How to design with empathy: 5 essential steps

Is your organization communicating with empathy?

Empathy is a crucial component of effective communication design, particularly for those looking to inspire social change. To capture the humanity of your audience, you need to start from a place of compassion. When designers approach their work with empathy, they can create designs that truly resonate and inspire action.

Let’s explore how to design with empathy in mind.

What is empathetic communication design?

Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else might be feeling, so we can respond appropriately to the situation. In design, we want to approach with empathy for the subject matter and the audience in order to then translate that into empathetic communication design. This type of design motivates action for social change organizations because it establishes a connection and makes the audience feel seen. They are then much more likely to engage with the organization, material, course, webinar, whatever it may be. Empathetic design is also more memorable.

For communication designers to take an empathetic approach they need to get to know the audience, conduct thorough research and ensure they are using inclusive language and imagery. They need to understand how the user feels about the subject matter in order to evoke a connection that leads to engagement and action.

5 essential steps to design with empathy:

  1. Conduct user research. Interview and observe real users to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours surrounding the issue you’re trying to address. Look for pain points and unmet needs to uncover insights that can inform your design.
  2. Share user stories. Highlight the voices and experiences of real users in your communications. Put a human face on the issues and how your solutions can help. Quoting or profiling users can build empathy and emotional connection.
  3. Use inclusive language and visuals. Choose words, imagery, and visuals that are respectful, accessible, and welcoming of diverse groups. Avoid stigmatizing or stereotyping language and imagery. Consult experts or style guides on inclusiveness if needed.
  4. Show, don’t just tell. Use visuals like photos, illustrations, and videos to reveal the human impact of issues and bring your solutions to life. Images and stories are highly compelling and help people see themselves in the work you do.
  5. Offer takeaways. Reflect on the difficulties of the journey to show your understanding, and provide clear steps or actions to create positive outcomes. Direct calls to action help people turn empathy into real-world action and participation.

When designers approach their work with empathy, they can create designs that truly resonate and inspire action.

The most fulfilling projects are the ones that successfully communicate why being listened to is important, and what people can do when they feel seen and heard. Aurora has become a vehicle for us to put that into action. By understanding and honouring the people you serve, empathy-driven design can create deeply human-centred communications that spark change. Putting ourselves in the shoes of others is how we can all work together to build a more just and inclusive society.

If you’re looking to build a strong connection with your audience, talk to Aurora about empathetic communication design.