How can we design something for someone we don’t know? From a simple product to a whole functioning city, empathic design seeks the way to achieve the ultimate design that will meet the user’s true need. But, can this concept be extrapolated from the business world to every-day life? Better education methods, innovative working environments or even more inclusive and representative government tools. This sheer concept is the door to a new way of thinking regarding design, disrupting the classical view and taking the final user as the principal source of inspiration and creativity. Hence, changing the rules of the game.
This way of portraying design can touch every aspect of our lives or even help those most in need and make their lives simpler. Just stop designing for awards and start designing for people1
, for those who really need it or even for our future population. Start designing to help the coming generations by creating sustainable architecture, applying solar energy2
, devising better disposal systems. There is no limit.
HEALTH: Medical Innovation
Empathic design merged with technological innovation and bright minds can reach anywhere, even medicine. Can you imagine printing an organ from your own cells when you need it? In the US, the national donor waiting list grows by 300 people every month and the odds of even finding a correct match are low. Bioprinting organs would solve this supply and demand problem, saving millions of lives. Suddenly, bioengineers can build living sculptures with 3D printers. This technology could prove invaluable for medical schools and investigation centers by printing organs with tumors to practice on, testing how tissues respond to drugs in real time, among others.
In addition, scientists are thinking of bioprinting bionic organs, in other words, body parts that don't just restore, but extend human ability. Nowadays, bionic limbs3
exist and are changing the lives of many individuals, such as those who suffered lost limbs in accidents or wars.
However, we might ask, where is the limit? Where do we draw the line in extending human life? As medicine advances to incorporate electronics into our bodies, we should also address the ethics in all of this. Moral concerns might be raised about the weaponization of bionic devices. Moreover, if people with means started replacing their healthy organs for enhanced ones, then those without access to these enhancements would have a hard time competing. Will economic status determine who is worthy of evolving?
HUMANITARIAN: Apps, Products and More
We live in a world of constant change, fast technological advancement and uninterrupted communication. So, could we use these factors in our advantage, aiming to help people in need? Through design with an empathic purpose we can really make a change. Can you imagine radically improving someone’s life with a simple touch on your cellphone?4
Studies have shown that on average we touch our phones around 2600 times a day. Why don’t we use this daily task for the better good?
There are various Apps that can do this, helping homeless people get in touch with their families5
or having a list in your phone of what they really need6
and even aiding a blind person to read through an App7
. But you don’t see many examples or they are hard to find. Are we so used to a materialistic and shallow use of technology that we have become blind to ways of exploiting its greater potential?
SYSTEMS: Politics, Education and Corporate Cultures
In addition, we can even address the core of it all and question the system, questioning how we interact with the people in power and if they can really hear our voices and represent us. We should question our democratic system.8
Although technology has been blamed for spreading fake news and creating social disruption, well-designed technology could have the power to close the gap between politicians and civilians. Over the past decade less than 0.01% of Silicon Valley’s investments on technology design has been directed to improve democracy and political systems. So, why don’t we leave Pokemon Go for a second and try to code to solve real life problems? Luckily, some have already done this by creating a collaborative platform for citizens to upload suggestions that could help the administration, but we have great room for improvement.9
Should we use empathic design for what people need or what they actually desire? Is there a way to try and achieve both?
However, technology is just one gateway to rethink the system, we should find different ways to criticize and upgrade the society that we live in. Political, legal, educational and justice systems… these are all complex structures that are rarely examined and hardly ever changed. Ask yourself, why do we spend so much money in keeping a person in jail, when we could reinvest it upfront to prevent this from happening in the first place?10
We would put our resources to a much better use by developing educational programs or a platform to collaboratively ideate solutions to give opportunities, instead of spending millions of dollars to keep people locked up.
Empathic design could even reach great corporations, helping rethink how they relate to their workers, Google is a great example of this. Reassessing current bureaucracy in companies and trying to update the model, thinking how it can reach a more collaborative and motivational work environment.11
Viewing design through empathy, through the eyes of real people, we will finally shape our own future.