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An article on why empathy is a critical component, but not the complete center of, the design universe.

Written by Jen Briselli.
Excerpt from http://uxmag.com

Empathy is nearing played-out-buzzword status: overused and overhyped and caricatured to the point where any real nuance or subtlety is hard to come by. Use of the word empathy these days is almost as likely to generate a round of eyerolls as it is to inspire compassion. Has it joined the ranks of ideas like “disruption” and “innovation”? Perhaps.

But, as with these kinds of terms, even if the concept of empathy is beginning to feel a little worn, that doesn’t mean its original significance is gone or irrelevant. Like a comfortable pair of jeans, we should celebrate that a concept such as empathy is beginning to feel familiar and worn in, rather than dismissing it as worn out and worthless.

Empathy is a critical component of, but not the complete center of, the design universe. It’s necessary but not sufficient. It’s a means, not an end. And it may not even be a means for all types of design. For instance, in human-centered design, it’s completely necessary as a contrast to considering only one’s own personal experiences, or extrapolating from a single perspective while designing for other humans with other experiences and perspectives.

But human centeredness isn’t all there is to good design. It’s just one approach to identifying needs and solving problems, and while it has been the prevailing philosophy in recent years, that doesn’t mean it will continue as such, or that it is always the right approach for all design challenges even at present… and the same may be said of empathy as a key design ingredient.

From a systems thinking perspective, we can certainly conceive of myriad scenarios and circumstances (e.g. wicked problems such as healthcare, education, climate change) that won’t be solved by the current conception of human-centered design. Though not in direct opposition to human-centered design, practices such as service design and transition design broaden the problem space to the point where it makes less sense to focus on single individual humans as a guiding design method. That’s not to say empathy is no longer needed — simply that what it means to build it and what we do with it may change.

Empathy is a means, not an end.

Empathy is the kind of word that designers must grab onto before it [read the full gist here]


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