Empathic empowerment : an exploration and analysis of a situated interaction through empathic modelling and role-play

Grech, Amy and Wodehouse, Andrew and Brisco, Ross (2024) Empathic empowerment : an exploration and analysis of a situated interaction through empathic modelling and role-play. In: The 18th International Design Conference, 2024-05-20 - 2024-05-23.

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Empathy is fundamental in obtaining a deep understanding of user needs (Battarbee et al. 2015; Bennett and Rosner 2019) and drives creative conceptualisation (Alzayed et al. 2020). It is also key to a humancentred design process, which has become fundamental in design teaching (Underwood and Powell 2023). Designers have gone to great lengths to get closer to the user experience particularly in situations foreign to the designer, for instance, due to varied physical or cognitive abilities (Raviselvam et al. 2022). One effective method is empathic modelling which simulates the perceptual and physical abilities of users (Nicolle and Maguire 2003). Patricia Moore pioneered empathic modelling by transforming herself into an elderly woman for a long period (1979 to 1982), to obtain a thorough understanding of such users (Moore 2012). This method was also adopted using a 'third age suit', developed by Ford, to replicate of experience of the elderly, which led to a successful and inclusive design. However, such simulations are never a complete replacement for real-life experiences (Raviselvam et al. 2022). This research explores a unique method involving the integration of role-play with empathic modelling, entitled Empathic Empowerment, to discover how empathic design theory is embodied in scenario structuring. Empathic Empowerment was explored through a qualitative study performed in the form of workshops conducted with design students. Participants were invited to role-play a situated interaction in pairs, involving a visually impaired client sitting alone at a restaurant and a server. Their main objectives were to order items from a menu and take the order respectively. Through Empathic Empowerment, this research aims to empower designers to experience the optimal level of designer empathy in a situated interaction drawn from habitual user experiences. In combination with the Empathic Empowerment method, the outcome of this paper is a novel evaluation system, entitled the Empathic Empowerment Scale, which is developed to support and analyse the elicited designer empathy.