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Empathy and empathic design for meaningful deliverables

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With the challenges of a global pandemic, political and social unrest, and the consequences these issues bring, there is a universal call for empathy as we attempt to maneuver through this tumultuous time. For instructional designers, this includes employing empathy and empathic design as they grapple with how to design instructional interventions for learners. Empathy is the first stage in the design thinking process, now a popular buzz word in design research and practice. It suggests that empathy results in a design that meets the audience needs. But how do we know if this is true? As professors of instructional design and researchers of design practice, we teach empathy for action as a means for design students to act by producing a meaningful design deliverable. Over a 15-week semester, we taught and measured designer empathy and empathic design with 31 graduate students while they worked in design teams, participating in authentic design projects with two nonprofit organizations. Results indicate that 75% of the instances of empathy were students showing sensitivity to the end-learners’ experiences and situations, 52% were directed toward identifying with the end-learners’ thoughts and feelings. This did not necessarily translate to the designed deliverables as only three of the nine student teams created final meaningful design deliverables. We report on our instructional process, our research results and provide the framework for what we believe is needed to bridge the connection of empathy, empathic design, and meaningful design deliverables.

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Correspondence to Monica W. Tracey.

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Tracey, M.W., Baaki, J. Empathy and empathic design for meaningful deliverables. Education Tech Research Dev 70, 2091–2116 (2022).

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