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Empathy in Design Projects

This page responds to a question:  Is thinking with empathy useful in all design projects?


A high quality of thinking with empathy (so your understanding is relevant, accurate, and deep) is extremely important for defining and solving most problems.  But not all problems, because empathy is not very important (or at least it's different) for problem-solving objectives in two categories, when your problem either (1) involves mainly you, or (2) does not directly involve any people, when...


1) ...when you want to “make life better” by achieving an objective that is mainly for your own benefit, not for other people,* and you do most of the problem solving (or all of it) by yourself.  This focus-on-self occurs for some personal decisions and for your thinking strategies.  To do each of these well, you need to know yourself, with self-empathy for your own thinking & feeling.  You can use the benefits of different perspectives by supplementing your own understanding (from internal self-observation & self-empathy by yourself) with other understandings (from external observations & empathy by other people).    {perspectives - internal & external, metacognition & empathy}

* Even when a problem-solving project does not "directly involve people" (as in 2a below) or "...other people" (in 1 above), usually some people will be affected in some way, so typically we are describing an objective that requires less empathy, rather than no empathy.


2a) ...when the objective is mostly technical, so it does not directly involve people.  This can occur because a wide variety of objectives (for designing a better object, activity, or strategy in General Design) require a wide variety of empathy, with less needed for a few objectives (those in 2a) than for most objectives.   { IOU - Later, maybe in May, some of these variations-in-empathy will be examined in an appendix, as outlined in the final paragraph of this page.

2b) ...when your functional responsibility in a problem-solving process is to solve a purely technical problem, in a sub-project within the overall project.  For example, you might be asked to design a new piece of equipment (or to repair it) after the technical goal-specifications already have been clearly defined by others in a part of the design project (Defining a Problem) that usually requires empathy. }

2c) ...when your objective in Science-Design is an explanatory theory about NON-HUMAN aspects of nature (as in chemistry, physics, or astronomy), not about HUMAN nature (as in psychology, sociology, political science, economics, marketing,...).    { If you ask “is science-design authentic design?”, we can discuss the pros & cons of using definitions (for problem, design, design thinking,...) that are broad or narrow. }


Empathy for Collaboration:  During any design project (including 1, 2a, 2b, 2c), if you're working collaboratively it's important to have empathy for your colleagues, so you can understand (intellectually and emotionally) what they are thinking & feeling, to help all of you work together more effectively and enjoyably.



I.O.U. - The ideas below are in gray text because they need to be developed and revised:

In this website, the importance of empathy is emphasized (as in dp-mo.htm#empathy - ws.htm#dpmo1ab - ws.htm#dpmo2aem - ws.htm#mcts ) but some other models-for-process (like d.school and DEEPdt) emphasize it more strongly, as described here.

The fact that creative thinking is necessary to imagine projects requiring "no empathy (or very little)" shows that empathy is essential (or at least is extremely useful) for understanding-and-improving almost all problem-situations. — especially for "design projects" (which include almost everything we do in life) that are worthwhile.

maybe responses will be indicated by text-highlighting the objectives where empathy is extremely important and very important and not as important.

for a problem that only you can solve, analogous to solo mountain climbing when you are “on your own” so you must do everything by yourself. 


A larger project is making a detailed appendix (maybe in May) by asking, for many objectives (across a wide range of objectives), "How useful is thinking with empathy when you define a problem (by learning about a problem-situation, defining an objective, defining goals for a solution) and solve the problem (by designing a solution that satisfactorily achieves your goals)?"