Design Empathy

Empathy is defined as the human ability to put oneself in the place of another in order to better understand what that other person feels or thinks. In other words, it is the understanding and feeling of another person’s emotional and cognitive experience.

“Empathy is the ability to understand and respond to the unique affective experiences of another person” (Decety & Jackson, 2006).

Empathy Mapping

The Interaction Design Foundation uses an Empathy Map to allow designers to reflect and sum up learning engagements from people in the field of  research. The map provides four major areas, which the user demonstrated and/or possessed during the observation/research stage. The sections refer to what the user;  said, did, thought, and felt. It’s pretty simple to document what the user said and did. However, determining what they thought and felt can be difficult and should be based on meticulous observations followed by an in-depth analysis to understand  how they behave and respond to certain activities, conversations, suggestions,  etc.

design empathy
Framework to be used in order to document, analysis and understand a user.

The second diagram utilises psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which aims to help us define and understand a users underlying needs. In 1943, Maslow published his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” were he proposed that human needs form a hierarchy which can be visualised by a pyramid, with the most fundamental physiological levels of needs at the bottom, and the need for self-actualization at the top. This suggests that humans need to fulfil their most basic needs, for example, breathing and eating before moving upwards through safety, love/belonging, esteem and salt-actualistion.

Maslow theory of Human Motivation.

Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient care

I believe that empathy should be at the heart of any design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove  and his organisation, the Cleveland Clinic,  deserve recognition for their video that illustrates how empathy can be inspiring. The short film reveals and highlights the complexity of understanding a broad social situation in order to design a system that supports many and various wants and needs.


Brown, T. (2013). A Lesson In Empathy. Retrieved from

Dam, R,. Siang, S. (2018). Empathy Map – Why and How to Use It. Retrieved from

Sharon. Tettegah Sharon Y. Tettegah editor.; Safiya Umoja Noble editor.; Matthew Limbert designer.; Michael L. Austin. (2016). Emotions, technology, and design. Amsterdam, Netherlands : Elsevier.

J. Decety, P.L. Jackson. (2006). A social-neuroscience perspective on empathy. Current Directions in Psychological Science pp. 54–58


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