Starting with Empathy: Teaching Design by Focusing on Understanding

Starting with Empathy: Teaching Design by Focusing on Understanding

The design process works best when based around empathy. Empathy for the user, for the subject matter, or for the system being designed. It helps student really visualize the needs and wants of the user, and helps guide students to a clear and authentic design end goal. However, starting projects with empathy and real user problems can be challenging for some students and teachers. Many rush to the prototyping stage and immediately start thinking about materials and tools, missing out on a great opportunity for students to understand the design process on a deeper level.

Our workshop would focus on starting a design project with empathy first; guiding participants on how to find real design challenges for students, how to scaffold skills required for conducting user interviews, and how to apply data collected to the ideation stage. We would use a lot of our school’s grade wide, or in-depth design projects as guides, as well as feature authentic challenges and ideas for units. There would be time to work together to develop at least 2 units to be able to apply immediately at school upon return from Learning2.

Session Audience:

Elementary, Middle school, High school, Arts, Curriculum leaders, Design and STEM/STEAM, Math & Science, Tech coaches, coordinators, integrators, etc, Whole school / anyone

Session Goals:

  • Appreciation of the design process starting from an empathy perspective.
  • An understanding on how to build a design challenge that gives students opportunities for authentic user interactions.
  • Knowledge on how to scaffold activities to build empathy and design mindset in all students from K-12.

Session Outcomes:

  • Participants will discuss how to create and cultivate empathy in the design classroom and projects.

  • Participants will explore, through hands-on activities, how to engage students in authentic user interviews and brainstorming techniques.

  • Participants will create at least one project and/or unit of design K-12 based around empathy and the design thinking process.

Presenter Bio:

Mike was previously a Learning2 leader in Tokyo in 2018. I have presented at 21st Century Learning and EARCOS as well. Nikki has previously presented at Learning by Design (Brussels) in 2016 and lead the student section of Learning by Design in 2018. She has also presented at Greenlight4Girls Brussels in 2016-2018 and KORCOS in 2019.