Disability + relevant design: Empathic design strategies supporting more effective new product design outcomes

Deana McDonagh, Joyce Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People are living longer and over their lifespan may develop a range of disabilities that are no longer perceived as a barrier to enjoying a high quality of life. With increased user expectation of products, a balanced approach to functionality and supra-functionality in product design is more important than ever. Users (consumers of products) are acknowledged as being significant sources of insight and innovation. Empathic design strategies rely on the user being an active partner within the information creation and designing process to ensure that more intuitive design outcomes are generated. This paper addresses empathy and the empathic horizon (the boundaries to a designer's knowledge and understanding) in the context of ensuring relevant design outcomes. We also consider the importance of the products that surround us, referred to collectively as our 'material landscapes'. These concepts are illustrated through discussion of design research and a design course within a university context where students with significant physical (visible) disabilities and industrial design students worked together designing everyday products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-196
Number of pages17
JournalDesign Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Design education
  • Designing process
  • Disabilities
  • Empathic design research
  • Empathic horizon
  • Empathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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