Podcast

014 - Design is for humans with Monika Khanna

December 31, 2019

Monika Khanna is an Associate Design Director at IBM, and in this audio she explains the importance of empathy in creating products that are memorable and enjoyable.

Whether you’re a designer yourself, or a technologist looking to inject a little more design thinking into the development process, a human-centered point of view is paramount.


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Transcript

Intro:
Hello and welcome to All Hands on Tech, where today's leaders talk tomorrow's technology. This episode brings you another excellent breakout session from our 2019 Pluralsight Live user conference. Monica Kona is an Associate Design Director at IBM and in this audio she explains the importance of empathy in creating products that are memorable and enjoyable. Whether you're a designer yourself or a technologist looking to inject a little more design thinking into the development process. A human centered point of view is paramount.

Monika Khanna:
I'm going to start with the most important human skill which is required for designing for humans and then how to develop that skill in case you don't have that as designers. And then what are the methods we use, how the evolution of that skill has happened and helped us design better for the humans and then the summary. That's the agenda of my talk. Humans are born for love. Humans basic need is to be heard, understood and acknowledged. This is the foundation of every interaction with human beings. This holds true even when we are designing interfaces, enabling humans to connect and communicate.

Monika Khanna:
How many of you think here that I'm compassionate to care and understand other person's feelings? Please raise your hands. Awesome. We have a couple of people there. That's good. And how many of you think that I let myself enter into the other's feelings to see what they do? Please raise your hands. So I think 10 here, 10 here, 20 and the previous one also we had around 30 people in the room. So pretty much everyone in the room is so much having this human skill that I'm going to talk about. Any guesses? Which is that important human skill which is required for designing for humans. That's the one empathy. That's the most important human skills which are treat for designing for any human interaction.

Monika Khanna:
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's thoughts, feelings and condition from his or her point of view rather than from one's own as by a psychology today. When a newborn baby starts crying in response to the tears of the other child, that's empathy. In simple words, what's empathy is being in someone's shoes and experience them. Empathy is at the core of design thinking in every design thinking process. That is the first and foremost step. Empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and then test. So empathy is the foremost you need to keep empathizing with your users. So the question is why empathy is essential?

Monika Khanna:
I'm very happy to know one or two people guessed the right human skill, which is important for designing. But the question is why? Why I'm saying that it is the most important one. Why I feel that as a designer, whenever I start my work, I start with this important human skill. Empathy brings human touch to your brand, to your product. And that is why it is important. As it builds and connect in human beings, empathy is the heart of every design. It can be used as a tool for establishing a framework, of a relationship between trust and love for connecting with humans. Exploring new places can make you more empathetic and that's why I like to see new places and roam around, and flown 24 hours to come here and see you all. I'm so happy to see you all the here.

Monika Khanna:
So empathetic you can become, if you explore more places, learning other's culture can help you design for them too. A classic example is China, where red is the color of joy, but we incidentally relate red more with danger, I'm I right? I want to understand your culture as well that's why I'm asking. Put aside your viewpoint and see from others' point of view. As you see here, one person is able to see six. One person is able to see nine, and both are right on their places, right? He's able to see six he's able to see nine and they're right, but until they exchange their places, they won't understand. They won't see the other side and they won't understand that the other person was right. They keep on fighting. No, it's six. No, it's nine. No, it's six. No, it's nine but until the exchange part with each other, they won't understand that it is six from this side, but it is nine from that side. So you need to exchange each of those point of view.

Monika Khanna:
As designers we endeavored to be empathic and truly uncover underlining needs of users, their pain points, their aspirations, their challenges. And in order to do design around solving their needs and ensuring that our interventions are helpful, you need to step out of your office building. You need to think out of your laptops. It's completely different venue design on your laptop and when you talk to your users. It's completely different. So talk to your users to understand their goals, their points, their problems, their pain points, their aspirations, their behavior, their lifestyle. But keeping in mind that you are designing for them and not for yourself. So you need to keep that in mind, that they are different, their goals, their lifestyle is different. So I'm not designing for myself.

Monika Khanna:
And that's why I always say to my team as well that don't get so attached to your design that this is mine, this is mine. I've designed so well no. If your users are able to do what they were supposed to do, then you are excelling and then your design is speaking more than you. But if it's vice versa, it's only looking beautiful to you and you are doing your hard work, sitting late nights and completing your tasks and not solving the needs of the user, then it's a waste. So don't get attached to your design. I've tried to divide empathy in two letters each and give them a more reference and a more meaning where I'm saying embrace. Communicating with others become more fruitful if some of the basic conditions are fulfilled, like emotional understanding, respect, acknowledged, authenticity, warmth, unconditional, positive, recognition.

Monika Khanna:
Embrace is when with open mind you accept the problem of your users. So embrace your users, embrace them the way they are, the way they have been raised, the way they are currently solving their problems and give them an assurance that you will find a better solution for them as designers, you will come up with a great and a different yet very meaningful solution for them. You are there to help them. And Pa, I'm saying partner, we often misinterpret some of the physical movements or facial expressions. A smile can mean joy, but it can also signal sadness, right? So before you partner with someone else, with your users, keep in mind and be willing to loan more.

Monika Khanna:
Keep in mind that your interpretation of others' behavior, lifestyle, moods will be influenced by your prior experience, your unconscious bias. So don't rush to assumption or make any judgment there and then. Your instincts may be wrong. So hold for that. I said what not to do, but then the thing is what to do then. So just focus on understanding the how and the why. Just focus on these two things, how and the why. How the person feels and why he feel that way. That's the two important thing as designers we should keep in mind when we are interviewing the users, what and the why.

Monika Khanna:
Once you are on the same wavelenth with other user and share his feelings, then you will get the more holistic picture of the situation. And T, I'm saying as think then work on the feedback which they provide you whether in the form of written, verbal or body language. And think critically, think what could help them to solve their problems better. Don't restrict yourself in just thinking what they said because they rely on you now. As designers utilize your skills better to understand what I can give them a better experience in, that they didn't even expect. So as for Henry Ford, he said that if I would have asked my users what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. While designing for humans, it's necessary to think what happens before their key interaction with the system and what happens after the key interaction with the system. So that's empathy for me.

Monika Khanna:
Embrace partner and think, embrace your user. First you need to acknowledge and embrace your user. Then you need to partner with them for solutions and then critically think how you could solve their problems by finding relevant solutions. Because finding every solution will not work for every problem. So you need to find a very relevant solution. What's the problem of the user? Understand it. Partner with them, go into their shoes, understand how is he feeling? Is he liking the session? He's not liking the session or what he's doing, and then mold yourself and think for the solution, what you could do to help them. Types of empathy, cognitive empathy means the ability to understand how a person feels, how he might be thinking. And then this type of empathy makes us better communicators because it helps us relay information in a better way and it reaches in the best way to the other person.

Monika Khanna:
The other one is emotional empathy, which is also called us affective empathy. And this is the ability to share someone's feelings, how the person is actually feeling. Understanding is the cognitive one and the emotional one is share his feelings. Some have described it as your pain in my heart, so this makes us get more emotional connections with others. And then compassionate empathy. This is also known as empathic concern. It goes way beyond simply understanding and sharing someone's feelings. It actually moves us to take some action and to help the person however we can. Begin by asking directly to the user and the human that how you can help them. If in case they are not very willing to share or they are not very open. So think from your point of view, think, what could have helped me if I would have in the same situation.

Monika Khanna:
I'll share one example with you of my personal life, my daughter is six years old. She is not willing to go to school. Whenever I push her, she's like, every day in the morning she cries and then next day she promises me yes I'll go. And then she'll go and then for four or five days things goes well and then again she starts being cranky and I have to do everything to make her happy. So one day I just asked her, I'm just try to be empathetic with her that, "Why don't you go to school?" So she said, "You don't understand my problem. You don't see from my point of view." And I said I had, "This is what I do in my career. This is the task which I do as designer and as a mother I am not able to understand you." So I just asked her, "Why?" And then she gave me her best views that there is a short duration of the recess and I don't get time to eat properly and there's so much a study going on and she's just in fourth standard.

Monika Khanna:
I understood her problem and then I wrote it in the diary that, "Mum, if you can increase the duration of the breaks, lunch breaks so that people and the children will get satisfactory time to eat. And not only to do chitchat for their friends." So I just wrote it in the diary and then things goes well, they're increased 15 minutes I guess, or 10 minutes for the lunch break. And then she was happy and then she started going and she's still going. But at times she becomes cranky, but that's for different reasons.

Monika Khanna:
But I just wanted to share this, that empathy is not only that you relate yourself with just the professional life but relate it in your personal life as well. Your relations, your connections with humans. Because I said in the starting of my presentation that it is true for every interaction with humans, so whether you interact while talking at home or talking to your colleagues or talking to your users for whom you're designing, it will be really helpful for you. These are the pillars which I think that keeps empathy, keeps going, mind, heart and soul. A user's delighted when these three elements are intact and come together? A truly beautiful idea originates from mind, emanates from the heart and resonates with the soul.

Monika Khanna:
You need to keep an equilibrium between these three things, mind, heart and soul that the person who is using your product or your brand will feel that this is so personalized and says that I feel it is made for me. So that kind of feeling should be there when you are designing for some of the products. If your user says that it is personalized, I feel it that it is made for me, then you won the challenge, then you're bang on and you have done your task well. But if you can see there's some people and not everyone in the group who was part of that product, then you will fail with 50% of the users and rest 50% of the users will feel good about your products. So keep in mind that you designed for everyone who is the target audience and give them a better experience.

Monika Khanna:
As we see in this room also, some people raised their hands who are in this pink side that's for empathic people. Some didn't raise their hands, they might be on the left hand side or too sympathetic that they might be on the right hand side where you can see, the left hand sides are, don't bother me, I'm ignorant, stubborn, I don't care, these kinds of feelings we have. Some are empathic, they understand, I can imagine, I can feel, right, what the other person is feeling. Welcoming with warmth and someone like, I'm really feeling sorry to know about this. But these are the types of humans I'm just trying to tell you that some are empathics, some are not, some are ignorant, some are stubborn, but empathy is described as a muscle. It is developed in an area of your brain which is called, prefrontal cortex.

Monika Khanna:
Unlike any other muscle, this can be developed. So even if we as designers are not in the pink one and we are designing for something, we need to be in the pink ones so you can develop the skill, you can develop it, because it is described as a muscle. And many studies have established in the past that empathy can be taught to various group of people. And the question often arises that, "Can empathy be taught to doctors?" And the question is this, and the answer is reassuring, "Yes, why not?" And they should be empathic. Otherwise, if you have a choice to go to a doctor who is very polite, who listen to your problem and makes you feel relaxed, tell you that nothing is there, or you feel like going to the B doctor who is like this, "What's the problem? This is the problem. Go ahead, do this, eat this medicine, you are going to die in 10 days." Something like that? So obviously we like to go to the A doctor who is more empathic.

Monika Khanna:
So there were studies happened and three recent studies are among the healthcare professions have come out that yes, empathy should be taught to them and one was by William Brown McKenna, which showed that self-reported empathy scores of 293 students from 12 different medical and health care professions have significantly improved by showing a video simulation based empathy workshop. And in India also I belong to Delhi, India last year, happiness curriculum has been introduced in the schools. That is going to teach the qualities like empathy, gratitude, respect to the students so that from the school age only they start learning these qualities which is required. And the impact of this curriculum in just one year is spectacular. And it just similar to as its name leading to the emotional and mental growth of the happy students of the school.

Monika Khanna:
Now the question is that fine, it can be developed and it should be there. We all agreed with those, still here. Then how to develop it. Be a good listener. Now there are different ways to listen, hear and listen is different. So be a good listener, pay particular attention to the language people use, the examples, the comparisons they lean on to make sense of things, that's very important. As golden Krishna, language is the most powerful, useful and efficient communication technology ever, period. Observe with attention, when conducting observation, one needs to be very attentive in the presence. Perceiving with all his senses, get into it, not like you're busy, you're seeing your phone and then, okay, okay, okay, something like that.

Monika Khanna:
No, perceiving with all your senses and then open-minded to learning, be open. He might teach me something new and I'm open for that. I'm not keeping my unconscious bias with me and learning from my past experience that this kind of problem I've already seen. I've worked on it. I know, I know. That's okay. It will come with the solution. Don't go like that. Listen carefully what the other person is saying, observe him because sometimes he wants safe but his body language, his gestures will speak a lot and you need to keep that thing in mind that he might not be able to show me what he's meaning about it, but this is what he views. Observe carefully. And then reflect what you hear, confirm with him that this is how I'm perceiving, I'm taking this information back from you. Is this the way you are thinking? Is this the way it is taking you or not?

Monika Khanna:
Learn to admit your mistakes. If you're gone with them for some testing of the product and if it is showing some errors, some mistakes, maybe logical or maybe navigation wise or something else, then it's okay. You should admit your mistakes because design is an iterative process. And you always learn from your mistakes. It's okay. You can go back, re iterate it, come back and show him that hope this thing is fine now so it's okay. You should be open. Ask relevant and related questions. That's very important because empathy is skin deep. Your questions should not be requirements targeted for some rule, your questions should not be requirements targeted because when you ask requirements, targeted questions, you're abandoning the user for having the patch responsibility of the solution and asking him what could be the solution. We'll lose him the knowledge of his intent, which is the why.

Monika Khanna:
So, make them say not only what they would like to have, I would like to see this or something like that meaning the whats. But also I want to see this because meaning the whys. And this is the process, this is the method of questions which can take you from how to why, why he's feeling it that way. Be open to inputs, that's okay. Learn from them. As I keep on saying, it's always better to see that what I've designed in my AC office building room and now when I'm with the user, how they're feeling. So it's okay to take their inputs. Be mindful of your attitude. It's very important how you talk to them, how you present, because your gesture speaks a lot more than you, don't keep looking on your watch or you're on your mobile and show them that you're getting bored from what they're saying and what they are showing the intent.

Monika Khanna:
Because as I said, that empathy is skin-deep and you should dive deep into it to hunt for the intent because that is where the gold is hidden. And spark your curiosity, keep sparking your curiosity. Keep asking why, why this is happening, why he feels it that way. I've learned with my experience that with practice and effort, we all can expand our ability of being more empathic and more deeply empathetic. I move with this methods that after you meet the users, you talk to them, you understand their culture, their language, the way they do, the way they have been raised, and all those things. You summarize it when you go back to your design team, you summarize it in these methods. So these methods are, could be a persona. So persona has nothing, but it is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might be using your product in a similar way.

Monika Khanna:
So you capture these kinds of details that I talked to 50 people who are using my product, and out of that, I'm creating a user type of persona which will represent them as by one person. Capturing all the details, how's their personality, what are their motivations, their goals, their location, and how good are they in the technology? What are their frustration levels and what they want? What are the goals? So this summarizes it. So once you go back, these are the methods you use and you summarize whatever interviews you have taken with the users. Then it's very important to have, which is empathy map.

Monika Khanna:
This we create for these four quadrants like think, feel, see, say or hear. So what are the thoughts that occupy them? How do they feel about things? What really matters to them, we capture on the think or feel. While on the C-section we capture, and what do they see? What do they read? What do they watch? How's the environment around them? In the say I'll do we capture, what do they say? How do they behave with others? What tasks users trying to complete from this product and hear what they hear from others. Where do they get their information from? What places, people or things are influencing them to get to this point. And in the pains we capture their fears, their hesitations, their worries. And in the gain section, we cover what are their aspirations, their motivations, what they want to actually achieve by this or in their life or they want to do. How can we help them achieve their goals, their needs, their aspirations, their motivations.

Monika Khanna:
I would like to show you the evolution that how empathy has evolved in our designs as well. How our designs have evolved by using more empathy. So by '97 we were using websites, web portals. By 2007 we were on the mobile apps and got more personalized view. And by 2017 we have our chats, chatbots, voicebots, right? So this has helped us a lot because this has given us a conversational experience like adding, everybody knows Alexa, Google Home, Siri these days, and we are so comfortable using them. So this has evolved by being more empathic with the humans that they would like to talk to digital assistants or bots in the same way that they feel like they're talking to someone so close to them, maybe their friend or family. So they feel like they're talking to any other human, it can be a text or a voice-based conversation.

Monika Khanna:
So this has evolved with empathy. We are being more empathic and let's see what we have next after this in the coming future. You never know. What is this? Can you see this room? It's the MRI room. I would like to tell you that not only empathy helps in driving solutions and I read about it, I got really touched. Because empathy can transform lives as well. Yes, this is MRI machine and it has been designed by a GE industrial designer, Doug Dietz, and what he designed is incredible. A fun kid friendly MRI machine. As you can see here. He redesigned the experience for children, many of whom are very fragile from many severe health issues. Just imagine, I'm getting goose bumps even by telling you the story. He redesigned the experience. He only designed the MRI room and then when he saw the children getting panic about getting into this machine, he redesigned the experience.

Monika Khanna:
And what came forth was adventure cities and the patient's satisfaction level cause up to 90%, can you imagine. Because children going into this thing did not feel anxiety anymore. Some of them even says to their parents that if they can come back tomorrow and get into this, just imagine. The fun and the emotional aspect of the scanner helps the children to hold still during the whole procedure because maybe you are in this machine, you're like half buried, you can't move. You have to be still. So because of this finding emotional aspect, they see their cartoons around and the feel more homely, they feel they are with their toys, their favorite cartoons, they don't feel anxiety about it and they hold still during the whole procedure. And this again prevents the doctors to repeat the scan because otherwise earlier it was happening that they need to repeat the scan again and again, but this helps them and this prevented doctors to having repeat the scan. I'm really happy to see this, that wow empathy can even transform our lives.

Monika Khanna:
This is incredible. As for John Kolko, Austin Center for Design, I completely agree with him what he said. And so complete empathy is impossible as I keep on saying for the last 40 minutes I guess, that empathy is very important. At the same time, I'm saying that it is, complete empathy is impossible, but the pursuit of empathy is not and it's the pursuit that can be methodologically taught and learned. Empathy is a spectrum with you on one side and the [inaudible 00:31:48], or user on the other side. The closer you get to [inaudible 00:31:54], the more likely you are able to build a product that she'll find usable, useful and desirable.

Monika Khanna:
Empathy drives experience. It's not 100% achievable. It's not a checkbox that good, I did this. That's okay. No, it's not a checkbox. No one can fully perceive the other person's feeling. Even if you say that I will, you won't be able to see the 100% of the other side. But yes, try to get as close as possible to the user and try to understand their needs, their goals, their problems, their lifestyle, their behavior so that more information you have and you feel like them. Being empathetic is one of the bravest thing you can do in your life because it takes a lot of courage to leave aside your personality and pain from someone else's lens. So empathy lets you put aside all the assumptions which you make and helps you gain an anticipated insights.

Monika Khanna:
I summarize with saying that empathy is when you see the world of the user, see from their eyes, embrace them as human beings, partner to understand their feelings and think and communicate your understanding, and keep a balance of your left side of the brain, which is more analytical and logical and the right side of your brain, which is more emotional. Keep a balance between them. And integrating empathy in your design, would turn a soulless product into something memorable and enjoyable to use, that's for sure. And I thank you all for being here and attending this session and want to end from where I started, that humans are born for love. So if you're designing for humans, keep empathy in mind because more empathy means more love.

Outro:
Thank you for listening to All Hands on Tech. If you enjoy this podcast, please rate it on your platform of choice. You can see show notes and more info at pluralsight.com/podcast. If you're interested in attending this year's Pluralsight Live Europe, which takes place March 23rd to 24th in London, England. There's a link to learn more in the show notes.