Coca-Cola, Colostomy Bags and Cross-Dressing: Tips for Building Rapid Empathy

Apart from that brief outburst, the faces of the participants in our Human-Centred Design (HCD) workshop are crinkled with concentration as they calculate the number of carbs they consumed in their last meal. They’re not trying the newest low-carb diet, but putting themselves in the shoes of someone with diabetes–feeling, first-hand, what it’s like to count their blood glucose levels to ensure they adjust their insulin intake correctly.


That walk-a-mile-immersion exercise is just one example of the methods we use to build rapid empathy in which we (as researchers and designers) help our audience (students, clients) to quickly understand the challenges that people face with a product, service, or process. Interestingly, the rapid bit is where the audience actually makes a connection, experiencing empathy for others. As humans, we’re wired to feel empathy, so all we need to do is tap into that innate capacity.


Karsten Fischer

CEO, PDD, global product and service design and innovation consultancy
Rapid Empathy

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. 
 Atticus Finch knew that the key to understanding people was building empathy for them. In this post we explore the role of empathy in innovation and our experiences with rapid empathy-building exercises.
So, what is the role of empathy in design and innovation?