Using empathy as part of a creative process in Design Thinking

Our assignment was to write a blog article in pairs reflecting on the topics discussed in the course Design Thinking. The two-day intensive course during September 4-5th 2020 was held by Katja Tschimmel, the founder of design agency Mindshake and the model Evolution 6² or E6² (2018), and our tutoring teacher Päivi Pöyry-Lassila. 

Picture of Evolution 6² model. Source: Pinterest.

In our group we used the model E6² to identify opportunities for the topic Social Distancing in Educational Institutions. We started from the Emergence phase and gradually made our way to Exposition which we finished with an elevator pitch. Our group chose to focus on the topic of promoting more outdoor activities in educational institute grounds. 

Photo of rapid prototyping with LEGOs during the course. Source: Personal photos.

Personal learnings about the Design Thinking Masterclass in a dialogue: 

Laura: This was the first time I participated in this kind of workshop and I was amazed what a creative environment I had boarded into. I felt enormously inspired to be surrounded by students who have such a variety of professional backgrounds and knowledge, they are bringing to the classroom. During the process I discovered two crucial themes: interacting and communication with the users cannot be emphasized too much, their ideas and viewpoints should be heard closely. Another theme is that presenting your concept orally in front of the audience truly helps you crystallize the ideas you have. 

Joni: I agree with Laura. There was much to learn just from this introduction course. For me there were two revelations during this course. According to Tschimmel all people can be creative when enough experts in a domain (e.g. company) accept the idea as innovative. Previously I had only considered artistic people as creative, not myself. During the course Tschimmel also highlighted not to “fall in love with your first idea”. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this realization was and how many ideas would have been left undiscovered if we settled for our first one. 

Importance of empathy and creativeness in Design Thinking 

In conclusion, we highlighted several personal key learning’s from the course. Looking at the related materials there are several recurring themes. First Tschimmel (2020), Brown (2009), Kolko (2015) and Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) all highlight the importance of empathy in Design Thinking. Secondly, already in 2009 Brown argued that interdisciplinary teams can “tackle more complex problems” than multidisciplinary teams. This also supports empathetic processes as according to Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) individuals have an “empathic horizon” that limits the ability to empathize beyond certain characteristics such as nationality, race etc. The empathetic horizon can be improved with time and experience. This information encourages us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. 

Source: Unsplash.

These themes were also present during our group work. Using the E6² model’s Design Thinking methods we were able to work in an interdisciplinary team and innovate a new concept, prototype it and pitch it to our class just within two days. Through group and individual interviews, we could start to understand the importance of empathizing. This success made us realize that Design Thinking is truly a universal concept that enables all individuals to be creative within their own domain. 

Written by Laura Parviainen-Vilo and Joni Prokkola  

References and links: 

Brown, Tim (2009). Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 

Kolko, Jon (2015). Design thinking comes of age (https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age). Harvard Business Review September 2015, 66-71. 

Kouprie, Merlijn & Sleeswijk Visser, Froukje (2009). A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2009, 437–448. 

Tschimmel, Katja (2020). Design Thinking course lectures, September 4–5 2020. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland. 

Tschimmel, Katja (2018). Evolution 6² Toolkit: An E-handbook for Practical Design Thinking for Innovation. Mindshake. 

Mindshake, Portugal: https://www.mindshake.pt

Mindshake in Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mindshakept/ 

Unsplash: https://unsplash.com

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