Health Design Thinker
Dr. Kate Martin

Empathy

Kate Martin, MD | May 2, 2022

In order to get to new solutions, you have to get to know different people, different scenarios, different places.

Emi Kolawole, Editor-In-Residence, Stanford University d.school

Empathy is the ability to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their unique perspectives. Human-centered design is premised on empathy, on the idea that you’re designing for are your roadmap to innovative solutions. You empathize, understand them, and bring them along with you in the design process. (Source: IDEO.org. (2015). The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. IDEO.org.)

If I wanted to design a more human-centered wheelchair, I would start by talking to a current wheelchair user about the obstacles they encounter on a daily basis and what they think would make things better. I might try to maneuver around in a wheelchair myself to get a first-hand perspective of some of the issues. In fact, I did just those things when helping my brother select a new wheelchair a few years ago. His old one kept breaking down and the foot rests were hitting into the ground. If I was the designer, I could bring my prototype back for the future user’s consideration and make changes based on their feedback. Adding empathy to the design process takes it to a new level, specifically a concept known as co-design. Wouldn’t it be great if we could co-design everything? Think of how much more human-centered the world would be.

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