Human-centered design pioneer Don Norman, who coined the term ‘user experience,’ explains why he’s not convinced by the current obsession with empathy and what we should do instead.

I approve of the spirit behind the introduction of empathy into design, but I believe the concept is impossible, and even if possible, wrong. The reason we often talk about empathy in design is that we really need to understand the people that we’re working for. The idea is that, essentially, you’re in a person’s head and understand how they feel and what they think.

In my opinion that’s impossible, and here’s why. If I’m designing a medical rehabilitation device for a unique person, I could argue it’s crucial to really understand their likes and dislikes, their personality and issues, and how they approach the world. But that’s relatively rare. Most of the time, in our field, we’re devising products and services that are being used by lots of people — hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions. In Facebook’s case it’s even billions. This means that understanding the individual person is actually not going to be very useful.

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