How To Instill Empathy In The Software Development Process

Design, to us, means putting the needs of people at the center of our work. Using best practices in human-centered design, we seek to understand the needs of others through empathy. This enables us to create solutions that harmonize the benefits of the users with the client’s value. One component of this approach is understanding a client’s potential customer segments and key user personas. Defining these fundamentally shifts your thinking from disconnected and reactive towards a more meaningful approach based on authentic user insights and connection. With this in mind, let’s uncover how Truefit identifies customer segments, personas, and uses these tools to ensure empathy for our customers throughout the software development process.

Define Customer Segments and User Personas

As culture and technology trends add complexity to the marketplace, identifying your highest value customer is becoming increasingly difficult. For example, if we seek to understand the challenge of “connected transportation”, that’s a big challenge! How can we break this down to have an effective conversation about valuable products and services for individuals using this system? Connected Transportation spans many industries: Air, Rail, Road, Water, or even Space. Let’s assume our area of focus is Road Transportation. Working with our client, we need to identify and define our customer segments specific to Road Transportation from diverse branches of the industry such as commercial, personal travel, infrastructure, and even ride-sharing. 

Our customer segmentation begins with broad potential markets. If we focus on personal travel, we can identify a complex network of profiles, from commuter, to family travelers, luxury drivers; there is a diverse set of needs within each of these customer segments. This enables us to quickly target our user profile, which describes a specific demographic and measurable identity. Conducting user research around known jobs, pains and gains serves to validate team assumptions and identify unknown needs in users’ experiences. Enhancing the user profile into a persona through research gives the profile “personality” by describing the emotional needs and user goals.

Use Personas to Build Empathy

When we identify personas through the Business Canvas Model (1), we are looking to build empathy to frame what users think, feel, and do based on user research. Visualizing their psychographics and demographics through characters makes the discussion digestible, understandable and emotional. In the case of Road Transportation, we could describe the user profile as a “single mom traveler”, but this is boring and disconnected from the product’s value. However, if we understand “Penny” to be a stressed mom traveling every day to work and to get her kids to school, teams naturally generate ideas around Penny’s needs instead of focusing on ideas that don’t meet her needs. This is the fundamental shift from teams focusing around disparate capabilities with little connection to generating capabilities directly linked to user needs.    

Put the Persona to Work

Your persona sitting on a shelf won’t help a development team. Designers must shift from a one-way discussion about personas to championing user’s needs throughout the process. We use the persona to generate and prioritize capabilities in collaboration with the client and development team through generative workshops and continual release planning. We are always shifting priorities to meet the needs of the end user and the client. Design shows up in the user’s “empathy suit” to ensure their needs are championed throughout the build. Jeremy Jarrell, Truefit Product Owner, puts it, “We do this research to discover what the product actually needs to do, rather than what we assume it must do.” By collaborating alongside product owners and engineers through generative workshops, value design studios, and release planning throughout the process, we naturally work towards co-creative solutions to user goals and tasks. 

Collaborating with Empathy and Value 

This process is essential prior to the build because understanding the user is fundamental to creating a human-centered product. We share the process with our developers, so that every contributor to the project understands who the product serves and why our client needs it. Later on in the build process, we can return to our research to validate that we’re meeting everyone’s needs, and co-creating solutions that ensure an experience that our team, users, and client love.

(1) Osterwalder, Alexander, Yves Pigneur, Tim Clark, and Alan Smith. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.