Empathy in Tech

One of the so-called hot topics in design world is how to connect empathy and technology. Technology is often understood as something that is clinical and remote from the human emotions. The theme was discussed in Design Forum talk: Empathy and Technology that was organised by Design Forum Finland in the end of November.

The most interesting keynote in my opinion was the academia perspective on how an organization can understand human. Anna Seppänen who is a Doctoral Researcher from Faculty of Theology in University of Helsinki shared her research findings on the topic. From the researcher-perspective, empathy is a buzzword and that is both wonderful and awful thing; a buzzword often is everything but at the same time it is nothing. She defined empathy being ability to share other’s positive and negative emotions but also separate them from one’s own feelings. This was a great reminder for myself; I often forget that empathy does not mean identifying, it means understanding. From service designer perspective empathy does not mean that you share the same feelings as the customer, one just have to be capable to understand what the customer is feeling. She also pointed out something that striked my mind; Anna argued that if organization explains that customer-centricity is important, it cannot be it if it treats own employees as resources or “things”. An organisation cannot be empathic towards customers if it’s not empathic towards its’ own people. One thing is also important to remember; rush is the most efficient way to loose empathy. To conclude her findings she presented the key components organization that understand human have:

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Formula of organization that understands human (Seppänen)

Nelli Lähteenmäki from Fifth Corner Inc. shared her thoughts about what kind of role empathy plays in a start-up. She concluded her thoughts in three points: start-ups should be empathic in product development, technology features should support empathy and start-ups should be empathic when considering the impact of their product or service.

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1. First point is familiar from service design, although service designers of course talk about services (and so did Nelli :)). The development (or design) process should be about the customer, only by knowing the customer, an empathy can be present: Ask questions, use data, stay close to the users etc.
2. Empathy can be a design principle so that features of the service can be built to support the empathy.
3. The third point is actually a hot topic of the time, according to Nelli this is the biggest challenge in the technology world at the moment. Technology companies should considered the impact they have in the users and in the society in general. An interesting column about the topic here, with the title: “Like heroin for your childer” (sorry only in Finnish). You should also read this; it is a crazy article how the ones designing these addictive services are not actually using themselves anymore. Nelli also tips about Tristan Harris who is an expert on design ethics. His TEDtalk: “How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds everyday” is worth watching!

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Nelli’s example of negative impacts of technology

Besides Anna Seppänen and Nelli Lähteenmäki there were two more keynotes in the event: Sampsa Fabritius from Kieku Labs Oy and Timo Kauppila Catchbox. All the keynotes can be found from Youtube here.

This blog post was written by,
Emmi Kinnunen
SID student

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