Designer empathy in virtual reality : transforming the designer experience closer to the user

Grech, Amy and Wodehouse, Andrew and Brisco, Ross (2023) Designer empathy in virtual reality : transforming the designer experience closer to the user. In: IASDR 2023, 2023-10-09 - 2023-10-13, Politecnico di Milano. (

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Empathy is a key driver for designers to unlock their user’s perspective. However, its multi-dimensional nature can be detrimental to the design process; therefore, a structured approach is vital. The current emergence and capabilities of Virtual Reality (VR) technology have inspired this research to explore how designers can achieve the optimal level of empathy required to produce innovative design solutions. A qualitative study involving semi-structured interviews with design engineers working with industry was performed to analyse current challenges in empathic design and identify how VR can address such challenges. The study highlighted that communication and resource factors were the main barriers to designer empathy. In response to this finding, this research bridges the gap between the designer and the user through the digital transformation of the designer’s profession that provides enhanced value to human-centricity, social and ecological interactions. The outcome of this study entails the creation of a specification for a novel fully immersive virtual environment: Designer Empathy in VR that augments designers’ empathic skills and empowers the designer to achieve cognitive and affective empathy towards their user from multiple perspectives. This research is a platform for a future empirical study addressing the impact of digital empathy on creating user-centred and innovative design solutions.