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  • Academy of Design Thinking

Empathy in Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a human centred approach to innovation. As Tim Brown of IDEO puts it: “This approach draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of the people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.” When we talk about a Human Centred Approach to Innovation, we talk mainly about two things: the mindsets and the process.

In Design Thinking, Empathy is very important. Empathy is the foundation of the human centred approach. It is about understanding people, getting different perspectives, being open to challenge. Every innovation starts with a question. You need to ask lots of questions in order to uncover real problems. But it goes beyond that. After you understand what the problems are, you need the drive to solve them and make life better for people. And that is Compassion.

But what is empathy?

It is the ability of someone to see the world through other people's eyes, to see what they see, feel what they feel, and attempt to experience things as they do. It’s about understanding their ideas, thoughts and actions.

Indeed, Empathy is at the foundation of the human centred approach to Innovation. It is one of your megaskills too! As a Design Thinking Facilitator it is important that you develop your empathy muscle in order to be able to understand at a deep level all the stakeholders involved in the challenge your team is addressing.

Your key methods on how to develop empathy are :

  • Asking questions

  • Active listening

  • Observation

Every innovation starts with a big question. Asking questions is a key skill for you as a design thinking facilitator in order to get the group to dig deeper, to uncover what lies beneath the surface, beyond assumptions, opinions. This is about your critical thinking.

If you want to know how good your empathy is, then ask yourself:

How good are you at asking questions? Understanding someone’s emotions? Not being judgemental? Think about it and you will be able to evaluate your empathy level.

In Design Thinking, empathy is crucial because this is how you can set aside your assumptions about what's around and be able to focus on users and their needs. Anyone can master empathy and achieve great results.

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