The Importance of Empathy in UX
TL;DR It’s important to remember who we’re designing for. In order to better understand our users, it’s useful to join their communities and speak to them about their frustrations. It’s also useful to “bodystorm” the conditions under which they will use your product (e.g. wearing a blindfold), while surfing your website to simulate blindness.
The Orcam Myeye 2 is a wearable assistive tech device which helps visually impaired people “see” the world around them. My role was meant to assess the usability and mental models used for its operation and come up with ways to make it more usable, useful, and delightful!
The challenge I faced (due to coronavirus closures) was to do preliminary research for the role without access to the device itself.
To start off, I joined several Facebook groups relating to vision impairment, in order to really immerse myself in their community and culture. I then asked around and was able to hold one on one interviews (over messenger) with people in the vision impaired and blind communities about challenges they face, both in general and specifically in regards to assistive tech.
Between these user interviews (and scouring Youtube), I was able to start understanding the pain points these people were facing. I was also happy to find all sorts of creative ways in which the costumers were using the Orcam device (for example reading bedtime stories to their children).
After this, I conducted market research on Orcam’s competitors and the pros/cons of each.
In order to more fully immerse myself, I took the time to teach myself to read basic braille, and how to use the integrated assistive tech on both my android phone and MacBook Pro. I surfed the web while wearing a blindfold (something everyone in the blind community wishes was common practice), I even walked around the house with a blindfold and “white cane.” Doing these activities allowed me to gain empathy and gave me a glimpse into some of the problems facing this community.
I then started brainstorming ideas on how to make the Orcam MyEye 2 more usable. For example, I noticed that when people tried recording a new name for the facial recognition feature, it had a very long beep, which confused users about the timing in when to start speaking. I realized that the intended mental model (an answering machine) was outdated. I recommended that they switch it to either remove the beep entirely (mental modal: WhatsApp’s audio recorder) or have the device say what it wants - for example “Who is in front of you?” or “Please say their name?”
At the end of the day it’s extremely important to remember who it is we’re designing for and to make sure that we can really put ourselves (as much as possible) into their shoes.
I conducted this research on my own initiative after receiving an offer for a UX role from Orcam.
Unfortunately the offer was rescinded due to COVID-19.