The ability to design a really cool thing has a basic skill in common with the capacity to have a really good relationship. Both pursuits demand that we empathize with the end user.
Douglas Dietz had been designing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems for GE Healthcare for twenty years when he had a terrible epiphany. After visiting a hospital and observing sick children waiting for an MRI scan, he realized that from the experiential standpoint of the child, his sleek and elegant product was a noisy monstrous beast. He learned that most of the terrified pediatric patients needed sedation in order to lie still long enough to endure the procedure. More often than not, the entire MRI experience left the physically ill child with additional emotional scars and trauma.
With a broken heart and with these vulnerable children in mind, he set about applying human centered design methods to rethink not just the machine, but also the experience. He consulted with children’s museums, hospital staff and the kids themselves—and came up with a true innovation. Instead of suffering through a horrific medical procedure, the sick child embarks on a seafaring adventure, with him/herself in the starring role and the medical technicians as co-conspirators. The colorless machine full of complex technology is transformed into a pirate ship covered in bright stickers, decals and paint. The deafening clatter and clanking (which anyone who has experienced an MRI probably finds disturbing if not frightening) becomes an indicating signal. The pirate ship is going into hyper-drive! The child must lie absolutely still and listen ever so carefully so the ship can reach the treasure chest at the end of the tunnel.
Shortly after these new machines had been installed and put to use, the children’s need for sedation went down, thereby reducing the work of the anesthesiologist and positively impacting the hospital’s bottom line. But more importantly for Douglas Dietz, he observed a child tugging on her mother’s skirt. “Mommy, when can we come back?”
Now let’s make a leap.
Think of yourself—the “product” and the entire experience that is you, as an MRI machine—not the most flattering metaphor perhaps, but in my case, strangely appropriate. (Often, snuggled up in bed, my partner has to remind me that he’s right there, and could I please use my pillow voice.) Or think of yourself as any consumer product for that matter.
Now decide on a context. Marriage/partnership. Family. Friendship. Work.
Think of your end user—the consumers of you—your partner, kids, boss, clients, coworkers or direct reports. Allow yourself to step into their experience. Become the consumer of you.
What is your impact? Do you uplift, intimidate, bore, inspire, overwhelm? Are you the proverbial “walk in the park” on a pleasant day or that epic 100-mile bike ride into a head wind that’s best enjoyed as a powerful memory. Are you a medical procedure or an amusement park adventure?
Human centered design calls it “empathizing with the end user.” Psychology instructs us to “step into the other’s shoe. Processwork teaches that in order to really know the other’s experience we must “become the other,” that is, shape shift into them like a shaman. However you describe it, our ability to feel our impact on others, gives us valuable information and perspective about our personality, the accuracy of our sense of identity and the product that others consume when they relate to us.