Joyce Thomas, Deana McDonagh


This paper explores the role of empathy within new product development from the perspective of human-centred design.  The authors have developed a range of empathic design tools and strategies that help to identify authentic human needs.  

For products and services to be effective, they need to satisfy both functional and emotional needs of individuals. In addition, the individual user needs to feel that the product and/or service has been designed ‘just for them’, otherwise they may misuse, underuse or abandon the product/service.  This becomes critical with a product such as a Zimmer frame (walker), when it fails to resonate with the patient due to any stigma the patient may perceive, and thus remains unused.

When training young designers to consider the wider community (people unlike themselves) during the design process, it has proven extremely valuable to take them outside their comfort zones, by seeking to develop empathy with the end user for whom they are designing. Empathic modelling offers designers the opportunity to develop greater insight and understanding, in order to support more effective design outcomes. Sensitising designers to the different ways that individuals complete daily tasks has helped to diminish the gap between themselves and others (e.g. people with disabilities).

The authors intend for this paper to resonate with health care providers. Human-centred design can help to refocus the designer, by placing the individual end user’s needs at the heart of their decision-making.


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