The first stage of design thinking, as outlined by Stanford’s D School, is empathy. For this, the day in the life exercise is particularly useful, as we imagine a target individual’s typical day from start to finish, both in and outside of work. 

When a county council wanted to help small business owners improve their digital footprint, the day in the life exercise was one of the first steps in understanding this demographic. Below is an example revolving around Digby Morris, a one-man dog groomer. At Make Happy, we do this physically, mapping out his day on a Bayeux-Tapestry style roll of paper. The meticulousness of this exercise allows us to identify points where Digby could benefit from digitalisation, such as the exchanging of photographs with his clientele. 

The next step is creating a customer empathy canvas. Empathising with a customer involves striking a balance between divergent and convergent thinking. The empathy canvas is particularly divergent. Starting with basic assumptions, it spreads out into the minutiae of a customer’s lifestyle, from income to social media use. Through this process we can discover information that would never have occurred to us had we just looked at basic demographics. 

We now move to a more convergent stage of customer empathy, the customer journey canvas.  

  • First we detail the customer’s scenario, needs, and expectations of Digby’s service.
  • Then we go through each of their points of contact with this service, as well as their actions, thoughts, and feelings at each stage. 
  • Finally, we imagine opportunities to improve the customer’s experience at each of these stages 

For Digby’s business, many of these improvements revolved around a larger social media presence and improved web design.

The ideas generated from this process would make Digby’s business easier to find, easier to use, and easier to recommend to other potential customers. Empathy is the first stage of design thinking, and without clearly understanding the position of your customers, it is impossible to know how best to meet their wants and needs.