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Why does it matter so much for designers to listen to people?

Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

If I could write an answer to the question above in one single line, it would be, “because, People love to share their experiences. These experiences contain golden nuggets of information

That’s it. People love to share their experiences. It might be good, bad, ugly, blissful, sweet, horrible, repulsive, lovely; but, we all have this intrinsic need to share what we have experienced.

This post is divided into three topics of discussion

  1. People want to be heard
  2. Why we are not interested to listen anymore
  3. How to overcome this and design better experiences for people

Fire up your imagination

Think about the time that you spent explaining what you did at school to your parents, as a teacher, making a beautiful presentation for your students, the time when you posted your achievements on Linkedin, photos of your daughter’s ballet performance on social media, about your infuriating experience with the customer care.

Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

All these instances have one thing in common. You are communicating what you feel and what you experience. Most of the times, you don’t care if the other person is interested or the imaginary “likes” provided by people has any value. All you want to do is share what you feel and to be heard. If people are not motivated to share their experiences, most of us wouldn’t have a job as designers.

It all started thousands of years ago

The oldest cave paintings that were discovered are around 64,000 years old. Today, we have nearly conquered survival. Except a few unfortunate, most of the world’s countries, have enough food, clothing and shelter to provide for its inhabitants. It makes sense that we like to spend most of our time sharing our experiences and gossiping with people on the internet. But, thousands of years ago, life was much harder. To survive each day is itself a challenge. Even during those times, humans have always found ways to share what they felt. The cave paintings are a good example of this.

Credits to Kurzgesagt, Origin of Humans

So what is the purpose of sharing these experiences? We can speculate on three major functions.

  1. Expand experiences quickly
  2. Preserve the experiences gained
  3. Build on past experiences to form insights

It is of paramount importance that as a hunter-gatherer society, the people needed to share what they experienced on a day to day basis to protect the tribe from disasters. In any single day, if everyone kept information for themselves; you might see a few people missing or be eaten by animals the next day. Sharing experiences is in our DNA and is core to our survival as a species.

Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world. – Yuval Noah Harari

Modern-day Sapiens

It is important to note that with the advent of various tools to voice out our concerns, we have taken full advantage of these tools to share our experiences. But the interesting thing that is prevalent is, people’s attention span while listening or observing or reading is on the decline.

Ironically, the more we share the less we are invested to take in.

According to several studies, there has been a sharp fall in the average attention span of the general population since the 2000s. We are more engrossed in our gadgets and personal devices than we are with people. We used to share our experiences with our close family and friends before the dawn of the millennium; Now, our devices know more about us than our own family.

Photo by ZU photography on Unsplash

This corresponds to less interest in listening to other people. We have been infected with the know-it-all attitude. We are easily bored with people and we seek novelty on a regular basis. It seems like it is extremely hard for us to come across interesting people because we consume too much. We don’t listen and we judge too soon. We don’t observe and yet conclude with the minimum of information.

The Problem

So firstly, we have us, humans who want to share our experiences. Then we have us again, humans, who are finding it very hard to listen to fellow humans. The end result being, most of us are interested in ourselves and so much in love with our own minds. There is very little which you or I can do except to spread awareness and educate people about it. But as designers, we have a huge responsibility once we start our careers to find solutions for people.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place — George Bernard Shaw

Now there are us, young designers, who have a know-it-all attitude and will place very less emphasis on listening to others because we know better, because we have read so much, because we can magically guess what someone needs; Can we?

The Solution

If you look at online articles and blogs through the eyes of a Designer, you would keep seeing the word empathy being thrown out everywhere. You might see definitions, quotes and beautiful infographics portraying empathy. It would be a tragedy to not give one here.

Don’t just learn, experience. Don’t just hear, listen.
– Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

You need to train yourself to be really interested in getting to know about people. No matter how well read you are, you need to cultivate a sense of curiosity like a child; in learning about different people, their lifestyles, their cultures and their history. When you are naturally interested in the nature of the human condition, you learn to listen. Once you cultivate this interest, you will prioritise the users in your design projects. Your tendency to learn about people takes higher precedence than just completing the project. You will truly start to place Humans in the centre of the design process.

Each man bears the complete stamp of the human condition
– Michel de Montaigne

Get Started:

  1. Put down your phone and try to understand and be aware of the space when you are outside.
  2. Initiate talks with people and just shut up and listen to them.
  3. Try to imagine and understand how the world looks through their eyes when they are sharing their experiences. When you do this for a long time, you’ll see patterns of problems or interesting aspects.
  4. Observe the way different people interact with their surroundings and the objects around them.
  5. While talking to people, don’t think about what you are going to say next. Make a practice of studying body language as you listen to the person who is speaking.
  6. Redefine yourself by prioritising people instead of gadgets.

Some of these examples when you try in your daily life will slowly transmute into your design thinking. You start to care deeply about people and actually listen to them instead of treating it as a checkbox to be ticked.

Thanks for spending 5 minutes of your time. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Why does it matter so much for designers to listen to people? was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.