Slides from Morten Rand-Hendriksen's WordCamp Europe 2016 talk by the same title. Companion article at https://mor10.com/empathy
The prevailing narrative in the web community hails empathy as a cure for much of what ails our modern digital spaces. Empathy seems a worthy tool for making our designs and interactive experiences more human, but used indiscriminately it may do more harm than good. To design experiences that fit the real lives of the people who use them, we need to take a critical look at our methods and make empathy the first step in a larger process.
WordPress is easy!
I don’t understand.
But I think WordPress is easy!
I’m reading the instructions, but I can’t get it to work.
When I learned WordPress, is was easy!
OMG! I feel so stupid!
Traditional Proverb (Cherokee)
Don’t judge a man
until you have walked a mile
in his shoes.
the miles we walk
take different paths.
WordPress used to be easy.
I can’t tell if it still is.
The feeling that you understand and share
another person's experiences and emotions :
the ability to share someone else's feelings.
Atlas: The Next Generation
Sympathy Empathy Compassion
Feelings of pity and
sorrow for someone
The ability to
understand and share
the feelings of
A feeling of wanting
to help someone who
is sick, hungry, in
“Oh man! That robot
is being bullied! That
“If I tried to pick up a
box, and someone
kept knocking it out
of my hands, I would
“If I was there, I’d
help the robot get his
box. And probably
take away that
Like everything else that matters,
empathy is complicated.
Lacking the power of hearing or having impaired hearing.
Profound deafness means the person cannot hear
anything at all; they are unable to detect sound,
even at the highest volume possible.
Nyle DiMarco, winner of
ABC’s Dancing with the Stars
Frank and Earnest, 1982
Ginger Rogers did everything he did,
backwards, and in high heels.
The feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and
emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings.
The imaginative projection of a subjective state
into an object so that the object appears to be
infused with it.
Empathy is our interpretation of the world
through the distorting lens of
privilege and hidden bias.
Missing arm ≈ Sprained wrist
Dyslexia ≈ Movie with subtitles
New WordPress user ≈ Filing taxes
Hamburger icon ≈ Learning road signs
• Explore existing contexts
• Establish shared or analog context
• Imagine or recall similar experiences
• Reframe the situation in a familiar context
• Picture yourself not just standing in their shoes,
but having walked a lifetime in them
Reframe through Association
Microsoft Inclusive Design
Create situations or environments where you
can recreate a similar experience to physically
walk a mile in their shoes.
• Spend a week without a mouse or touchpad
• Unplug your monitor, use text-to-speech for a day
• Use an old smartphone, Windows, Mac, and Linux
• Read #YesAllWomen, #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou,
• Get some friends together and read hateful internet
comments to each other
Relive through Immersion
Remind yourself of your privilege and bias by
documenting your experiences learning a new
skill or taking part in unfamiliar tasks,
situations, or communities.
Sheryl Sandberg on
Mother’s Day 2016
“I will never experience
and understand all of
the challenges most
single moms face, but I
understand a lot more
than I did a year ago.”
• Learn an unfamiliar language like Python or
• Begin quilting, knitting, painting, or calligraphy
• Take ballroom dancing classes
• Try your hand at teaching
• Document your successes and failures
Remind yourself of your Privilege
Using “she” and “her” to refer to software
engineers doesn’t come naturally to me,
which is exactly why I try to do it
whenever I can. It’s my hope that doing
so will, however slightly, increase the
chances that someday, when my three-
year-old daughter pictures a
programmer, she sees someone who looks
• Listen to other people without interruption
• Accept their disclosure as the truth
• Question your immediate response
• Seek common ground
• Expand your horizon of understanding
Accept the reality of Others