Research as a path to empathy

Over the past five days, we’ve looked at how technology can undermine the relationships people within organizations work so hard to build.

But the problem isn’t a purely technological one.

Sure, a lack of resources and budget constraints are a problem for lots of visitation-based membership organizations. But the recommendations over the past few days could be implemented within a day or two using the people and technology that are in place at most organizations now:

  • Removing distractions from revenue-generating web pages

  • Finding opportunities to support visitors through conversational design

  • Publishing in HTML for accessibility and improved user experience

  • Empathy-building role play

  • Journey mapping

Yes, a more customized form system would almost certainly increase revenue from your website, but considerable gains can be had just by changing publishing habits and paying attention to your organization’s digital experiences with fresh eyes. 

It’s not that these things are easy — they may be quite challenging. But maybe the real obstacles aren’t technology or budget. We blame those things because looking at root causes — like internal politics, misaligned incentives, and organizational silos — can be overwhelming. I know because I’ve worked in and for nonprofits. The problems are real; they’re just usually bigger and more challenging than the ones that we blame.

Technology — the design systems we develop to try to support patrons and help employees succeed in their work — acts as a screen separating these two groups. The screen can be more or less translucent, but it’s still there. Many organizations’ design systems only allow them to see silhouettes of their patrons. Employees will sit up and take notice of unusual body language on the other side of that screen, but they can’t pick up on the facial expressions of the people interacting with their organization online. Valuable details get lost.

As a result, many of the things that lead people to quietly abandon revenue-generating activities — online and IRL — go unnoticed, so the organization is continually missing out on vital funds that could be supporting its mission.

The answer to this problem isn’t more technology. A new CRM or a redesigned website is not a way to keep your finger on the pulse of your audience’s needs.

I believe the answer lies in design research.

Design research is not about conducting more surveys or focus groups. Those can be useful, but they are also some of the more unreliable sources of insights. The goal of design research is to develop a complete picture of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for an organization and to act as a foundation for sound decision making.

I’ll be talking a lot about design research in the days ahead. For now, I have a quick favor to ask:

Would you please take a few minutes to share with me what you got out of this series of emails?

Please visit this form and answer a few questions about what I’ve shared with you over the past five days.

Your comments will help me improve this content to make it more helpful to others.

If you complete the form and you’d like to discuss how you can apply recommendations from this series to your organization, just hit reply and let me know. I’d be happy to provide some personalized advice in exchange for your feedback, which is so valuable to me and future readers.

Share your feedback

Thanks for reading,


humanizeKyle Bowen