by Michael Tucker
It’s safe to say that the most important aspect to consider when creating something is your target audience. You have to show that you know them in order to ensure they engage with you. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Unfortunately, it is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that you truly understand the feelings, needs and motivations of your audience. For example, take the recent happenings to Snapchat, the popular multimedia messaging application.
In early 2018, Snapchat rolled out a brand new redesign that was intended to improve the overall user experience and promote additional advertising revenue. This turned out to be a drastic miscalculation. Within months, over 1.2 million users worldwide signed a petition on change.org asking the company to revert the app to its previous design. By the end of 2018, Snapchat lost around 5 million daily active users worldwide and the stock value of the parent company, Snap, Inc., plummeted by nearly 60%. So, what happened? In their efforts to supposedly improve the platform, the company assumed that they knew what their users wanted. However, Snapchat actually altered some of the core features that made the app a staple in the social media world. As a result, many users became frustrated, confused, and disengaged. Some users even began to use other social media platforms with similar features—such as Facebook and Instagram—which further eroded Snapchat’s base.
As a designer, the Snapchat debacle reaffirms the fact that my audience is in charge. The true goal of design is to create something that appeals to and resonates with a group of people—no matter if it’s an app, an advertisement, or even the executive summary in a research report. To fulfill this goal, I need to know who my target audience is and what makes them “tick”. Their needs should dictate the reasoning behind my creative decisions. So, how do I figure out what calls to make?
Great creative industry minds have offered that empathy is at the core of design.
Great creative industry minds have offered that empathy is at the core of design. The idea of empathy is to remove yourself from the equation so that you can instead focus on experiencing the situation of your end-user. This is different from sympathy as it requires a level of understanding that goes beyond just the recognition of the person’s plight. When I empathize in design, I use the knowledge I’ve collected about my audience to assemble an internal profile or persona. This helps me to really focus on the audience’s feelings, needs and motivations as I work on the final product. In the end, my audience should be able to feel a connection with the design and message.
Empathy can also be helpful outside of the design world. Over the last few years, the idea of people-centered innovation has risen to solve the challenges of an increasingly complex and saturated marketplace. The concept has taken many different forms and “buzzworthy” names including “Design Thinking” and “Jobs To Be Done”. But, at the core of these and all people-centered approaches is the idea of empathizing with an end-user to create solutions they will connect with, use, and benefit from. More importantly, these people-centered solutions should promote and support stronger connections aiding in preference over other solutions. People-centered innovation also invites collaboration, a practice that can be key in turning sympathy into empathy, and invites multiple perspectives to help generate better solutions. Through group ideation, more solutions can be created and vetted, which increases the likelihood of a more impactful idea.
For example, I recently helped create a custom analysis tool in our Digital Dashboard platform for a client. Our client needed to explore customer comments and determine how these comments were impacting overall performance metrics. With a cross-functional team, empathetic mindset, creative work sessions, and frequent input from key stakeholders, we created a custom module for our client. Our solution not only met our client’s requirements, but exceed expectations as the module also identified the actions the client needed to take to improve performance. Our success was most certainly a direct result of keeping our end-users top-of-mind, and having an empathic and collaborative process.
The use of empathy to have a better understanding and make connections with your audience has many benefits. In today’s world, the Snapchat situation can happen to any company. Now, let me be clear—eventually, they corrected many of the mistakes made with the redesign, but the damage was done. So, the next time you are in the midst of creating something, consider spending more time thinking about who you’re targeting and what impact you can make on them. Also, remember that collaboration can be great for seeing all sides to a situation. In essence, developing a deeper understanding with your audience will keep them engaged. But, if you expect someone to be engaged no matter what you do, then I wish you luck.
As Graphics Specialist in Burke’s Decision Sciences department, Michael’s skills as a designer are versatile and span across print and digital platforms. He is passionate about the impact design can make in everyday things.
- Yahoo Finance—Snap, Inc.
- Distinguished colleagues at Seed Strategy