Jennifer Coffey

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Empathy: Understanding the User

“We spend a lot time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”

– Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute
Check out my Design Thinking post for more information.

This week, I was challenged to describe a product, service, and device and explain how it makes me feel and why to get to the root of the empathy stage of the design thinking process. I chose to look at my weighted blanket, my HelloFresh subscription, and my Nintendo Switch Lite. I use all of these products, services, and devices daily, which heavily affect my life. 

Below, I will be using feel/need statements. This exercise is good practice of determining emotions and motivations of using a product. By understanding users’ feelings and needs, designers can take that information and tailor a product best suited to fill their requirements.  

Statements & Background

What do a weighted blanket, HelloFresh subscription, and Nintendo Switch Lite have in common? They produce some pretty strong feelings and highlight very important needs.

A blue and grey blanket sitting on top of a white bedspread.
The weighted blanket makes me FEEL comfortable because my NEED for warmth and shelter is met.

Product – Weighted Blanket

Using my weighted blanket makes me FEEL calm, relaxed, and comfortable because my NEED for safety, closeness, and shelter is met. My anxiety is strongest at night, so having something that makes me feel calm and safe is very important. The constant weight and pressure throughout my body relaxes and centers me in the moment.  Lastly, my bedroom is freezing during the winter so the warmth of the blanket makes me a very comfortable temperature.

When the subscription box is late, I FEEL frustrated because my NEED for food and trust is not met.

Service – Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh is a weekly meal prep subscription box that makes me FEEL thankful, frustrated, and helpless because my NEED for food is met but not trust or contribution. I am thankful because everything is pre-measured with clear labeling. Since I am not a good cook or knowledgeable in the kitchen, this process is very efficient. Every couple of weeks our box is late being delivered. I get frustrated because I relay on this meals to be delivered when they are supposed to. I am also responsible for the cooking in my household, so if I can’t cook then I feel helpless.

My Switch makes me FEEL relaxed because my NEED for stimulation is met.

Device – Nintendo Switch Lite

My Switch makes me FEEL relaxed and lively because my NEED for stimulation, creativity, spontaneity, and inspiration is met. A Nintendo Switch Lite, or Switch, is a portable gaming console that allows the user to play a wide variety of video games. My favorite game to play on my Switch is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The purpose of the game is to create an island, so I feel important and lively as I express creativity though design. Lastly, at the end of the day, I need something mindless to work on, so this game helps me settle down and provides me entertainment.

Feelings & Needs

Looking at all of my feelings and needs, it is easy to see why these items were the first things that popped into my head. Not only do these products make a difference in my life, but they give me strong emotions. They also provide basic physical needs like shelter and food, but they also help me exercise my mental need as well. 


  • calm
  • relaxed
  • comfortable
  • thankful
  • frustrated
  • helpless
  • relaxed
  • lively


  • safety
  • closeness
  • stability
  • warmth
  • shelter
  • food
  • contribution
  • stimulation
  • creativity
  • spontaneity
  • inspiration

Understanding a User

Understanding a user is essential for designing a product. If a designer understands a users emotions and motivations, then they can create a product they know the user is going to enjoy.


Understanding a user’s emotions is very important in design. A user might not remember every detail of their experience with a product, but they will remember how it made them feel. Anton Sten, a UX designer, talks about his first experience with Spotify. 

“Personally, I can’t remember what the first song I played using Spotify, but I can clearly remember feeling empowered. I had almost every song available to me with just a few taps on the keyboard and loved the experience from day one.” 

Anton Sten, UX Designer 

In my feeling/need statements above, most of my emotions have to do with relaxation and comfort. A few years ago, I would have said that those emotions were weak, but after 2020, I would say the feeling of calm is hard to come by. 


As Megha Goyal points out in her UX Collective article, humans are constantly changing their behavior. She also points out that to be a good designer, we need to study these changes in behavior, therefore, understand basic human psychology (Goyal, 2019). This is important because understanding why a consumer uses a product lets designers know the needs they have to incorporate. 

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, created the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs in 1943 (McLeod). The pyramid shows the ascension of essential needs to non-essential needs while “simultaneously increasing in intellectual and cognitive demand,” (Kent State). 

Most of my needs consisted of the bottom two levels.

When looking at my needs above, it is interesting that most of my needs had to deal with the first two levels of Maslow’s Pyramid. I think it has to go back to choosing a product, service, and device. The first product and service that I could think of was a weighted blanket and a food subscription box. Both items are considered luxury items, but breaking them down to the most superficial level reveals fundamental human needs. My need for the device, or Switch, was not a fundamental need but one that doesn’t register on the pyramid.


This process taught me that products, services, and devices that I use everyday illicit some type of feeling or need that I never thought of before. For example, I never even considered the survival needs my weighted blanket provided me because I always saw it as a luxury item. When digger further, I noticed that not only did the blanket give me shelter and warmth, but it provided comfort and relaxation. Now, I look at my weighted blanket with an entirely different perspective.


Goyal, M. (2019, July 08). Combining ux design and psychology to change user behaviour. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and UX Design: Kent State University. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

Mcleod, S. (2020, December 29). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

Motivational interviewing is the UX research tool you haven’t read about: INSIDE design blog. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

Sten, A. (n.d.). Designing with emotions in mind. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

Terrar, D., & Says, J. (2018, February 20). What is design thinking? Retrieved February 03, 2021, from

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