Empathy is seeing with the eyes anothers, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.As designers, architects and builders, do you feel there is an empathic value to your work?  Do you actually see the needs of your client from their perspective?

Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO (Innovation, Design Engineering Organization) said “Empathy is at the heart of design.  Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.”

After a few days dissecting the meaning and value of empathy at the GE Design Summit  in Louisville, Kentucky, I thought I would share this topic with you and get your feedback.

Spaces and things are designed for the masses simply because it’s easier and more cost effective, but not everyone fits the mold. People who are wheelchair bound have special design needs which are obvious, but have you thought about the person with color blindness?  Or the person with arthritis or limited range of motion or OCD or ADHD? 

Pretty is always nice, but before we start the design process, in-depth interviewing for function and practicality is so important.  It the design does not work for the client, it will fall on you.  Sometimes we have to ask questions that might seem embarrassing or an invasion of privacy to the client, but ultimately you are there to feel how your client feels so you can create the solutions to their design problems.  

I’m sure you’ve heard the old say, “Walk in my shoes for a day.”  If you are working on a design for someone who has the use of one arm only, as an example, put your arm in a sling and experience your client’s life for a day.  Guaranteed that you will then understand from your client’s perspective what is needed to make life easier.