Monday, 4 November 2013

Design Thinking: Levels of Insights (Pau's Hierarchy of Empathy)

So... following up the Empathy video from the Cleveland Clinic in our last blog entry, I thought back to how we do User Interviews with Design Thinking and how we try to 'mine' core insights view User Empathy. As I was trying explain this, I came up with a quick and dirty "Hierarchy of Empathy" that I believe helps to explain the levels of empathy or insights we can get from interacting with users.

I largely based this on the Stanford d.School Bootleg Empathy Mapping tool. As I was trying to explain the Empathy Map, that got me thinking about framework to help explain to reach those special, deep, inferred "insights" during User Interviews.  We use this at SAP for Design Thinking User Interviews, as this helps to formulate the notes from User Interviews in a useful grouping. 
Empathy Map - Stanford d.Sdhool

It's a little like Maslow's Hierarchy, so I'm going to call it:

 Pau's Hierarchy of Empathy

(Pau's Hierarchy of Empathy)

The hierarchy has 5 levels, (0-4, I must be a programmer... *hehe*), where:
Level 0 - "IGNORE" - General Apathy
Level 1 - "LISTEN" - What I am Saying...
Level 2 - "OBSERVE" - What I am Doing...
Level 3 - "READ" - What I am Thinking...
Level 4 - "EMOTE" - What I am Feeling...

Levels 1-4 match up directly to the 4 quadrants of the Empathy Map. On the left is the "Observed" or Level 1 & 2 insights and on the right is the "Inferred" or Level 3 & 4 insights.

So in more detail...

Level 0 - is happens when developers create apps without even considering or thinking about the user. This is the worse way to develop or design anything. By the very nature not knowing or not caring enough to find out about end-users, they almost guarantee they will have no meaningful insights.
(This mirrors most of the 7+ billion people in the world you've never met or know anything about. Someone once said that "Apathy" is worse than "Hate". At least with hate, you need to know what you hate. It's the "Takes ones to know one" thing... You don't even know who they are.) 
Note: I draw the line between level 0 and Level 1, because below this line, there is no real quality "user-driven insights". End-user need is not driving the project at this point.
Level 1 - is the first step to cater to the needs of users. The bare minimum is know your end-user enough to communicate to/with them. To have a "common" language when you can 'listen' (and not just hear), what the user is saying. The limitation here is that the Design Thinker still needs to interpret what is said within their own understanding or world-view. 
(This mirrors strangers who you may strike up a one-time conversation with. You have very little background or context, but at least you are able to talk to them. For example, travelling in a new country, while you might technically know the language you could be easily "confused" by an unfamiliar culturally based idiom that wasn't meant to be taken literally.)
Level 2 - is the second step to gather the true needs of users. Unfortunately as we discuss often in Design Thinking people sometimes say one thing and do another. Ethnography is basically a branch of research that involves just 'observing' subjects. Words can sometimes be misleading, but actions have an "honesty" to them. 
(This mirrors people you interact with for longer periods of time and know or judge/assess them by how they interact with you, not just what they say to you . You know their body-language and can read their gestures and actions. That mean-looking colleague just bought you a chocolate bar for no reason, shows maybe he/she doesn't hate you...)
Level 3 - is the start where the designer needs to intimately understand the user as they move away from "observed" insights and into "inferred" insights.  I used 'read' here as in somewhat like "mind-reading". As we all know, there are many things we as human think, but never act upon. There are also many things we want to do, but never actually get around to doing. 
(This mirrors people who can communicate non-verbally with you. Sometimes you can tell what is on their mind without them telling you verbally or non-verbally. When done correctly, there is less chance for being mislead or misinterpreting something as these are in fact the motivations or 'means reas'. If it were real, telepathy would be a great tool, but in its absence we use a combination of context, observations and conjecture to come up with our 'best-guesses'. )
Level 4 - is the highest level of empathy, where you can 'emote' with the subject. Feelings are like raw emotions and can be the core or root of some very powerful insights. Some of the best designs feed off of our very primal emotions, satisfying some of our very deep seated needs/wants. For Design Thinkers, this is the ultimate or root "Why?" 
(This mirrors the very small circle of intimate people in your life that you naturally feel for and over time become intuitively attuned to their state of mind and moods. You basically know them and can live in their "skin". You can literally "be" them for short periods of time.)
The reality is that as you move up the levels, it takes more much time, energy, training, determination and experience to reach the next level of empathy when interacting and interviewing with End-Users. On the flip side, the higher the level of empathy, the more core the insight. If you want to be a *great* Design Thinker, you want to be moving upwards in the hierarchy, to get those more deep-seated, core insights and drivers. 

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

p.s. When I tried to Google this and find something similar to this Hierarchy of Empathy (to ensure I did not copy from previous source), I could only find M.L. Hoffman's "Four Levels of Empathy" (below), which was similar, but different. However the list itself does help to re-enforce that as 'children', we start move up a hierarchy of "Understanding" those around us.
1. Global empathy
2. Egocentric empathy
3. Empathy for another's feelings
4. Empathy for another's life condition 
My source for this was:

There are a lot of parallel's with Hoffman's 4 levels and my Hierarchy of Empathy. However I've made my divisions much more aligned with the Empathy Map of Stanford's Design Thinking process. 

I apologize in advance to anyone else who might have come with a similar pyramid before mine. It wasn't meant to be radical, just a vehicle for visualizing something I wanted to explain as part of User Interviews.


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