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Empathy in design thinking

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Design, DWP Digital, Women in Technology

I’m Becky Lee, an Interaction Designer at DWP Digital. I’m really interested in the digital industry’s current thinking on user experience, which is why, a few weeks ago, I went to the Northern User Experience (NUX) 6 conference in Manchester.

Becky Lee
Becky Lee

NUX holds regular meet-ups across the north of England bringing together people who work in user experience. Focused on how building an understanding of people will help define, design, and build better experiences, it also showcases speakers from some of the biggest digital brands - and I was keen to hear what they had to say. I was especially interested in the talk given by Clara Gaggaro Westaway, co-founder and creative director of Special Projects.

Clara spoke about ‘The importance of empathy in design thinking’, and a large part of her talk was based on designing with empathy for the older generation - something I found particularly relevant to my role working on the Get your State Pension service, and something we feel strongly about here at DWP Digital. I could really identify with Clara’s views - especially as our user audience is similar to the target market Clara and the Special Projects team are designing for.

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Clara called out the common misconceptions amongst people as well as designers, including ‘old people have no social life, are very sad, and love beige and grey’, explaining that whilst designing their product they found that this is not at all the case and in fact older people are ‘full of energy, very good fun and lead very active social lives’. She said empathy is, ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’.

It was interesting for me to compare experiences as when I go out and speak to our users, I also find older people buck the stereotype and are some of the most sociable, knowledgeable and amusing people I come across. The user research sessions I’ve participated in never fail to put a smile on my face. I think this just goes to show that whatever your age, it’s really important not to make assumptions – particularly based on age.

As a young designer with a baby-face, people have sometimes commented that I look young, but surely what’s more important than age or experience is understanding our users and being empathetic towards them.


As designers we need to recognise, understand and focus on user needs. I don't think the answer is to use designers that have the same characteristics as your audience; doing that may provide insight, but you shouldn’t design with one person in mind. This is why it’s important that DWP Digital have diverse teams. I enjoy being part of a team made up of people from lots of different backgrounds who are able to bring their own empathy to work. This helps us to focus on user needs, creating inclusive and appropriate design.

A user-centred design is an inclusive design. And inclusive design creates services and products that everybody can access no matter what their age, gender or digital ability.

We're looking for diverse and talented people to join us. We need people who are creative and enjoy working on challenging things. Visit our Digital Careers website and look at our LinkedIn page to see our latest jobs.


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