The festival of WordPress
January 22, 2021

This is an archive of the January 2021 event

We Are All Human. Design Better Experiences with Empathy and Emotions

We are living in extraordinary times, and one thing that’s come out very clearly out of the past year is that we are all human. And empathy and emotions are what makes us so. The businesses that will always do well are the ones that understand this. This talk strives to show you how we can all be better businesses by using empathy and emotions the right way.

Speaker: Piccia Neri

Time: 11:00am UTC
Region: EMEA
Stage: Global Stage

Hey there, my name is Piccia

Neri and I’m wearing a heavy coat inside

because I live in a place where it doesn’t

normally get cold. But today is really cold

and there’s no heating. So here I am, I am a

designer concentrating specifically on user

experience. That is to say, in a very tiny

nutshell, the overall experience impressions

and reactions that customers have to

products and businesses as a whole. When I

first delivered this talk, it came to me

because we were living in extraordinary

times, it was May 2020. And it felt like,

really, it was extraordinary what we were

going through now, quite a few months later,

it still is extraordinary times, it’s still

is testing all of us beyond what we thought

we would be able to endure. So one thing

that’s come out very clearly, and that is

still relevant now as it was back in May, is

that we are all human. And empathy and

emotions are what makes us so. In terms of

business, the businesses that will always do

well usually are the ones that understand

this. So in this talk, I want to show you

how we can all be a better business by using

empathy and emotions the right way. My

mantra is that UX, good UX is good design,

as well as good marketing. And above all,

all of these are good business. So

basically, if you if you use good UX, you

will definitely sell more, your design will

be good. So you will be accessible and the

rest of it, and your business will benefit

from it. So in the context of the extract,

in the context of the extraordinary times

we’re going through this crisis has made

businesses as well as people show their true

colors, because there have been those who

have been incredibly kind to their customers

and employees, offering masks and hand

sanitizers, even sending them in a post

sometimes, and making free home deliveries

and so on. Because putting customers well

being before business interests, usually is

the key to success, and generosity, I am

convinced always pays dividends. We were all

worried, these are scary, scary times. And

we still are, it will be over for sure. But

many of us are scared. And personally, I’m

counting my blessings. Because I think we’re

all very lucky to work in tech, because many

of us actually experienced a surge in

business, which was certainly a relief. Not

all of us. I’m not saying everybody. But all

in all, from what I’ve seen, it’s been a

little bit better for us. In fact, but this

is because another thing that has come out

all of this very clearly is that businesses

that are online will survive this situation.

And that’s no wonder when the very simple

act of going to the supermarket became an

ordeal at some point. And it’s a bit better

now, but not totally, at least not where I

live. And then you get in and this is what

you find and iit’s still happening. This was

a photo from back in April, but is still

happening now whenever a country goes into a

lockdown again. So the consequence to this

dire situation and then really the

repercussions of very much failed in city

centers becoming virtual ghost towns. So the

consequence is that the most

entrepreneurial local businesses have

realized that in order to serve their

customers, they need to go online. Now

during the first lockdown – I live in Spain,

and I was desperate to get some plants for

my terrace and apartment because there was a

was a total lockdown. There was no going out

at all apart from the supermarket and your

nearest pharmacy, they would check if it

wasn’t your nearest pharmacy. So I was

desperate to buy plants online. I was

calling my local nursery where they know me

saying can you, can we arrange something and

they were completely at a loss. Fast forward

a few months later, there are at least five

or six or seven websites like this one in

Spain that sell all the plants that you

could possibly want or the ones that I love

and so on.

But in general, the the shopping experience

nine months into the pandemic is by far

preferable, because also it reduces any

possible risk of contagion. So people have

wised up to that, and they realize they’re

actually – plants at this time in these

Extraordinary times, they might be

actually considered even a, you know,

comfort goods in a way. They certainly were

for me and seeing them grow is a balm to my

soul When every other human contact is so

diminished and reduced – and I haven’t seen

my mother for over a year. The move online

of goods that were previously only ever

bought in store, which was the case for the

nurseries, they were absolutely like “how?

we can never send plants” but in fact you

can, because that’s where you – you go for

the sweet spot of where the customer needs

meet the business needs. And, and that

happens by putting really the customer’s

needs before everything else. And that’s the

sweet spot. The best UX as well as marketing

as well as design, as well as business spot

that there is where the business’s best

interests correspond with a customer’s best

interest. How do you do that? Well, you do

that by, you achieve the sweet spot by

knowing your users, treating them well, and

making them happy, which really is what UX

is truly all about. Because empathy and

emotions are what UX deals with, and UX is

user-centered design. But in fact, I much

prefer to call it Human-Centered Design,

which is when you design putting the humans

that use your products at the center of the

process. Rather than considering considering

them just users, I much prefer to think of

them as, as humans, make them happy, you

increase your own value in a myriad ways.

Not every brand has done this in the latest

nine months. But anyway. So the point that

we need to make sure we all realize us and

our clients is that it’s not about us. It’s

not about what the clients want. It’s about

giving the humans using our products, the

experience that they truly want, rather than

the one we think they should be having. I

have to confess, I’ve been guilty of this

many times, we are often so fixated on what

we want our clients to do, because we think

we know better, that we forget to listen. So

UX, like good business, is about listening,

let’s learn to be a good listener. And

therefore, to understand empathy and

emotions in order to do that. Now the user

experience definition, it’s that it

encompasses all aspects of the end users

interaction with the company, its services

and its products. This is from the Nielsen

Norman Institute, which was founded by Don

Norman, who is responsible for the good bits

of user experience at Apple, I won’t go into

the bad bits. Never mind. So it’s every

single aspect. So it’s every single email or

phone call every social media message, every

sale, absolutely everything. And what’s the

main ingredient of all this? What do your

businesses need both online and off? Well,

it’s really empathy, which is putting

ourselves in our users shoes, reminding

ourselves that users are people looking for

a solution to their problems. And at the

moment, we all need much more understanding

and help than usual, because we may all be

going through challenges that we can’t even

imagine what our neighbour is going through,

you don’t know what’s happened to their

immediate family, and loved ones or friends

is just it all to them. We need to be even

more empathic than usual, if possible, at

the moment. So the dictionary definition of

empathy is the ability to understand and

share the feelings of another. And it’s

important to clarify because there’s another

emotion that’s similar to empathy, and that

people almost all often mistake for empathy,

and it’s sympathy, which is feelings of pity

and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

But sympathy really is understanding between

people and common feeling. But in Greek, I

won’t go deep into this, but in Greek soom,

“sun” means with, while “em” in empathy

means in. And that is a subtle difference,

but it’s a fundamental one, empathy goes

much deeper than sympathy, sympathy stops at

face value, while empathy dives in. Sympathy

acknowledges. But it doesn’t necessarily

share the suffering. It’s got nothing to do

with that.

You’re not expected to share the problem

with sympathy, you just recognize that there

is one, so you don’t do much to alleviate

the issue. Whereas empathy goes several

steps beyond , way further. Empathy enables

us to understand emotions as well as

practical limitations and frustration,

frustrations. And there’s a very useful

metaphor by Brené Brown, who is I’m sure you

may, may have heard of her. She’s a research

professor at the University of Houston and

she also even has a show on Netflix and

she’s spent her career studying courage,

vulnerability, shame and empathy. And in

order to explain the difference between

sympathy and empathy, Brené Brown says that

sympathy is when you can look at someone in

a hole and say, I’m sorry, you’re in that

hole, it sucks. You acknowledge the

situation. But that’s it, you do nothing

about it. Empathy is like dropping a ladder,

climbing down and being in the hole with

someone, but knowing that you have brought

them the ladder, the ladder so that both of

you can get out, you can watch this on

YouTube, that’s the address. So in real

life, and an example of empathy versus

sympathy is when someone someone is telling

you they can’t go to the shops, and you say,

because they’re an in at-risk category, and

they’re afraid to expose themselves. So you

say, yeah, I’m really sorry for you, I see

the plight, but there’s nothing I can do

about it. Because I can’t go either. I don’t

want to get sick either. And it’s the

computer says no kind of answer. Whereas the

empathic/compassionate response, and we’ll

see what I mean by that is, I’m sorry, you

can go to the shops, I can’t go either. But

my son is going for me, and I’ll get him to

do your shopping too. This is compassionate,

you see that someone is in a difficult

situation, and you show them that you care,

but offering a solution, which is what

empathy does. Empathy finds solutions, what

sympathy usually doesn’t. If you’ve lost

your job, and you go to your landlord and

say, I can’t pay rent, they say, Yeah,

really sorry, terrible, haha, still need

rent. That is not does nothing for them.

Whereas if you can afford it, you, you want

to be compassionate. you cancel rent. That’s

what the empathetic landlord who can afford

to be generous does. They just, he just

cancels rent. So how can we be empathic to

the visitors and users of our web apps,

there’s a – there are a lot a lot of people

still who before this had never really been

online. And now they’re having to rely on

the internet to make their shopping. And

maybe this is what the internet looks like

to them. So it’s very important to make sure

that their options are as clear as possible,

especially in the case of essential kind of

comfort items, such as cheese. And by the by

let’s also be mindful of ourselves. That’s

what Big Orange Heart helps us do. But

because mental health is very important, we

deserve to be nice to ourselves. Just

thought I’d say that. Back to empathy, it is

such a complex and nuanced concept. There

are at least three different types of

empathy. And let’s see which one really

works for us. First of all, there’s

cognitive empathy, the classic put yourself

in someone’s shoes, which is also called

perspective taking or empathy by thought.

But it doesn’t necessarily involve emotions.

And the dark side to it, is this one. So for

instance, Dexter had cognitive empathy,

because that’s what then Daniel Goleman,

who’s the author of a book called emotional

intelligence he offers his children take

when he points out that someone who has the

intention of inflicting pain needs good

working cognitive empathy, to work out how

to best do it, but it doesn’t involve having

any compassion and feelings for them.

Otherwise, you wouldn’t inflict pain. Also

cognitive empathy, as a good side, as we’ll

we’ll see, it can be perceived as being

under-emotional, that’s what a lot of

autistic people have, when they say, I’m not

empathic, but I do understand and I can,

even though I don’t express it, anyway, it

has its place because it’s very useful in

those circumstances, then need logical

thought, more than feelings. So if you’re a

doctor or a paramedic, or a first responder,

you have to adopt it, because otherwise, you

know, nine months into the, into the

pandemic, you won’t, you wouldn’t survive,

you would be completely emotionally

overwhelmed. And that’s when cognitive

empathy is essential.

Otherwise, the other type of empathy, which

the second round, which is emotional empathy

is when you feel the emotions just like a

virus. In fact, it’s also called emotional

contagion, or empathy overload because it

means that we are unable to help it comes

with real risks. When someone needs is

desperate, the last thing they need is to

have someone reacting to their plight. By

being as desperate as they are, I have to

confess that I am a bit like this. But it

doesn’t mean I can be like this. So it

doesn’t, it doesn’t help it because it’s

difficult to help anyone when you’re

overwhelmed by the same emotion, it can be

terribly counterproductive. If you’re a

doctor or nurse, you can’t afford to be

emotionally empathic is just not what you

can do. Now the third kind of empathy, which

is our kind is compassion. Compassionate

empathy is when you feel someone’s pain and

you take action to help such as the ladder

down the hole the brand a brand was talking

about, or organizing gratitude meals for

overworked health workers, rather than just

clapping at 8pm every night or now, at the

moment as it were, actually, BC besieging

hospitals and claiming that the virus is a

hoax. But you know, that’s not going to

that. compassion and empathy is the right

balance between logic and emotion. It’s when

we totally identify with the other person,

but we are able to keep control of our

emotions and use reason to find a solution

to that situation. compassionate empathy is

what we must strive for, when we build

experiences and products. Now, I give you

again, from the Nielsen Norman group, this

diagram, this graph that can help better

visualize the spectrum of empathy. Now, pity

is at the bottom where it deserves to be

because most people don’t even want it, then

sympathy is nice. But as we said, you know,

it doesn’t help that you feel for me unless

you are empathic and you feel with me, but

even so, even though with empathy is where

the good stuff starts to happen, it needs to

be motivated by compassion, which is when I

am moved by you. And I would say that you

should actually be – I am moved to action by

you. How do we put it into practice? What

are the methods to practice empathy, empathy

that are available to us as a web design

business? Well, first of all, build empathy

into your process. And right now, I’m

talking about typography all the time, as

I’m, I’ve got a masterclass on typography is

the first place where you start building

empathy, see how big my slides text is, it’s

as big as possible, because I don’t see well

anymore. But I know there are people that

see even worse than me, and I make

everything as legible as possible. So I

don’t use caps anymore. I only use them in

the top. But for very short sentences and

not essential. Because dyslexic people might

have difficulties in reading caps. If you

have very young designers in your team, they

might privilege smaller text, they might

assume that everybody can read as well as

they can. So make sure that your team

understands that there are assumptions they

can’t make. This is how you build empathy

into your process. And if you’re going to go

want to go deeper, at the basis of good UX,

as well as good business, good marketing,

and good design is user research. And

there’s lots of ways of doing this. I also

have a big UX course. But I go really quite

deep into all this because research is the

most important thing, when you do good

research, you got 50% or more of the job

already done. And you can do it with user

interviews, empathy maps, which is a

specific technique that can be used. And

it’s so enlightening, I love doing that. And

this all leads to user personas. And there’s

also ways of conducting interviews. And

there’s ways also of building your forms, I

did a talk for WordPress London about this,

that is much more empathic and that you may

not have thought about, so get informed

about this. Then the other thing that you

can do is when you test stuff, which I hope

you do, is to recruit diverse test users of

different ages and different cultural

backgrounds. And it’s not that difficult to

do, you can do so online on Facebook groups,

it’s really easy or in you know, possibly,

when we’re still able to go out, ask a local

training center because they have lots of

different people and get creative. I mean, I

used to say “Oh, just go to Starbucks and

ask the person next to you to whether they

understand what your website is about. But

clearly, we can’t do that right now”. So

don’t do that. And then another thing that

you should do is use videos whenever you

can, to work to explain how your product


Because it’s easier or even in a sort of

larger context. If you need to show to your

client that something isn’t working, you

could show them videos of clients unable to

use the product, that really helps. And

lastly, be humble. Learn to welcome

feedback. It’s essential and he takes

nothing from your value or the value of what

you create. Feedback is what will lead you

to a great product instead of a mediocre

one. Now, once we’ve learned to be

empathetic, while also protecting ourselves

from too much emotion, we can leverage that

empathy to evoke and control emotions that

will make our customers truly love us. Now,

I really think that the role that emotional

reactions have in design and marketing is

huge and I keep still learning learning so

much about it all the time. And that’s what

I’m sharing with you. And in recent times

that crucial role of emotions has come to

the fore like never before. We are driven by

our emotions, it’s absolutely clear. And

emotions are very useful because they give

us value and they provide a guiding system,

they make us decide what’s important. So

they go hand in hand, with cognition, our

first react first reaction is always

emotional. That’s what we call the gut

feeling. And without emotion without the the

other emotions fun, pleasure, joy and

excitement and even negative emotions are

very important. Our lives will be fairly

meaningless. Now, I am going to talk to you

about an emotional assessment system called

the three level emotional system that’s

described in a book by Don Norman called

“Emotional design. Why we love or hate

everyday things”. Don Norman had previously

just considered the a more utilitarian side

to design that didn’t take emotions into

consideration. And he corrected that because

they are crucial. Now, so emotions work on

three layers. First of all, there’s the pre

wired layer, the visceral layer, which is

the immediate emotional response, and it’s

unconscious. And it’s what makes us say, I

want it beyond our control, because it’s

beautiful. And we think that is going to

make us look better and beautiful, too. And

we think we’ll be happier in the having of

  1. The behavioral level is the second

level, and it’s where we learn things, and

we store the learning. And when we can

master something, we’re likely to choose it

because we feel clever when we use it. And

it’s what allows us to perform a skill

without thinking like driving a car, then

the reflective level is the only one that

happens consciously is where we reflect and

analyze the situation where we decide to buy

something because it’s a good rational

choice. And it fits with our self image. I

could talk about this for ages. But I won’t.

Let’s go into into it a bit deeper. Looks do

matter. The visceral level is mostly about

appearance, and I’ll show it to you in just

one image. When I see a fireplace. My

immediate reaction is a visceral one, I find

it beautiful. And that’s a big part of my

reaction. Then I also love the other

feelings it evokes, because I grew up with

stoves and open fires. So this image

conjures up lovely cozy images from my

childhood, and so on. And this emotion is

also the visceral level. Then on the

behavioral level, I am an absolute ninja at

building a fire because after I left home, I

initially lived in a variety of dilapidated

country houses for years. And I can build my

fire in my sleep or hangover, which I

definitely did. And until now all good. But

then the reflective level kicks in. And

that’s when I start remembering the ice

inside the bedroom window, the killer draft

in the corridors, the exhausting chop

logging sessions and the brutal awakenings

when you had to leave the warmth of the

sheets and

face that to get the fire started again,

first thing in the morning. So while

viscerally I would love to live in a house

with open fires again, behaviorally sound

completely equipped to deal with it on the

reflective level, I would not go back to

fires as the only means of heat in a place

with harsh winters, if at all possible.

These are the three levels in one image and

the visceral level, I just want to it’s

important to us as when we design and build

products, because it’s what nature does look

at this. It’s why fruits and flowers are so

appealing to both colors and scent so that

the seeds can be spread. And it’s why some

animals look so magnificent when they want

to attract a mate mate. And that’s why we

groom ourselves and place value generic

periods because attractive things also do

work better. There’s a bunch of studies that

actually proves it. Because this is an

example from the Don Norman book that I

mentioned earlier. Where it’s an experiment

it was carried out in Asia and also other

other continents. They’re designed to ATMs

one, one ugly one, beautiful, with exactly

the same usability that exactly the same

functions. And the overwhelming majority,

almost unanimously, the users declare the

printing machine to be easier to use than

the other. Well, why does good design work

better? Look at this: non-designed things

are usually not just ugly. This is not just

ugly, it’s less accessible and difficult to

use. So as a consequence, visually

displeasing things make us angry, angry and

frustrated. I have not seen the ATMs that

they talked about. I don’t know whether the

ugly one looks like this. So the Emotions

angry and for anger and frustration, make

the cognitive process more difficult. And

that’s why, you know, I advocate good

looking design as well, because it’s

important. We’re also wired to be more

tolerant of pretty things, which is also

famously why the babies of this species are

so cute. Otherwise, it would be utterly

unbearable. As anyone who’s ever tried to

knit in the presence of a kitten can

testify. Also online, it takes a very short

time to form an impression shorter than you

think it’s about 50 milliseconds, let alone

five seconds. So it’s very important that

the first impression works. However, don’t

base everything on just the first

impression. Because otherwise, you may

create a really flashy website such as this

one, I have a video of it, it basically

looks amazing in a you know, cutting a long

story short, but it’s really difficult to

use super slow and not very accessible.

There are so many here, especially on the

websites that celebrate awards for web

design, it’s quite interesting how you see

very beautiful things that don’t work. So

usability has to come first, because then we

move into the behavior, behavioral level,

which is all about us here. Yes, appearance

matters much less than performance. But they

really work together. At the behavioral

level is where we learn how to use things,

we make them work, and we store that

information. And it’s also unconscious. It’s

what makes us possible to perform familiar

tasks without thinking such as driving a

car, as I was saying earlier, or riding a

bicycle or playing an instrument without

reading music. And without conscious

thought. However, even behavioral design and

behavioral the behavioral level includes

physical feel as one of its components,

ecause sensual pleasure is a part of good

sability to my example for this is what

hey’ve done at Duolingo, because it crea

ed a website that is beautiful. So you sati

fy the visceral level. But it also work

 really well on the behavioral level. Beca

se using it is so easy that we learn intu

tively how to use it when we interact with

  1. And it’s an example of an intuitive prod

ct, when the knowledge of the user is

sufficient to perform a task with single

trial learning, you perform a task once and

you know it forever, with no need to go over

it again. However, there is such a thing as

too simple. And that’s the role of the

reflective level, which is the only

conscious level because these were carefully

considered decisions happen. So something

that’s too easy wouldn’t be right. And then

on the reflective level, we get information

from visceral and behavioral combined with

our own knowledge. So we process everything

from the other two levels are in the

reflective level. And it’s a combination of

our knowledge and experiences. And that’s

why brands use celebrities in their

marketing, because they know that on a

reflective level, that particular celebrity

fits with a self image of their customer

avatar, whether you’re a man or a woman,

because if you’re a woman, you might want to

be them. And if you’re if you’re a man, you

might want to be them. And if you’re a

woman, you might want to be with them. So it

just works. And that’s why a successful a

successful product, ideally has to excel on

all three emotional levels, you should get

all the three levels, right? How can we do

that? How is it possible? Yes, it is. So in

the visceral level, you need to make it

evocative, make it beautiful, and make it

right for your audience. That’s something

that will come up again, then, on the second

level, on the behavioral level, you need to

make it accessible, if your audience can’t

use it, they will hate it, it would make

them feel stupid. So it has also to be easy

to use. And again, at the right level,

though, because if you are someone who

learns languages very quickly, Duolingo will

get on your nerves quite soon. So then the

reflective level is where you make it clever

enough that it will it will work for that

audience. So Duolingo point two, sorry, 2.0

I’d say I think you’d call it making the

best choice possible choice and make it

right for for your audience. So you’ve

guessed this, come back comes back again,

your audience Get to know your audience as

much as possible. And that’s why I was

saying earlier about the research. Because

the reality is also that conflict is a part

part of life as we know very well. And real

products provide a continuous set of

conflicts. This is a quote from Don Norman’s

book that I mentioned earlier, and emotion

emotional design. book. And that’s why UX is

an iterative, iterative process. I nearly

said it well the first time. And that’s why

we keep asking and testing and you roll

things out. And if they don’t work as you

thought they should you just keep asking and

find out why. Also, bear in mind that not

everything is measured, measurable. And I

really believe in the importance of emotions

as a piece of qualitative rather than

quantitative data, because it can make a

huge difference to sales. So if someone

doesn’t click on a button, that say, you

know, if you know that 90% of the people

that visit your sales page, don’t click on a

button, you know, that then the numbers you

know the data, but you don’t know why they

do it. And the reason why they don’t click

on that button may well be emotional. So

that’s the role of empathy and emotions in

building a better business to serve our

fellow humans. Again, I really believe that

this is so important these days. And I hope

that you enjoyed this very quick, deep dive

into empathy and emotions. Like I said that

that’s that’s what I do. I talk to people

and teach people these things. If you’re

interested, I don’t have I have a big course

of this, but it’s not available right now.

But in the meantime, if you would like to

learn how to start implementing a UX

process, you can start with this UX mini

course, which is called UX Made Easy, which

is sort of soft and very affordable

entrance, practical introduction to UX. You

can go to design for geeks dot com and go

to the Courses tab under learn, and you’ll fi nd it.

It’s my mission to show anyone

who builds websites and products that a user

centered approach is not only possible, it ‘s

really the only possible one. Thank you

so much for having me. Another place that

you can go to if you want to continue

he conversation is my facebook group Design

 for Geeks. Thank you so much. Stay safe

 stay healthy. Bye

Share this session

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email