How to use empathy in your design process

Mirroring is a very effective in connecting with your audience. Neurologically, the part of the brain responsible for mirroring are mirror neurons. We've all experienced the effects of mirror neurons. A knee jerk yawn when we see someone else yawning or joining in a laughing fit with those close by. It is the source of empathy, which some say helped humans develop language and make us a homogenous society1.

I see it, therefore I feel it

Mirror neurons are found throughout the brain. In the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex.2 Studies have shown that when you read a word, the neurons associated with that word also light up. So, when reading the word ‘chocolate cake’, the neurons that encode the flavour and joy of eating a ‘chocolate cake’ also light up.3
For this reason, mirroring when used correctly makes a person subconsciously mirror the same feelings and thoughts that you are presenting.

Brands that effectively influence mirror neurons can appear more likeable, increases loyalty and sales. They do this by replicating the experience of one human connecting to another. By activating empathetic pathways you humanise your brand and business.

Using empathy to build better relationships

As designers, we are faced with meeting new people every day. From the initial phone call to prospective clients, meetings, pitching and networking. To understand how to increase likeability and use empathy we are able to build strong and effective working relationships quickly.

If you have just seconds to make a good first impression, mirroring help?

  • Speaking
    Using the terms and language of the person you are meeting is powerful. It shows you've done your homework and understand the industry you are potentially going to be designing for. You should match the tone and pace of the conversation, if a client speaks informally you should too.
  • Body language
    By mirroring the non-verbals in a conversation you can quickly form a positive relationship. A group of friend's naturally reflect each others body language, if you actively mimic another's body language it therefore increases likeability.
  • Appearance
    Looking the part matters. Looking like you fit into a companies culture is the first signifier when meeting new people.

Mirroring isn't the same as just mimicking a person. It is using and reinforcing the relationship you already have.

Using mirroring in marketing and design

Activate the most mirror neurons by maximising on sensory body copy, images and videos. The positive effects are especially seen in food advertising or luscious body care brands.

Mirroring can cause both positive and negative feelings. Charities frequently use ads and copy that causes negative mirroring – making you feel the pain and discomfort. The main aim to encourage you to donate more to their cause.


Form for thought - A blog about by Dura design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.