Sunday, February 20, 2005
from empathic design to empathic engineering
I have come across a couple of stories that speak to something different: what might be called empathic engineering. Instead of applying user empathy to the process of design, which carries with it baggage of translation, think empathic engineering, the melding of making and using in a single act. Wall Street Journal writer Thomas Petzinger tells the story of a company called Anadigics that put engineers in charge of selling. "Selling and engineering, in short, became indistinguishable" as "direct lines of communication emerge between once-autonomous techies and the world of potential customers that lay outside." Business guru Daniel Goldman of Emotional Intelligence fame tells the story of Ford getting engineers to spend a week with customers, instead of relying on market research and focus groups. The lesson for the engineers was to listen, and to forget about data.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think formal design research is unnecessary. In many cases, a trained researcher can spot things not obvious to the untrained observer, and the researcher can offer an fresh and outside perspective as well. But sometimes all that's needed is just a bit more communication between maker and user. The needs to be identified aren't mysterious, just not being heard by the people who need to act on them. If I'm not needed, that's fine too.