LRNT527: The Empathy Phase – A Personal Blog Entry

The fields of media and design rely heavily on understanding the end-user. To design and develop any media base product for the public use, one must delve into the target audience. Coming from a design background, I have had the opportunity to become familiar with various methods to help better understand the end user. I will admit; however, these methods were learned years ago seem somewhat dated and limited. Some of the standard techniques I have used in the past include surveys, research analysis, design briefs, and focus groups. No media based product to be successful without creating an empathetic understanding of the target demographic.

From experience, I have come to appreciate a  couple of critical aspects of design thinking and approaches to empathy when creating a media-related product. Kouprie and Visser (2009) outline the four stages of approaching empathy as discovery, immersion, connection, and detachment. Detachment has a strong relationship with me when it comes to design. If the designer or developer has too much of a connection with the end product, they will assume too much bias and will ignore any input from outside sources, precisely the target audience. For the media based product to be successful, the designer must remove themselves emotionally early on in the design process. 

IDEO (2015) outlines secondary research as additional aspect for design. Although time-consuming, secondary research can validate ideas, assumptions and input from the end user. Although it is great to assimilate data from the target audience, the designer should always follow up with additional research that will help validate the primary empathetic-based data. Secondary research can also help build a strong foundation, reveal unique information, and possibly offer inspiration for the creation of the final product.

As a professor in a media related field, I have the ability to observe the students as they approached design and development themselves. The digital learning resource I wished create is targeted for these students. Therefore I’ve already have the ability to make use of what IDEO (2015) describes as peers observing peers, define your audience, and immersion. From the empathy methods that are listed on the IDEO (2015) I plan to use a combination of “group interview” and “draw it”. The one caveat I plan to implement is that this empathy-based method will be timed. I have found in the past that placing the restriction time on a creative exercise provides the extra pressure on the end users that enhances their creative output.

The resources required to complete this empathy-based exercise include participants from the target audience, a room, pencils, paper, and final approval from the research department at the college. Unfortunately, at this time this session is in limbo as I have to wait for approval to proceed with my feedback session. Only time will tell.


IDEO. (2015). Design Kit – Methods. Retrieved from

Kouprie, M., & Visser, F. S. (2009). A framework for empathy in design: Stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design, 20(5), 437-448.

5 thoughts on “LRNT527: The Empathy Phase – A Personal Blog Entry

  1. Hi Darin,

    You say that “for the media based product to be successful, the designer must remove themselves emotionally early on in the design process”. It seems to me that an iterative process that involves the end users should always end up being close to what the users want, even if it doesn’t start off that way because the designer is too emotionally invested. If this is true, the iterative process protects against this sort of problem. Thoughts?

    1. Jason,
      After careful review of my blog post on this process, I still believe that yes, you are correct. If properly taking an empathetic view of the audience during the iterative process, and properly synthesizing the data, then yes the final product should closely align with the users’ needs and wants. However, I also believe that the designer must make decisions based upon what is also to be believed that is in the best interest of the user. Sometimes, this may go against what the user wants. The designer should also be well versed in the development of a proactive digital learning resource.

  2. Hi Darin,

    I also have the opportunity to observe and immerse myself in the needs assessment phase as well but still wonder how and where secondary research can support my synthesis of results. Do you plan on pulling information through your interviews and then also doing secondary research on your students based on their demographic, field of study, or any other factor that could influence your empathy towards them as users?

    1. Katie,
      Originally I was planning to do interviews and conduct secondary research. However, as I did not receive authorization to conduct primary research, I’ve fallen back onto completing secondary research through my observations, experience, and articles. I also plan to have the students complete a survey and participate in a mind map exercise. But alas it was not meant to be.

  3. Hola Darin.

    Thanks for your post and best of luck on the approval process.

    One thing that resonated with me from your post was your plan to include a timed activity. After experiencing Stanford University Institute of Design’s virtual crash course in design thinking in LRNT 524 in class, I shared the process in an activity around re-envisioning our organization’s mission, vision and values. The timed activities did provide a sense of urgency – instead of word-smithing, participants were encouraged to share perspectives, with a bias towards action. Later, we grouped ideas and found commonalities.

    I also appreciate the simplicity of the tools you propose – seems like a good way to start on a playing field that is likely approachable to most. Do you have any ideas on how you will normalize the activity as it relates to each person’s confidence in drawing out their ideas? Or, will you allow the group to assign a scribe? Perhaps this won’t be a factor with the group you are working with?

    Just some thoughts, Karen.

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