A Comparison of Existing Frameworks Leading to an Empathic Formation Compass for Co-design
Wina Smeenk, Janienke Sturm, Berry Eggen


Although empathy is an essential aspect of co-design, the design community lacks a systematic overview of the key dimensions and elements that foster empathy in design. This paper introduces an empathic formation compass, based on a comparison of existing relevant frameworks. Empathic formation is defined here as the formative process of becoming an empathic design professional who knows which attitude, skills and knowledge are applicable in a co-design process. The empathic formation compass provides designers with a vocabulary that helps them understand what kind of key dimensions and elements influence empathic formation in co-design and how that informs designers’ role and design decisions. In addition, the empathic formation compass aims to support reflection and to evaluate co-design projects beyond the mere reliance on methods. In this way, empathic design can be made into a conscious activity in which designers regulate and include their own feelings and experiences (first-person perspective), and decrease empathic bias. We identify four important intersecting dimensions that empathy is comprised of in design and describe their dynamic relations. The first two opposing dimensions are denoted by empathy and differentiate between cognitive design processes and affective design experiences, and between self- and other orientation. The other two dimensions are defined by design research and differentiate between an expert and a participatory mindset, and research- and design-led techniques. The empathic formation compass strengthens and enriches our earlier work on mixed perspectives with these specific dimensions and describes the factors that foster empathy in design from a more contextual position. We expect the empathic formation compass—combined with the mixed perspectives framework—to enhance future research by bringing about a deeper understanding of designers’ empathic and collaborative design practice.

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