Introduction to empathy
Most of us can probably recall products or services where it is clear that usability has been so far off from the priority list that the product/service is unreasonably difficult or even impossible to use.
What is needed that these above-mentioned mishaps can be avoided and services and products designed are actually usable and desirable for their users? We believe the answer lies greatly in empathy.
Empathy helps designers to understand users better
With the spread of design thinking and service design over the past years, the role of a user and user experience has gained central prominence. For instance, Katja Tchimmel (2022) names design thinking as “the design of an alive and dynamic system of user experiences” and elaborates further by stating human-centered approach to be one of the five main principles of it.
The role of empathy is further addressed by Iris Motee (2013), who states that design thinking promotes empathy as it locates users at the core of everything and it encourages using tools that help better understand behaviours, expectations, values, motivations and needs. Brown (2008) describes the designer mindset with empathy as a personal characteristic to be able to observe the world from multiple perspectives.
But what is empathy in design and how can a designer use it in the design process?
Kouprie and Sleeswijk (2009) draw that despite the somewhat hazy common concept of empathy, it nevertheless is “related to deep understanding of the user’s circumstances and experiences, which involves relating to, more than just knowing about the user”. Kouprie and Sleeswijk have further presented their own framework for applying empathy in design, consisting of four phases: Discovery (designer enters the user’s world), Immersion (designer wanders around in the user’s world), Connection (designer resonates with the user to understand the feelings and the meanings) and Detachment (designer reflects to deploy new insights for ideation). They claim that in addition to that the fundamentals of empathy helps designers better to choose the techniques and tools and their order, this framework can help designers to plan their time accordingly as a process of empathy in design practice requires time and not spending unreasonably long time in only one or two phase and actually going though all the phases explicitly can enhance designer’s empathy. (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser 2009.)
Tools and methods to gain empathy
In the SID Design Thinking Masterclass we were introduced to Mindshake’s Design Thinking Model Evolution 6², developed by Katja Tschimmel (2021), one of the several models in Design Thinking. The “E.62” model offers tools and methods to support divergent and convergent thinking during the design process. Empathy (E2) is the second step in the model and aims to better understand the context, users and their latent needs. The exploration phase introduces methods such as stakeholder map, field observation and interview. Personas, user journey map and insight map are used for visualizing users and their needs for all in the design process in the evaluation phase.
It is nice to realize that despite not using all the tools of the model we went through all of the four stages of the Kouprie and Sleeswijk Visser’s framework on the process of empathy. In the Discovery phase we approached the design challenge and the users’ problems with How might we? questions on Opportunity map and formulated Intent statement for selected opportunity, followed by User Interviews on selected design opportunity in the Immersion phase. We seeked to achieve emotional understanding of their feelings and meanings while collecting the findings on the Insight map and formulating the Intent statement in the Connection phase, and finally, ideated and Prototyped the solutions in the Detachment phase.
Empathy in the design process is not only a set of different tools and methods but also a designer state of mind and characteristics. Understanding the users’ latent needs is essential for developing products and services.
Written by Peegi Kaibald & Tiina Auer SID MBA Students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences.
Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June 2008: 84-95.
Kouprie, M & Sleeswijk Visser, F. (2009). A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life (Links to an external site) in Journal of Engineering Design Vol. 20, No. 5, October 2009, 437–448.
Mootee, I. (2013). Design thinking for strategic innovation: What they can’t teach you at business or design school. Wiley.
Tschimmel, K. (2021). Design Thinking Master Class 3.-4.9.2021 material. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.
Tschimmel, Katja (2021): Creativity, Design and Design Thinking – A Human-Centred ménage à trois for Innovation. In Perspectives on Design II. Ed. Springer “Serie in Design and Innovation”. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-79879-6.
Tschimmel, K. (2022). Design vs. Design Thinking. In Creativity and Innovation Affairs. (in process) Available only for SID students at Laurea University.