Using Online Reviews as Narratives to Evoke Designer’s Empathy

  • Christiane GrünlohEmail author
  • Åke Walldius
  • Gerhard Hartmann
  • Jan Gulliksen
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9296)


Gathering health-related data is quite easy, but visualizing them in a meaningful way remains challenging, especially when the application domain is very complex. Research suggests that empathy can facilitate the design process and that narratives can help to create an empathic encounter between designers and the prospective users. We conducted an exploratory quasi-experiment in order to explore whether narratives in form of online reviews are able to evoke designer’s empathy when developing an online platform for a direct-to-consumer genetic testing service. The results suggest that the narratives can help designers to engage with and take the perspective of the prospective user, who is then represented in more detail. Lacking narratives from real people leaves the designers to their own imagination, which can lead to the use of rather abstract stereotypes that do not enable an understanding of the user, but affect the subsequent design decisions.


Human-Computer interaction Empathy Direct-to-consumer Genetic testing Health and wellbeing 



We would like to thank all participants of the study for their time and commitment. Furthermore, we thank the anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments and thoughtful suggestions on our submission, which were very considerate and helpful.


  1. 1.
    Anderson, R.M., Funnell, M.M.: Patient empowerment: myths and misconceptions. Patient Educ. Couns. 79(3), 277–282 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S.: The empathy quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 34(2), 163–175 (2004)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Braun, V., Clarke, V.: Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qual. Res. Psychol. 3(2), 77–101 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Buchenau, M., Suri, J.F.: Experience prototyping. In: Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques, pp. 424–433. ACM, New York (2000)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Caulfield, T., McGuire, A.L.: Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: perceptions, problems, and policy responses. Annu. Rev. Med. 63(1), 23–33 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Charles, C., Whelan, T., Gafni, A.: What do we mean by partnership in making decisions about treatment? BMJ Br. Med. J. 319(7212), 780–782 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cooper, A.: The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Macmillan, Basingstoke (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Dandavate, U., Sanders, E.B.N., Stuart, S.: Emotions matter: user empathy in the product development process. Proc. Hum. Factors Ergon. Soc. Annu. Meet. 40(7), 415–418 (1996). Sage PublicationsCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Deber, R.B.: Physicians in health care management: 7. The patient-physician partnership: changing roles and the desire for information. CMAJ Can. Med. Assoc. J. 151(2), 171–176 (1994)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Emanuel, E.J., Emanuel, L.L.: Four models of the physician-patient relationship. JAMA 267(16), 2221–2226 (1992)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Erlingsdottir, G., Lindholm, C., Ålander, T.: eHealth services, patient empowerment and professional accountability-an empirical study on the changing patient-doctor relationship in the digital world. In: International EIASM Public Sector Conference, pp. 1–21 (2014)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Friedman, B., Nissenbaum, H.: Bias in computer systems. ACM Trans. Inf. Syst. (TOIS) 14(3), 330–347 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Genomics England. Accessed 17 Jan 2015
  14. 14.
    Gibbs, S.: DNA-screening test 23andMe launches in UK after US ban. The Guardian (2014). Accessed 17 Jan 2015
  15. 15.
    Goldman, J.S., Hahn, S.E., Catania, J.W., LaRusse-Eckert, S., Butson, M.B., Rumbaugh, M., Strecker, M.N., Roberts, J.S., Burke, W., Mayeux, R., Bird, T.: Genetic counseling and testing for Alzheimer disease: joint practice guidelines of the American college of medical genetics and the national society of genetic counselors. Genet. Med. 13(6), 597–605 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Golsteijn, C., Wright, S.: Using narrative research and portraiture to inform design research. In: Kotzé, P., Marsden, G., Lindgaard, G., Wesson, J., Winckler, M. (eds.) INTERACT 2013, Part III. LNCS, vol. 8119, pp. 298–315. Springer, Heidelberg (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    ISO 9241-210: Ergonomics of human-system interaction - Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems (2010)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Keen, S.: A theory of narrative empathy. Narrative 14(3), 207–236 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Lindsay, S., Brittain, K., Jackson, D., Ladha, C., Ladha, K., Olivier, P.: Empathy, participatory design and people with dementia. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 521–530. ACM, New York (2012)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Locock, L., Robert, G., Boaz, A., Vougioukalou, S., Shuldham, C., Fielden, J., et al.: Testing accelerated experience-based co-design: a qualitative study of using a national archive of patient experience narrative interviews to promote rapid patient-centred service improvement. Health Serv. Deliv. Res. 2(4), 1–122 (2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Löwgren, J., Stolterman, E.: Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology. MIT Press, Cambridge (2004)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., Koskinen, I.: What Happened to empathic design? Des. Issues 30(1), 67–77 (2014). MIT PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    McQuaid, H.L., Goel, A., McManus, M.: When you can’t talk to customers: using storyboards and narratives to elicit empathy for users. In: Proceedings of the 2003 International Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces, pp. 120–125. ACM, New York (2003)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Nielsen, L.: From user to character: an investigation into user-descriptions in scenarios. In: Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques, pp. 99–104. ACM, New York (2002)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    O’Kane, A.A., Rogers, Y., Blandford, A.E.: Gaining empathy for non-routine mobile device use through autoethnography. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 987–990. ACM, New York (2014)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Pruitt, J., Grudin, J.: Personas: practice and theory. In: Proceedings of the 2003 Conference on Designing for User Experiences (DUX 2003). ACM, New York (2003)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Pruitt, J., Adlin, T.: The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design. Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco (2006)Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Segal, L.D., Suri, J.F.: The empathic practitioner: measurement and interpretation of user experience. Proc. Hum. Factors Ergon. Soc. Annu. Meet. 41(1), 451–454 (1997). Sage PublicationsGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Su, P.: Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: a comprehensive view. Yale J. Biol. Med. 86(3), 359–365 (2013)Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Suri, J.F.: The next 50 years: future challenges and opportunities for empathy in our science. Ergonomics 44(14), 1278–1289 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    The King’s Fund: Experience-based co-design. Accessed 17 Jan 2015
  32. 32.
    Tibben, A., Stevens, M., De Wert, G., Niermeijer, M., Van Duijn, C., Van Swieten, J.: Preparing for presymptomatic DNA testing for early onset Alzheimer’s disease/cerebral haemorrhage and hereditary Pick disease. J. Med. Genet. 34(1), 63–72 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Topol, E.: The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands. Basic Books, New York (2015)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Warning Letter to 23andMe, Inc. (2013). Accessed 17 Jan 2015
  35. 35.
    Udesky, L.: The ethics of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Lancet 376(9750), 1377–1378 (2010)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Veatch, R.M.: Models for ethical medicine in a revolutionary age. Hastings Center Report, pp. 5–7 (1972)Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Visser, F.S., Stappers, P.J.: Mind the face. In: Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces (DPPI 2007). ACM, New York (2007)Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Wright, P., McCarthy, J.: Empathy and Experience in HCI. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 637–646. ACM, New York (2008)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christiane Grünloh
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Åke Walldius
    • 1
  • Gerhard Hartmann
    • 2
  • Jan Gulliksen
    • 1
  1. 1.KTH Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden
  2. 2.CUAS Cologne University of Applied SciencesGummersbachGermany

Personalised recommendations