Human Centered Design ········· 2020

Unlocking Creative Capacity for Innovation
Empathy - the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. Or in simpler terms - feeling for someone without having walked a step in their shoes.

Empathy holds great weight in innovative design. Studies show that without practicing empathy, we restrict our ability to receive and process information. The habit of seeing a situation from someone else’s perspective actually allows for changes in our cognitive style. This shift in perspective helps us put information in context and better analyze the environments around us, which is essential when attempting to understand the connections between things. Data also suggests that we are more helpful and generous after an empathetic experience, motivating us to solve inherent design challenges. 

Caroline Criado Perez, the author of the book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, has done an excellent job of illustrating the effects of a lack of empathy in design practice. Through various studies, Perez identified instances in which women weren’t considered during the design process, and as a result, their humanity itself was affected. Due to this lack of consideration, this city was actually suffering from their design choices financially. After reevaluating their approach to a specific problem and prioritizing women’s needs, the city was able to save on medical expenses and improve the livelihood of its citizens.

Empathy is the key to unlocking creative capacity for innovation. 

I think making it a habit to approach design problems with empathy is crucial. Without the consideration of all parties, there is bound to be a fault in the design. We can find many examples of negligence in design, which can be altered if we strive to implement more emotional connections with others in challenging contexts.

Perez iterates the idea of desegregated data collection to stop the perpetuation of the cis-male designed world. Katja Battarbee, Jane Fulton Suri, and Suzanne Gibbs Howard, IDEO, authors of Empathy on the Edge: Scaling and Sustaining a Human-Centered Approach in the Evolving Practice of Design, suggest the participation in analogous experiences that help those involved to draw parallels between their own experiences and those they are desiging for. Both of these approaches to Human-Centered Design encourage inclusivity and diversity, two key components to successful and innovative design. 

The impact of the absense of empathy can be seen in every aspect of life, not just design. If we as designers can commit to engaging with empathetic practices, we can begin to spread this idea to much larger audiences. 

So, let’s keep this empathy snowball rollin’! The results will be priceless.