Role Of Empathy In Design Thinking

There are a many facets that go into design thinking. Countless components which are crucial in determining the success and failure of any endeavor. Although all of them are integral for a coherent and cohesive design but there is one aspect that can’t be ignored – Empathy. Empathy must be considered the cornerstone of design thinking. It’s role can’t be understated in any way. Acknowledging the role of empathy in design thinking will add a different dimension to your endeavor and more importantly, offer you priceless insight into the user’s life. The latter will aid you in contriving a truly wonderful, sensitive and amicable design, catering to all the needs of the customer. However, the most significant fact is that it will endear you and your design to the masses.

This entails endearing yourself to the user by building or having empathy at every juncture. Familiarizing yourself with the user, acknowledging and perceiving their emotions and desires. You must put yourself in their shoes and truly understand what constitutes their person; this will aid in building prudent design decisions.

All of this may seem tedious or extraneous but it’s imperative to take cognizance of this facet. Empathy belongs to that wide spectrum of qualities that simply make us human; being apathetic to everything may seem productive but that is a grievous misconception.

Today we’ll provide a comprehensive answer to the question – What is the role of empathy in design thinking?

Let’s dive in

What is Empathy?

Empathy is defined as the attempt understanding, perceiving, acknowledging and being sensitive to an another person’s feelings. It means to vicariously live and experience another’s plight, emotions, desires and grief. It refers to familiarizing yourself with another person through perceiving them without passing any judgement and harboring any preconceptions.

To have the ability to see the world from their vantage point with keen, discerning eyes. As mentioned above, to simply put yourself in their shoes and understand the long road they’ve taken to become the person they are today.

Empathy isn’t an extraneous trait; upon noticing someone’s plight or suffering, we feel naturally compelled to aid them and understand them. To give them a shoulder to cry on and offer relief. We empathize with our friends, family, peers and even strangers in one way or another, providing respite from what’s plaguing them. It’s an innate facet which is a testament to our humanity.

In that vein, designers must foster empathy for their users in order to make smart and tactful decisions. It’s crucial to perceive and understand the user’s feelings regarding a certain design, product, component or interface to name a few. With this in mind, designers are much better equipped to come up with relevant designs which charm and satisfy the customer.

Without empathy, there is a grim possibility of creating designs which might come off as tactless or worse, even hurtful. The designs, without a doubt, must appease the user and leave them a sense of joy.

Empathy and it’s role in Design Thinking

Empathy fits into the nascent stages of design thinking, the very foundations of any design should be built on empathy. In this stage, the designer must acquaint themselves with the customer/user. Spending an extended amount of time with the user to get to know them and take note of their emotions. Designers must familiarize themselves with the user to an extent where the former is able to perceive the latter on a psychological and emotional level.

Most of us are quite presumptuous, in that we perceive other people and their emotions from our own vantage point. Further fabricating a warped version of other’s based on our own preconceived notions. It’s absolutely imperative to shed this habit as it may hinder our ability to empathize. This is especially essential for designers, as they must set aside their own views before attempting to understand the user’s psychology. Making keen observations and engaging with them on a personal level goes a long way in forming a fruitful understanding.

The aim of empathetic designing is preclude the use of generic or average parameters. To see what the user feels, does in certain situations or how they manoeuvre around predicaments is essential as it helps in providing a more personal user experience.

Empathetic design thinking isn’t about noting facts about the user like their age or whereabouts. It’s about comprehending the user’s desires and emotions towards certain facets or components of a product.

Methods to facilitate Empathetic Design Thinking

There are certain methods to help inculcate empathy with the user

  1. Don’t be presumptuous or hasty with your perception. Go with a ‘blank’ slated mindset to paint a clear picture of the user
  2. Practicing empathy in your daily life is the best way to help in this endeavor. Be empathetic to the people around you to have a better perception
  • Be perceptive. Don’t be tactless in your engagements with the user, observe and let them know you’re paying attention. Mimicking their facial expressions and nodding goes a long way. Also take note of their body language when discussing suggestions and ideas.
  1. Be inquisitive. How? Where? Why? Ask them the context surrounding situations and events in their life.
  2. You can create empathy maps describing their reactions to suggestions, purchases and certain events.


Empathy is essential in design thinking in order to create a user-based product. Understanding the user’s desires, needs, apprehensions and over-all emotions is crucial towards forming the best design possible. It is, indubitably, the backbone of design thinking.

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