Content Strategy

The limits of empathy

Robert Mills • 2 minutes

This video is the twelfth in our Content Strategy Advent Calendar series.

Here, Karen McGrane shares her thoughts on the limits of empathy when it comes to creating content.

Content strategy advent calendar: Day 12 – The limits of empathy, by Karen McGrane.

Video transcript

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we might call the limits of empathy. It’s such a truism in the work that we do, that as user experience professionals our goal is to understand the mindsets of the people that we’re designing for.

That as content strategy professionals the fundamental goal is to understand the mindset and the values of the reader and to tailor our communication message so that the reader will understand.

And yet, there are problems with a world-view that forces you constantly to adopt the perspective and the value of another person, as your own. I don’t necessarily know that I am comfortable empathising with hate. I don’t think that to deeply understand a perspective that is rooted in hatred and violence for other people, is a world-view that I want to take on.

And in particular as communication professionals, I think we’re taught that it’s not ever about us. It’s not ever about what we want to communicate or the values that we want to present. It’s solely about how we frame those perspectives in a way that the other person will understand.

It’s not a very far leap from that perspective to a world where say, Facebook, might claim that because people want their world view reinforced, the best thing for them to do from a business perspective is to feed them fake news that reinforces that world view.

I think we, as user experience people in particular, need to understand that there are situations in which what we communicate needs to be grounded in our own values and that there are limits to the idea that we want to take on and empathise with other people.

About Karen

Karen McGrane

If the internet is more awesome than it was in 1995, Karen would like to claim a very tiny piece of the credit. For the past 20 years Karen has helped businesses create better digital products through the power of user experience design and content strategy. She is Managing Partner at Bond Art + Science, a UX consultancy she founded in 2006, and formerly VP and National Lead for User Experience at Razorfish. Karen teaches Design Management in the MFA in Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She co-hosts A Responsive Web Design Podcast with Ethan Marcotte, and is the author of Going Responsive, published in 2015 by A Book Apart. Her first book, Content Strategy for Mobile, was published in 2012.

Content strategy advent calendar: Day 12 – The limits of empathy, by Karen McGrane.

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About the Author

Robert Mills

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