Empathic design takes into consideration and is sensitive to the end user’s feelings, emotions, thoughts and experiences about a product or process of design. This method of designing is a human centered, observational and collaborative approach to design (Mattelmäki, Vaajakallio, & Koskinen, 2014). In reading the article “What Happened to Empathic Design”, I began to reflect on my own experiences with design, and how I have incorporated principles of empathic design in the past, as well as ways I could further advance my understanding of this approach.

Empathic design is an approach I have certainly used in my professional life, without having knowledge of this design process. As a Program Coordinator for a youth leadership program, I was tasked with developing a service-learning program. When developing service-learning projects, I initially thought I knew what the youth wanted, stemming from my own understanding of their experiences. However, in planning the modules, I realized I had missed a critical step in design, and decided to stop the existing trajectory, and take time to hear directly from the youth themselves. Engaging them in the process of design and giving them ownership in the process, created a stronger interest and relevancy to the service-learning projects. The collaboration was phenomenal, as I learned a great deal that I hadn’t considered, when I had initially started developing the project, including assumptions I had made without fully understanding the needs of the end user.

We were able to use the feedback to help restructure the program. Observing the youth and getting their insight into how they perceived and thought of different activities changed how we communicated the service learning, which resulted in higher engagement with new youth in the program. I know through engaging in emphatic design, I came out with a better end product.

In relating my experience to my current context within higher education, I believe that there may be opportunities to further engage in empathic design as it relates to developing services, programs, orientations and co-curricular programming. Often, a hierarchical approach which does not center the voices of the end user (students) is more widely utilized, due to a variety of reasons, including scale, organizational structures, ministry/legislative guidelines, time constraints etc. With this considered, what are ways in which higher education could utilize principles of an empathic design approach?



Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What happened to empathic design?. Design Issues, 30(1), 67-77.