Reclaiming Empathy Through Design
During attaining my MFA at Pratt, I always questioned things presented as best practices or rules to follow. After all, there is no wisdom in accepting things as they are without asking their accuracy across.
For my thesis topic, I chose to dive deeper into the empathic design, especially as it had become a big trend in design. My years of research boiled down to one question, which combined my interest in social and human relations with the design field.
How can designers develop a genuine way to utilize empathy by analyzing both altruistic and manipulative uses of empathy in the design field?
In recent years, designers have been using various methodologies, such as user-centered design, human-centered design, ethnographic research, and persuasive design, to create emotional connections with their audiences. All these design methodologies lead to better communication between designers and audiences. This deeper level of understanding has created different outcomes. There have been rare altruistic approaches when designers utilize empathic design to draw attention to important issues such as war, discrimination, hunger, and natural disasters. However, more often than not, designers have abused empathy to sell a product or a service. Misusing empathy leads to manipulating the audience’s emotions rather than being genuine. Hence the recent popularity of empathy in design has consumerist and manipulative intentions behind it instead of altruistic intentions, aiming to promote genuine human connections.
This thesis will analyze the two powerful motives of using empathy in design: altruistic and consumerist motives. Through the investigation of written articles and analysis of empathic design work, the thesis will suggest using transparency and honesty as part of the design process will help designers reclaim empathy through their practice.
Project Posters & Empathy Toolkit
The posters accompanied the thesis book to help provide some initial context and preview of the ideas in the book. The Empathy Toolkit is an ironic and satirical commentary on the toolkits that designers can download to learn how to empathize with their fellow humans.