How Empathy Can Make or Break Your Intranet

Use empathy to create a journey map that enhances user experience. 2Plus2 information architects and intranet designers show you how.

By Cathy Dew

Every successful digital product design begins with empathy. Designing to create a great user experience cannot happen in a vacuum. It cannot happen without user empathy.

Empathy is a key component of the ultimate user experience design tool, the journey map.  Without empathy, any user personas you attempt to create as you construct your journey map will fall flat.

In the context of employee intranet design, empathy entails anticipating the needs, understanding the abilities, and sympathizing with the challenges of the employees who will actually use the system. Time invested in discovering employees’ goals, needs, and tasks ensures that the intranet will deliver the value you intended.


Incorporating Empathy Into the Intranet Design Process

Design researcher Froukje Sleeswijk Visser isolated a framework for incorporating empathy into design: Discovery, Immersion, Connection and Detachment. When applied to digital product design and, more specifically, intranet design, the process works this way:


Discovery is the first step in the process. It is where the information architect reaches out to the prospective intranet users to try to understand what makes them tick.

Rather than following what might be a natural tendency to immediately start trying to solve any perceived problems, designers at the discover stage need to be developing their intuition, using their imagination, and displaying emotional sensitivity. The goal is to make a valuable difference, and that can only come with understanding without judgment.

Discovery mantra: Identify, don’t fix.


Immersion is about putting users first. During the immersion step the intranet design team strives to experience, as directly as possible, the workplace environment from the employee’s perspective. The goal is to really get to know the users and how they relate to the company, their work, and each other. Immersion is about getting to know the company’s staff as people, rather than just cogs in a corporate wheel.

Immersion mantra: Be here now.

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Empathy is a key component of the ultimate user experience design tool, the journey map


Connection happens when the designer starts seeing the world through the user’s lens. Connecting happens when the design team understands how their users feel and can put shared perceptions in the user’s context. For real connection to occur, there can be no judgment, only understanding. Empathy goes beyond being observer, even an immersed one. Empathy begins to develop when the designer can anticipate the reaction of the user because they can see how the user interprets the world.

Connection mantra: Understand and anticipate without judgment.


Finally, after discovery, immersion and connection the designer must revert back to being an observer, albeit a more empathetic one. Putting the designer hat back on allows the creative juices to begin to flow. The designer begins to consider the work simultaneously from the perspectives of the user and the designer. Perspective can change at will because the designer is cognizant of when the focus needs to be narrow and when it needs a wide angle. This is where the designer can understand not only what problems he or she must solve, but why it is important to solve them.

Detachment mantra: Keep perspective fluid.

Enhance User Experience with Empathy

Learn more out how you can use empathy to enhance UX-focused intranet design. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

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Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.