Empathetic Design – who are you designing for?

February 18, 2012

How empathetic can we get and are we really empathising or just making up assumptions?


Last week during my service design course we were asked to design something for aged people to help with their mobility. We started with talking among ourselves, made loads of assumptions and we thought were empathising, until later as we started talking to some old neighbours and found that our assumptions were so wrong and even funny!


The most unexpected one was, some aged people don’t think they are old at all. So if you design something obviously exclusive for “the old”, they will be turned off even though they do find what you made is useful. Or the other way round, the design might exclude the aged group. The way to go is to think inclusive design, which asks for deep empathy.


I found a simple map put together by STBY that might help you through the process.


Inclusive Design – STBY


It was hard, and what we learned was to get out there as soon as we can, get some insights by observing, talking to people, see what they see, and even try to see what they DON’T see, because people sometimes do things just out of habits. This process can change the way you think as well. This guy’s journey of “realising empathy“ (shared on Service Design Network on LinkedIn), is very helpful to see how far you can get with empathising.


So when we get together this weekend, don’t just stay in, get outside (fingers crossed for the weather). Then look back over pictures and recordings, which can capture extra details not noticed during the live session, for sharing and communications later.


And form groups with people from different backgrounds, because the greatest thing about working with people from different backgrounds or expertise, is that you are likely to notice different things, that’s often where the new ideas come from.


Before you go, check out how much fun the Aussies jammers are having here! Can’t wait for it in London this weekend!

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