The title of this blog seems terribly redundant! What other kind of empathy can be human centered? Maybe what a human feels for a pet animal? Nevertheless, the redundancy of this blog is meant to underscore the primary aim of design thinking as human centered, end user satisfaction.

There is probably no better example of empathy than the emotional response of a mother toward her child or of a caring nurse for her patient charge. Tim Brown in his book Change by Design describes empathy as “the mental habit that moves us beyond thinking of people as laboratory mice or standard deviation”. This can be called empathic design, what Brown refers to as “an emotional relationship between the end consumer and the product by achieving a better understanding of the user experience and users’ needs at an early stage of new product development”.

In 2014, Joseph Giacomin presented a paper at the Human Centered Design Institute, Brunel University, that was outlined in his pyramid of vital questions, who, what, when, how, and why:

  • Who is the consumer whose characteristics are being reflected in the design?
  • What are the consumer’s specific goals and experience using the product?
  • When does the consumer interact with the product?
  • How does the consumer think about the design of the product?
  • Why does the consumer use the product?

The designer must fashion an avatar or imaginary ideal image of the consumer, so that as Brown summarizes the process, “Design thinking converts need into demand.” The designer’s empathy and sensitivity are engaged with the user’s need beyond technology and business feasibility. The avatar becomes the guide through the design process, which builds on this imaginary character of the newly created person.

The Sprint storyboard, then, becomes the map of the answers to Giacomin’s questions or if you want, the design of the avatar in action, using the new product. This empathic design is defined in the product based on the imaginary person, the result of human centered empathy with the support of technology and a sustainable product fulfilling the user’s needs and goals of the product.

There are many models for the process of design. Nevertheless, in the human centered design development process, careful, in-depth, and intensive research into the characteristics of the consumer and his behavior patterns are requisite. This demands a highly empathic team, willing to explore all the tools available in design thinking. The better the understanding of the customer and the process of design, the better the environmentally sustainable product. The key element that maintains the design process coherent and creative is its human centered empathy.