Make things people love

Four tips on increasing your empathy from product development expert Angie Moody

So you’re making something that you think people will like. That’s excellent. But understanding exactly how and where your product fits into someone’s life — what real problems it will solve for them — can be a murky process.

Part of the reason it’s so difficult is that people are notoriously bad at articulating what it is they actually want or need (just ask Henry Ford).

“People rely on their intuition every day when choosing to buy products and services. It’s rarely a purely rational decision,” says Angie Moody, who’s spent the last decade leading product teams at Xbox Games, Insider Pages and Capital One Bank.

 

“When I look back at the products and services that succeeded,” says Moody, “I realized it was always the result of working with teams who understood that every product or service carries with it a certain kind of emotional baggage that affects how people interact with it.”

– Angie Moody, Product teams lead at Xbox Games, Insider Pages, and Capital One Bank
Angie Moody
Product teams lead at Xbox Games, Insider Pages, and Capital One Bank

 

Angie Moody
Angie Moody, product expert

 

Steve Jobs called this kind of intuition “more powerful than intellect”. To Moody, it’s rooted in empathy:

“When I look back at the products and services that succeeded,” says Moody, “I realized it was always the result of working with teams who understood that every product or service carries with it a certain kind of emotional baggage that affects how people interact with it.”

While some people may naturally have more empathy than others, Moody notes it’s also a skill you can — and should — develop in order to create products that people will use, like, and maybe even love. Here’s how.

 

1. Become a keen observer of the world around you

As a regular exercise, Moody encourages teams to go somewhere busy (like a library, a grocery store or airport) for twenty minutes to write down their observations. She stresses getting rid of all distractions like your phone, and not thinking too hard — just write down what you feel.

 

 

“From there, your brain starts to pick up on more nuanced details,” says Moody. “You might focus on a specific person and how they’re utilizing a space, or pinpoint details that seem odd or out of place.”

Afterwards, teams can reconvene and compare notes, including what was most revelatory.

 

2. Connect with others on an emotional level

Connecting with others emotionally isn’t about being touchy-feely or over-sharing, it’s about refining your listening skills.

“You can do this by interviewing people about your ideas,” says Moody. “Even if it’s just friends and coworkers, make it a habit to have focused conversations with people about specific experiences. Asking them questions forces you to see the world through their eyes.”

Slack’s own Senior User Researcher Leah Reich follows this approach, with a focus not on where people think they want to be, but where they are. “Asking a user ‘what do you want’ is rarely if ever helpful,” she says. “The best questions to ask are the ones that help you explore what people already do, how they do it, and why they do it.”

When people tell their stories, they reveal a lot more detail about themselves than when they’re just answering a question. Moody advises that this approach works well when sussing for empathy during the hiring process. People who tend to be more empathetic will talk about how their work affected people or made their lives better, rather than focusing purely on quantifiable results.

 

3. Get inside your head

Cleaving out time to be alone between social interactions increases your ability to empathize with others, as noted in a recent research study by Harvard University.

“You can get so caught up in synthesizing other people’s information you forget to check in and just think for yourself,” says Moody. “You actually know a lot from your own thoughts and experiences, and that’s really powerful. Spending that alone time to really take stock and and understand your own viewpoint is hugely important.”

 

4. Spend time creating

Engaging in a hobby or side project is a great use of that aforementioned alone time.

“Sometimes you can go weeks, months, without creating a new idea because you’re in execution mode,” says Moody, “but it’s really important to stay inspired in whatever way creation inspires you — like cooking, or painting, or dancing — and it’s equally important to share that inspiration with others so you can make deeper connections with people.”

Building products that genuinely fulfill a need requires a deeper understanding of people and what makes them tick. But like anything else you want to get better at, increasing your empathy for others requires deliberate practice.

Lima Al-Azzeh recently learned how to ride a bike.

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