Design Thinking Stage 1 – Empathize

In the previous post, we discovered the 5 stage Design Thinking process and the concept of Framing. In this blog, we will dive in detail about Empathy.

To solve a problem, it is very important to gain a deep understanding of the users’ needs, motivations, and pain points. The key is to not look the problem from YOUR viewpoint rather from other people’s perspective. Keeping this in mind, this step often involves conducting interviews and make observations to immerse oneself in the users’ environment and remember that “You are NOT your user”.

But How to use Empathy in relation to the problem statement ? Empathy Research.

Empathy Research

The goal of this step is to interview and engage with your stakeholders. So identifying the stakeholders is also an important step. In the process of interviewing the stakeholders, involves a comprehensive and immersive exploration of that stakeholder’s perspective, emotions, motivations, and needs. It goes beyond surface-level understanding to deeply connect with their experiences, challenges, and aspirations.

So, while doing the Empathy Research, please keep these guidelines in mind.

  • It is research NOT AN INTERVIEW.
  • LISTEN FOR STORIES – ask respondents to “Describe” situations and experiences. Then will help in understanding the real experiences.
  • The WHY and HOW, beyond the WHAT.
  • Listen for NON-VERBAL CLUES.
  • We have to remember that this is the DISCOVERY STAGE. NOT the Diagnosis or Design stages.
  • Focus on what is HAPPENING, NOT on what can happen.

Sample Questions

In the context of business travel experience for employees, the process of interview with the stakeholders with empathy will help to get real pain points from different stakeholders (employees, processing team, etc).

Let’s go through some of the sample questions which can be used for Empathy Research.

Travel Needs and Goals
- What are the primary reasons for your travel within the company? (e.g., meetings, conferences, client visits)
- How frequently do you travel for work purposes?
- What are your expectations when it comes to work-related travel?
- What are the primary reasons for your travel within the company? (e.g., meetings, conferences, client visits)
- How frequently do you travel for work purposes?
- What are your expectations when it comes to work-related travel?
Travel Preferences
- Do you have a preferred mode of transportation for business travel? (e.g., flight, train, car)
- What type of accommodation do you prefer during your business trips? (e.g., hotel, serviced apartment)
- Are there specific airlines or hotel chains you prefer to use? If so, why?
Travel Challenges and Pain Points
- What are the most challenging aspects of business travel for you?
- Have you encountered any difficulties in booking travel arrangements? If yes, what were they?
- How do you handle time zone differences and jet lag during international travel?
Logistics and Booking Process
- How do you typically book your business travel arrangements? (e.g., self-booking, through a travel coordinator)
- Are there any frustrations you face during the booking process?
- Do you have any feedback on the ease of navigating booking platforms?
Cultural Considerations
- Are there any cultural preferences or sensitivities that you would like the travel program to consider?
- Do you have any specific dietary requirements or preferences that need to be accommodated during travel?
Collaboration and Communication
- How do you stay connected with your team and colleagues while traveling?
- Do you face any challenges in maintaining communication and collaboration during business trips?
Personalization and Comfort
- Are there any personalised services or amenities you would appreciate during your travel?
- How can the travel experience be made more comfortable and enjoyable for you?
Technology and Tools
- Are there any travel-related apps or tools that you find particularly helpful?
- What technologies or tools would enhance your travel experience?
Feedback and Improvement
Have you provided feedback on your travel experiences in the past? If yes, what were your suggestions?
What improvements or changes would you like to see in the company’s travel program?
Overall Experience
Can you describe a recent positive experience you had during a business trip?
Can you share a recent travel experience that was challenging or less than satisfactory?

Summarise Empathy Research

After the empathy research is done for different stakeholders in Stage 1, it is time to review and synthesise the insights gathered from empathetic research, including user interviews, surveys, and observations. Identify common pain points, challenges, preferences, and aspirations related to business travel.

After conducting user interviews and surveys, you find that employees have diverse travel preferences, struggle with complex booking processes, and face challenges in staying connected with colleagues during travel.

You can transcribe the interview to collate the data and plot in a table something like this. Here I have only plotted it for 2 stakeholders, but the list can be extensive and exhaustive.

UserProfileFacts / Needs / Pains / Problems
EmployeesLong turnaround time for tickets, Accommodation not meeting expectation, Absence of helpline in time of need, Online portal to raise travel requests, … etc.
Ticketing TeamManual Process, Pain in Approval system, No portal to update the tickets, Using email feedback from employees to buy tickets, Difficult to meet employees preference for accommodation,….

Identify User Needs and Goals

Based on the data collated the next step is to analyse the interview data in depth to define the primary needs, goals, and expectations. The gaols are

  • to understand the hidden needs of the stakeholders which they have not conveyed directly.
  • what human needs can be addressed in this problem, Maslow’s Pyramid can help here.
  • what insights can be derived from the user behaviour.
Hidden Needs
(only perceived/points to be clarified
Human Needs
(Maslows Pyramid)
(root cause/reasons behind a user behaviour)
Safety Needs
Employees may seek to have a safe travel accommodations. This is important because they are going to a different location away from their home.Secure and reliable travel arrangements (e.g., safe transportation, emergency support).

Travel insurance and medical assistance. Protection of personal data and sensitive information during travel.
Insight: Employees may seek secure and reliable travel arrangements, including transportation and emergency support.

Root Causes: This behavior stems from the need for personal safety and the assurance that they will be taken care of in case of unexpected events or emergencies during travel. Insecure travel arrangements can lead to anxiety and hinder their focus on networking and business objectives.
Belongingness and Love Needs
Employees may seek opportunities to connect with colleagues and peers during travel to combat feelings of isolation.Opportunities for social interactions and networking with colleagues, peers, and industry professionals during travel.Inclusion in company and industry events, fostering a sense of belonging. Supportive and friendly travel companions or travel buddies.
Insight: Employees may desire opportunities for social interactions and networking during travel.

Root Causes: The need for social interaction arises from the desire for a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and connection with colleagues and industry peers. Isolation during travel can lead to feelings of loneliness and detachment.
Esteem Needs
Recognition and acknowledgment of their contributions during and after business trips can be essential for self-esteem.Recognition and appreciation for employees’ contributions and achievements during and after business trips.Opportunities for personal and professional growth during travel (e.g., attending conferences, workshops, or training).
Opportunities for employees to showcase their expertise and skills during networking events.
Insight: Employees may seek recognition for their contributions during and after business trips and desire opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Root Causes: The desire for recognition and growth is driven by the need for self-esteem and self-worth. Lack of recognition or opportunities for personal and professional development can lead to feelings of stagnation and frustration.

Empathy Tools

From the details of the empathy research after decoding the stories in detail, we can create Stakeholder Stories & Journey Map to understand their regular workflow and pain. The tools which will help us to understand them in detail are:

  • Personas – Represent typical Stakeholder profile, who interact with the service/product etc.
  • Journey Maps – Outlines the typical travel experiences of different user personas. Highlight pain points, touch points, and opportunities for improvement along the journey.

After these details are collated, we are ready to dive to the next stages of the design thinking.

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