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Empathy @ Design Research: A phenomenological study on young designers experiencing participatory design

Jin Ma , Denny Kwok-Leung Ho , Peter Chuah

This paper presents a method of understanding the users involved in design research which advocates participatory design and inclusive design. This method is an attempt to fill the gap that has been left in design literature about feasible ways of understanding users, in response to the suggestion that users? involvement in design process is important. We start with illustrating designers? attitudes associated with the suppression of users? experience and designers? self experience within the designer- as-the-expert framework in the existing design practices; then we move on to show how empathy is employed as a design research process in this respect. The importance of personal description, the formation of intersubjectivity and the three layers of embodied empathy are highlighted. We adopt the phenomenological perspective to analyze the layers of embodied relationship between users and novice designers and the extent to which they are interrupted by designers? natural attitudes so as to shed some light on feasible ways of mutual understanding between designers and users. The analysis is based on the research notes of the Design.Live Workshop (Hong Kong 2009).


participatory design, inclusive design, empathy, phenomenology, active-design-partners