Rethinking design thinking: Empathy supporting innovation

Deana McDonagh, Joyce Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The material landscape we construct within our personal lives and inherit in public environments has significant impact upon our daily experiences. They affect our productivity, our feeling of wellbeing, and sense of being socially connected. Products that provide a positive user-experience can empower people and contribute to a healthful environment. Products that do not meet the product user's functional or emotional needs can cause a person's sense of independence to be eroded. Method: The authors have developed an empathic design research strategy that builds on the capitals (e.g., background, physical abilities, and education) of the individual and the designer, to ensure that more intuitive design outcomes are generated which meet real needs, rather than assumed needs. Acknowledging that all people have an empathic horizon (a boundary to their knowledge, experience, and awareness), further learning can take place by the designer in direct consultation and collaboration with the users. Results: Well-designed products that are intuitive to use contribute to a person's quality of life and independence. The possessions surrounding us can generate a sense of balance, harmony, and wellbeing. The number of possessions we own is not critical, but their usefulness and meaning to us is. As we age and develop disabilities, being able to live independently lives becomes increasingly important. Conclusion: Designers are developing ways in which to bridge the divide that exists between lived experiences, user needs, and existing products that fail to satisfy the user.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-464
Number of pages7
JournalAustralasian Medical Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010


  • Designing process
  • Empathy
  • Material landscape

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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