of-view and figure out what to do for your users. However, later in the project when you need to create new content and review all aspects of launching a new website, your attention is most likely not on users. 

The pattern is consistent: when it’s time to design a website, user research often takes a back seat.

Unless you’re experienced, you can be easily distracted by new cool features or functionality. Or with a looming deadline and hundreds of pages to migrate, you might running out of time to consider users’ viewpoints. 

Design empathy means being able to place yourself in another’s shoes. For website redesign or content strategy, that means displaying your expert knowledge in a form and language that your users are familiar with. Why is this important? If you present your content in a way users expect, they will find the information faster and easier, and this will encourage users to explore more pages. As a result, this will make users more familiar with your website and your offerings.

Plans for building empathy may already sound intimidating to you. Don’t be alarmed! It’s easier than you think. If you look for ways to show more empathy to your users, I have a few tips on how to include more of user research insights into your work.

TIP 1: List out users scenarios detailing why they visit your website.

Personas are great at portraying users, and as part of the personas, identify the common situations when a user would come to the website. A general high-level description, e.g., “Linda looks for a phone number to call when she runs into issues.” is not helpful. Be specific as you can and include details on what kind of issues Linda may deal with. Then when you work on new content or design work, make sure what you create covers as many of those scenarios. For example, if Linda often comes to your website looking for a branch location or customer service numbers for payment-related issues, that information should be highly visible on the website.

Or if users tend to visit your mobile site, well-planned responsive design and copy should be the highest priority in your content planning. No matter how attractive or stunning the new web design or content is, it is only valuable when users find it useful. 

TIP 2: From what you want to say to what users want to hear

For your content creation, start writing down what you want to say. Let it all out. But you are not done yet! Once you’re done writing, read it over from a user point of view. Focus on what your user would want to know and find out first. Other questions to consider:

  1. Before going into details, is there an introduction that helps a first-time visitor understand the context?
  2. What are the next steps users can take? In order to make an appropriate decision, what do users need to know from the page?
  3. What is the core message of the page? Is that message clear and loud in user-friendly language?
  4. Does your content meet the goals and needs covered in the personas? Use personas to guide how you frame keywords and key points to speak to users’ needs.

TIP 3: Sometimes it only takes minor word edits to make the website more user-friendly.

Adding a simple sentence can give users more context or instructions on what users need to do. In fact, it may be the very thing that makes the content more interesting. While you may feel it seems obvious what to do, you have a bias because you’ve lived with (and seen) that content for a long time. It’s better to offer more contextual help. Frame the labels from a user point of view, e.g., “Have a question? Please contact us” instead of “Primary Contacts.

TIP 4: Make sure your content supports users taking a quick scan at the page.

Most users scan before deciding to read the page carefully. When people comment that a webpage is too long and busy, it’s not just about the length of the page content. How content is presented can make a huge difference in how people perceive the amount of content.

  1. Use typographic styles that highlight headings from the main body content.
  2. Use various heading styles to differentiate the heading hierarchy.
  3. Use descriptive headings to summarize the key point of a section.
  4. Include keywords in headings to grab users attention and promote section content.

Building empathy is simply all about presenting the information you have for users in ways that they can relate and want to find. When in doubt whether you’re on track or not, show your work to a user (even your family or friend) and solicit their feedback. You will be amazed at the kind of insights you will learn from just one user.

About the Author

Britney Na
Britney Na
As WSOL’s Interaction Designer, Britney assesses the overall health of websites that we will be redesigning by performing usability testing and assessing user experience issues. She works to prioritize improvements and design new page templates and navigation structure for these sites, making sure the intended design pieces are built properly throughout the development process. Britney’s efforts are an integral part of the Discovery and Design process, and she provides essential value to the team through tasks including user and stakeholder interviews, contextual inquiry, UX heuristics, information architecture, personas, wireframes, paper prototyping, and online prototyping. Britney has a wealth of experience in the Interaction Design industry. With a Master of Design degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Britney’s background includes working on the interaction design for the navigation consoles of General Motors automobiles and a variety of other high-end projects. Her specialties include User-Centered Design, User Research, Interaction Design, and User Experience Design.