BRIDGING THE EMPATHY GAP: IMPROVING DESIGN EMPATHY ACROSS CULTURAL BARRIERS
Editor: Buck, Lyndon; Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik
Author: Underwood, Gary Stuart; Powell, John
Institution: Royal National Lifeboat Institute; University of Southampton, United Kingdom
Section: International, multi-sectorial or multispecies collaborations
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2023.46
Human-Centred Design (HCD) has become a key component of design teaching over the last thirty years. Central to HCD is the concept of design empathy, and many techniques and tools have been developed in order to encourage and help designers to gain a greater understanding of the specific difficulties, desires and behaviours of their target users. Bournemouth University (BU) Design and Engineering students have long been encouraged to make use of HCD techniques as part of their creative design process. However, their work alongside the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in developing products aimed at Low-to-Middle Income Countries (LMIC’s) has highlighted shortfalls in these techniques, which are often more suited to designing for the elderly or disabled rather than users from an unfamiliar cultural, social or economic background. Furthermore, an Empathy Quotient survey of level 6 Design and Engineering students at BU indicated that empathy levels were no higher than the national average despite years of exposure to HCD methods. After a collaborative project in Tanzania during which local partners were introduced to using HCD tools to encourage design empathy, the authors facilitated an ideation project using postgraduate Design and Engineering students from BU. This paper explores the issues in improving design communication and empathy across cultural barriers. Using data obtained from the UK students the authors investigate the perceived value of empathic tools, whether modern and emerging technologies could offer ways to bridge the cultural empathy gap, or whether in-country upskilling in design methods offers a more sustainable solution.