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Getting Apps Done

Design Thinking Step 1: Empathy

April 25, 2019

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Everyone is talking about design thinking. Books are being written, job descriptions are requiring it. But what is it and why is it important to software developers? Joshua discusses the first step in design thinking: Empathy.

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  • 00:02 Joshua

    Welcome to Getting Apps Done. A mostly non technical podcast with the goal of helping you deliver software because if you didn't ship it, it didn't happen.

  • 00:15 Joshua

    Hey folks, today I wanted to talk about design thinking because I think design thinking is really critical to being a good developer and specifically today I'd like to talk about empathy and how to be empathetic with your end user.

  • 00:34 Joshua

    So what is empathy and how does it apply to software developers? I think this is something that's missed a lot because a lot of developers I've run into, not every developer, some are really good about this and some aren't, seem to miss the concept of empathy when they're developing software.

  • 00:49 Joshua

    They don't understand what it's like to be in their end user's shoes and they don't understand why that's important to them. They think it's important for them to build really functional and highly robust software... And those are really good things. It's really great to have secure and well thought out software that is highly redundant and robust and can scale well, but without having some empathy for your end user, all those things could be completely wasted.

  • 01:13 Joshua

    And what I mean by being empathetic with your end user is understanding their pain because that's really what we're building software for. It's to help people relieve pain or allow them to do things that they couldn't do before.

  • 01:24 Joshua

    In order to do that, what I like to do and what I think all developers really should do is I like to go to my clients and tell them, please teach me how to do what you do.

  • 01:34 Joshua

    I had a client who takes sales orders and they process them and they deal with all of the steps in between an order coming in and being able to deliver. And I actually had them sit down, put me on the phones and walk me through exactly what they do.

  • 01:48 Joshua

    I'll tell you I was the most annoying trainee they've ever had. I asked every question I could possibly think of. I asked them how long it took to do this, when they would do this, what would happen if they did this instead? Why would you do this? Would this take this person the same amount of time? What if this came in this way? How would you do that? And I just, I annoyed them to death with questions, but by the end of it I felt like I could go and I could do the job.

  • 02:11 Joshua

    And that was really the key thing there because in order to be fully empathetic with somebody, you need to be able to be them. Okay. No, you don't necessarily need to be them them, but you need to be close enough that you can walk in and do that job because until you can do that and you can understand why this is painful or how long that piece takes, you can't understand how you can take your development skills and build something that's going to fill a need, to relieve a pain for them.

  • 02:38 Joshua

    If there's any one thing that I think developers should get out of design thinking, this is probably the one thing, because everything else is built around this, you must... Absolutely must understand how your end user thinks and what they go through on a daily basis to build something really great for them.

  • 02:53 Joshua

    We were talking to David Wood on the podcast the other day and he was talking about an application he's built for VJs video and the applications he found on the market really weren't that great. So he went out and he built an application for him because he was a video jockey and he understood that he was trying to fit in these DJ booths, was all kinds of equipment and they all had to pack in there and it really wasn't great for them. They were all sitting on each other's laps with 20 laptops and desktops on top of them and for him, building an iPhone app solved that pain for him. He no longer had a desktop sitting on his lap. He had an iPhone which is obviously much less painful to have on your lap for hours on end.

  • 03:29 Joshua

    But because he was in that context, he was able to understand what the pain was and how he as a software developer could solve that problem and make that less painful and more enjoyable for him and that is really why empathy is so important because you're able to be in the same context as the end user and that is the most critical thing.

  • 03:49 Joshua

    Now I have a confession to make. This is actually the audio from a video I posted on youtube last week. There'll be another video this week detailing the next steps of design thinking, which is to define what you've learned.

  • 04:01 Joshua

    Obviously in the UK we are on holidays for Easter and I've had children at home running around doing all kinds of things. Therefore I haven't had quite as much time as I'd like to work on the podcast this week, but next week everything will be back to normal and we will have a guest on to talk with us.

  • 04:15 Joshua

    In the meantime, I will toss ups and transcripts from this episode at Please be sure to check out my website at and Kel's website at If you have any thoughts on design thinking, we'd love to hear about them. Obviously, we love to hear from you and we love to hear about your questions as well as your information and experiences with the things that we talk about. So please feel free to drop us a line on Twitter. We'd love to have a conversation with you. Until next time. Thanks for listening.