“Empathy is the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory rats or standard deviations.” (Change by design, p49, Tim Brown, 2009)
With these strong words Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO probably the world’s best known design company emphasises the importance of empathy in design. The distinction Brown believes is the is the difference between academic thinking and design thinking.
As we started our path as SID students the first and introduction to a process of design thinking and tools for innovation was the Evolution 6² model. A toolkit that identified 6 key stages of the design thinking process: Emergence, Empathy, Experimentation, Elaboration, Exposition, Extension. The model can be found here.
The tools such as shadowing, moodboards, interviews and empathy maps to name a few in the empathy stage are the very ingredients that create insight into design briefs that a the “fix the problem” approach seldom sees.
It could be called research, discovery or many other things, but to me that it is labeled as empathy is a major distinction as to not the process, but the outcome of the stage. That we have real human-centered empathy for the user and the stakeholders. Standing in the shoes or lying in the gurneys of others as Brown puts it. Borrowing the lives of others we can generate new ideas and insight – even problems that we can address in further stages of the process.
It is the very nature of the of the engineer mindset to locate problems and fix them. A skill we need to have as well, but it is the process of understanding needs and dreams to be design thinkers as Tschimmel points out. A design thinking manager creates better results by being empathetic and human-driven. With empathy we can unlock the very core of the experience, not only the problem. It is not just a bandage on cut, it’s better healthcare. It’s not the next best mouse trap, it is the mousetrap we’d love to have. And it could be that we don’t even want the mouse to be trapped at all. (5, Tschimmel, K 2010)
Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task as Brown says in his blog post about the how only empathy can solve complex and large scale problems. A video from his blog post illustrates this well.
As a designer we are many times full of ideas and a urgency of need to help people solve problems and create new ideas.
But maybe we should first realize that maybe we are not prefect for the job. We need to start with empathy first. That as a 34 year old designer with a love for food and wine, It maybe makes me ill prepared to design a much needed kitchen gadget for a grandmother with arthritis as Brown puts it. That we as designers need to boot up and suit up to immerse ourselves to find new creative solutions to other people’s challenges. With empathy we can.
Blog post: A lesson in empathy, Tim Brown, http://designthinking.ideo.com/?p=1008
Evolution 6² model, Katja Tschimmel, https://www.behance.net/gallery/7955999/Evolution-6-Design-Thinking-Model
Brown, Tim 2009. Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.