Empathy in Design: Lessons from a cough syrup

Do you remember that feeling of irritation when something is poorly designed? When how to use something you bought takes a lot of time to figure out? When something you use daily, is inconvenient due to its poor design? This poverty in design comes from lack of customer feedback mechanism and customer focus of the designers. When you put empathy for the customer in your design- when you put yourself, as a designer, in the shoes of the end user, the customer, you can make a product that the customers love! Look at the first iPhones for example- no wonder Steve Jobs spent so much time on the look, feel and the design of even the invisible internal parts of the iPhones and the MacBook.

I will give you an example about how infusing empathy in the tiniest things in the design philosophy can elevate the customer experience manifold. My wife was prescribed a cough syrup by the doctor. When she bought the syrup and opened the bottle to drink her prescribed dose, she found that something felt different and easy compared to her previous experiences of drinking syrup out of bottles. You know, the whole pouring without spilling and getting the sticky liquid on your fingers. Okay, I know I sound an elite bastard right there, but admit it, apart from weird tastes, this is one of the reasons you too prefer tablets over syrups- the mess of it!

Being the anthropologist she is, she started observing the design of the bottle. Turned out, the bottle had a little lip, to make sure the syrup falls into the measuring cup through it, rather than spilling all over. The measuring cup, which is common for most syrup bottles now, also had a tiny handle, so that you can hold it like a cup and drink your syrup without getting it on your fingers. These are very small, and probably imperceptible differences in design of the syrup bottle and the cap. But it made the experience of drinking a regular cough syrup, much better. These small empathic incorporation in the design made a big difference to the customer- and there is a lesson to be learnt, for all designers, right there.

What is your favourite product design? Comment and tell me why.

Published by

Tathagata Neogi

Dr Tathagata Neogi is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Leader of Immersive Trails, a purpose-driven company based out of Kolkata, India that converts ethical, in-depth research into immersive experiences. Tathagata is a vocal advocate of empathic, ethical, community focused business practices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s