Join Chris Nodder for an in-depth discussion in this video Empathizers and systemizers, part of Making User Experience Happen as a Team.
- I'm going to describe a way of thinking about the people that you work with that might help you communicate user experience concepts to them in a way that they're better able to understand. Before I start, here's a warning. It's wrong to try pigeon-holing people, putting them into boxes of your own definition. You can't see inside their heads. What I'm about to describe is a general tendency, not something you can apply directly to any one individual. Now that I've said that, let's introduce the concept of empathizers and systemizers.
Empathizers want to identify another person's emotion and thoughts. They're often able to intuitively figure out how people are feeling. Often they're relaxed about details. They tend to be sociable and communicative. Systemizers want to analyze, explore, and construct systems. They're able to intuitively figure out the underlying rules of how things work. They're often less interested in chatting and being sociable. Simon Baron-Cohen created this empathizing, systemizing theory to help describe the differences he saw in how people on the autism spectrum prefer to interact.
They tend to fall into the systemizing side of things. But he says that all of us tend to have a preference for either systemizing or empathizing. It doesn't mean we're stuck in that pattern, but it's how we normally look at the world. William Hudson took this work and found that people who have jobs in science and engineering roles, specifically in IT, tend to favor systemizing over empathizing. So it's likely that a lot of the people you work with on the product teams have a preference for thinking and communicating in a systematic way.
That's often a problem for user experience folks because we're mostly talking about the problems that other groups of people, and users, have with our products. And that tends to require a certain level of empathy. So how do we help people who prefer to think in a systematic way to empathize with the problems that their end-users face? It's easier to meet them in their own space by systemizing empathetic moments. First, seeing is believing. You can increase empathy by having lower empathy team members watch users interact with the products they build.
You might have to help these team members understand that the users they're watching are typical and that not everyone in the world has the same level of mastery as the folks on the development team. If you have team members attending user research sessions, tell them to just record what they see and hear rather than trying to interpret it. Later, you can help guide them through the more empathetic aspects of the interaction. Then take that data, and with the team, assemble it in a way that helps them to find the underlying themes. Systemizers are really good at this type of task as long as they have input from someone who can see when emotion might have led study participants to say something different from what they really meant.
The data you've gathered is great to help the team create personas, too. Rather than making assumptions about their users, the team has to pull together descriptions of their users from actual data points. Systemizers also tend to like storyboards and scenarios, too, because they make things concrete and show the relationship between user needs and the underlying system. For user testing, you can increase investment by having the team propose product goals. The user experience team then helps them find ways to measure those goals, and the team get numerical feedback on how well their alpha or beta product is performing, and how much work they still need to do before release.
For any day-to-day work on the product team, pairing across disciplines can help balance systemizing and empathizing in the product. Just like pair programming puts two developers to work on the same problem, pairing anyone from the product team with the user experience team member brings two different perspectives. Both people learn new skills and the product ends up better for the collaboration. Engaging as the work is happening also reduces the need for any re-work in the future. It all boils down to speaking from data, not opinion.
That's a quality that systemizers greatly appreciate and it's a key part of being a successful user experience team.
In this practical course, look at what it takes to help systemizers to empathize, and how you can best integrate with development teams, communicate the value of UX to business-oriented team members, and cultivate executive champions. Upon wrapping up this course, you'll have a better understanding of how to help your colleagues grasp the importance of user experience—which, in turn, can help make design decisions a bit easier.
- Integrating with development teams
- Owning the user experience
- UX as a brand
- Resources for teams you can't help
- Speaking from data, not opinion
- Influencing without authority
- Cultivating executive champions
- Justifying your budget