The value and place for empathy in designing for older people

Andree Woodcock, Deana McDonagh, Paul Magee, Mike Tovey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It may be argued that developing empathy for the people we design for is a prerequisite to more effective design outcomes. Although we can intellectually appreciate aging and disability, only when we ‘experience another person’s experience’ can we begin to appreciate the lived experience we are trying to enhance. It is difficult for student designers to gain a perspective of the lived experience of ‘the other’. However, this is the very skill that is needed when they move into professional practice. With an ageing and more discerning population, future designers need to understand both the needs and aspirations of older populations who may experience age related decline in mobility, and life changing illnesses and diseased if they are to design for the whole person. This chapter describes the development of Discrete Learning Interventions (DLIs) to increase the empathic horizon of student designers and engineers, who may not have access to elderly populations. The DLIs used low-level simulations and the GERT (gerontology) aging suit, to complete activities of daily living while experiencing a range of physical impairments. While a relatively short immersion into disability and aging could be considered superficial, the authors believe that low level experiential simulations, together with the GERT suit could be valuable in training Industrial Design students and lead to more age sensitive, inclusive design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIntelligent Systems Reference Library
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameIntelligent Systems Reference Library
ISSN (Print)1868-4394
ISSN (Electronic)1868-4408


  • Aging
  • Disability
  • Empathy
  • Gerontology
  • Industrial design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


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