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Empathy - Step 1

WHAT is it?

Design thinking is a user-centered design process, and the empathy that comes from observing users enables design thinkers to uncover deep and meaningful needs (both overt & latent). Empathy, by definition, is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another. 
Empathy gaining is often described as 'needfinding' in that you are discovering people's explicit and implicit needs so that you can meet those needs through design. A need is a physical, psychological or cultural requirement of an individual or group that is missing or not met through existing solutions. 
A designer 'needfinds' or works to understand a user's experience by learning about their lives. Empathy gaining and needfinding may be broken down into three discrete methods:
  • Immerse
  • Engage
  • Observe
The goal of the empathy mode is to discover gaps in between what people do and what people say they do. These gaps are the design opportunities.

WHY do we teach it?

  • To uncover needs that people have which they may or may not be aware of
  • To guide our innovation efforts
  • To identify someone to design for
  • To discover the emotions that guide behaviors
  • The goal of the empathy mode is the following:
  • Stories about people, their actions and their motivations
  • Artifacts (photos, drawings, quotes) that capture people, the environment, maps of movement through a space, etc.
  • Deep insights revealed through these stories and artifacts

HOW do we teach it?

  • Depending on the depth that you want to get to, there are multiple activities, projects, lectures and stories to deploy when teaching and/or introducing empathy. The Wallet Project and Oral Hygiene Project are two good short introductions to the importance of human-centered design.

The description above comes from the K12 wiki

Some suggestions

  • Use Twitter or Edmodo, facebook or Skype to reach out to other classrooms or people to interview all over the world
  • Interview older or younger students at your school
  • Ask parents
  • Hold a community meeting
  • Hold a Speed Dating style interview session
  • Interview community members on how they might get involved more in school
  • Research the best designed schools in the world


This is the chance to watch as see how people behave and what they like and don't like.


Ask many beautiful questions

Resources & tools

Empathize Mode card:

For more on this mode visit The-Kit

What worked

What didn't

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