Compassion in Crisis: How to Conduct Empathy-Informed UX Research in COVID-19 Times

Empathy doesn’t always come easy and is not unlimited, but now we need it more than ever.

By Marta Zarzycka
Experience Researcher
projekt202

EMPATHY: AN EMPTY CONSTRUCT?

The concept of empathy inspires a certain uneasiness in me. I am, after all, a former scholar studying how neoliberal culture is shaped by how affect and emotion play out on social media. In my current UX career, empathy is called upon so often that it has become an empty shorthand, written into project pitches, dropped into management meetings, and used when describing methods. Curiosity I can understand — it is an inexhaustible resource that comes effortlessly to me.

STAKEHOLDERS: EMPATHY AS FLEXIBILITY

I am a researcher at projekt202, a consultancy working across industries, and many of our clients are now concerned with business continuity, shifting user bases, and the safety and well-being of employees. Large companies struggle with changing regulations, remote work models, and disrupted timelines, as well as depleted and delayed supply chains. For many small businesses and startups, their product/market niche no longer applies. How to offer empathy?

USERS: EMPATHY AS AWARENESS

When in the (virtual) field, I have increasingly discovered that the knowledge I had accumulated on end users was based on a world that no longer exists. Users’ collaboration and communication needs and means have changed, and tasks and goals have expanded or contracted. While the paradigm has shifted, the tools they have to shift with it are lagging with no viable alternatives on the market. All the while, users are at their most vulnerable, experiencing economic, social, and psychological challenges in rapid succession.

RESEARCHERS: EMPATHY AS SPACE

Finally, practice empathy towards yourself and your research team. Your work processes, access and reach have been disrupted. Many of us lack a solid VC infrastructure, robust project-tracking, and protocols for asynchronous work to prioritize, triage and address emerging issues. Similarly, we might miss reliable virtual tools for sharing and commenting on designs, internal tools for chat and updates on work. Many of us struggle with working from home as work blurs into family life. And some of us face the very same challenges as our users — economic, social, and psychological ones. How do we adapt and still do our jobs?

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT EMPATHY IS NOT AN EVENT. IT IS A PROCESS.

Like every emotion, it is given and received in time. Continue to ensure your research is empathy-informed through every stage — from ideation through socializing the deliverables. Empathy will unfold organically as you work and navigate through this crisis.

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projekt202 is the leader in applying experience strategy and observational insights to the design and development of mobile, cloud, web and workplace software.