Designing Beyond Empathy

Experience + understanding builds empathy

Even physically experiencing someone else’s living situation isn’t enough to design with empathy. I have had all sorts of experiences to simulate someone else’s living experience, from donning weighted gloves and scratched glasses to emulate driving like an elderly person to living on the streets for weeks to experience what it’s like to be homeless.


While this is a great technique to better understand how people engage with the physical world, this approach alone focuses too much on the immediate visceral experience, and perhaps more problematically, my interpretation in isolation.


Fieldwork, going to the places where people are living their lives to conduct research, is where we start to really connect with people. We learn about who they are, participate in their activities, and uncover their needs. We witness emotional responses, body language, context, and their use of space. By connecting with individuals in the field, we’re able to collect their stories and perspectives.

Michael Chapman