Designing for empathy

A distant view of a circular seating arrangement in a huge room for the parliamentary members.Human centred design and inclusive design processes focus taking an empathic approach to the users. But what if you turn that around and design for empathy itself? To shift from being the empathiser to become an empathy generator? That was the question a team of designers in Finland wanted to know the answer to. Using socio-cultural design tools rather than physical empathy design tools, they created a co-creative process with the Finnish parliament. 

The title of the paper is, Design for Empathy: A co-design case study with the Finnish Parliament

Abstract: Globalisation and the mixing of people, cultures, religions and languages fuels pressing healthcare, educational, political and other complex socio-cultural issues. Many of these issues are driven by society’s struggle to find ways to facilitate deeper and more emotionally meaningful ways to help people connect and overcome the empathy gap which keeps various groups of people apart. This paper presents a process to design for empathy – as an outcome of design. This extends prior work which typically looks at empathy for design – as a part of the design process, as is common in inclusive design and human centered design process. We reflect on empathy in design and challenge the often internalised role of the designer to be more externalised, to shift from an empathiser to become an empathy generator. We develop and demonstrate the process to design for empathy through a co-creation case study aiming to bring empathy into politics. The ongoing project is set in the Parliament of Finland, and involves co-creation with six Members of the Parliament from five political parties. Outcomes of the process and case study are discussed, including design considerations for future research.


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