Empathy on the Edge
Scaling and sustaining a human-centered approach in the evolving practice of design
Katja Battarbee, Jane Fulton Suri, and Suzanne Gibbs Howard
IDEO
January 9, 2014

Remarkable things can happen when empathy for others plays a key role in problem-solving. In today’s global marketplace, companies are being asked to design for increasingly diverse users, cultures, and environments. These design challenges can be so systemic and wickedly complex, the task of aligning all of a project’s stakeholders can seem impossible. But it’s not.

Design empathy is an approach that draws upon people’s real-world experiences to address modern challenges. When companies allow a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs to inspire them—and transform their work, their teams, and even their organization at large—they unlock the creative capacity for innovation.

In this essay, we’ll explore how design empathy works, its value to businesses, and some ways in which it can be used to effect positive change. We’ll discuss the need for scaling and sustaining design empathy, so that its benefits can reach more people and have long-term positive impact throughout organizations. And we’ll offer stories from the edges of our own empathic design practice. Our goal is to inspire other designers and innovators to share their practices and to expand the conversation about empathy to include the business community-at-large.