3 Ways to Research Empathy

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Without empathy, design thinkers fail to meet the needs of their users.

To design solutions for problems, first, one must practice empathy. A core tenet of design thinking, empathy, forces design researchers to understand a user’s issues fully. The first step to designing a solution includes studying the user.

Exploring and researching the complex needs of a user can be a difficult task. Luckily, many methods exist to ease this process and center the issues around building empathy. Here are three ways you could use for your next empathy development session.

The Five Why’s Analysis

The Five Why’s Method includes interviewing a user and probing responses with deeper meaning. I love this method as a quick and easy way to isolate issues surrounding a user’s experience.

The method consists of an interview session with a user, and after each response to questions, researchers can dig deeper by asking a “why” question. After at least five why questions, the problem begins to identify itself simply by the user practicing empathy.

Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda, developed this method to identify the problematic failures of Toyota’s automobiles. The revolutionary process still works today.


Five Whys in Practice

A digital illustration website sees little users signing up for their newsletter in this scenario. To better understand the needs of their users, one could conduct an interview and ask the following questions:

  • “Why are people not engaging with posts on the website?” The user reports they had difficulty finding the content.
  • Why? The content presents poorly for users
  • .
  • Why? Once found, the content includes text and colors that compete with other.
  • Why? The user has a colorblind disability, and cannot see certain colors.
  • Why? The designer did not run an accessibility test on the website and chose colors with low contrast.

Using this method, we can learn that some of our users might have visual impairments, and developing empathy for this user group can improve our website’s design.

Designers can only develop meaningful solutions once empathy identifies the user’s core issues.

Story Share and Capture

Once researchers have collected empathic data, the Story-Share and Capture method promotes a more profound understanding of stories.

Story-Share and Capture require a team of people. The process begins with researchers presenting their findings in the form of a story. Members of the team jot down quotes or intriguing information on post-it notes. Next, the group displays their post-it notes on a larger surface, and the team gathers to locate common themes and essential information.

This method encourages everyone to practice empathy and isolate the unmet needs of users.

two women having a meeting inside glass panel office
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Researchers could present a story about an elderly grandma seeking illustrative information for her grandson but cannot see the posts. Design thinkers should be more apt to develop solutions by humanizing a problem.


When brainstorming fails to solve a problem, maybe the body needs to step in. The bodystorming method creates a scenario where researchers physically role-play a user scenario and focuses primarily on the problem itself.

Bodystorming produces solutions quickly by forcing researchers to live in the problem, prompting an immediate need for answers. For example, designers could role-play the color blind grandmother attempting to access the website, thus encouraging users to relate to their users and inspiring users to employ more empathy.

two person listening to woman standing beside poster
Photo by Elevate Digital on Pexels.com

More Resources

These methods provide quick and straightforward insight into building empathy for users, but many other forms exist.

For more information, visit:

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About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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