An experimental investigation of the effectiveness of empathic experience design for innovative concept generation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Researchers

  • Daniel G. Johnson
  • Nicole Genco
  • Matthew N. Saunders
  • Paul Williams
  • Carolyn Conner Seepersad
  • Katja Hölttä-Otto

Research units

  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Singapore University of Technology and Design

Abstract

An important part of designing successful products is building empathy for the people for whom the product is intended. Despite recent interest in empathic design techniques, they remain confined primarily to customer needs analysis and design problem definition activities, and much of the evidence for their impact on engineering designs is anecdotal. In this paper, empathic design techniques are formally integrated into the conceptual design process, and their effectiveness is investigated with a controlled idea generation experiment. Empathic experience design (EED) is a structured conceptual design method focused on stimulating creative, user-centered concept generation by engaging designers in empathic experiences as part of concept generation. Empathic experiences are demanding product interaction tasks that are intended to help a design engineer empathize with customers who use a product under a variety of sometimes challenging conditions. Empathic experiences can represent either actual disabilities or situational disabilities, which are experienced by lead users who push a product to its extremes and experience needs prior to the general population. In some cases, these empathic experiences amplify the situational disability as a means of highlighting the challenges of interacting with a particular product or system. A representative example is the use of thick gloves to limit a designer's dexterity and thereby highlight the challenges associated with either actual disabilities, such as arthritis, or situational disabilities, such as extreme cold or fatigue that make it difficult to move one's fingers freely. The EED method precedes concept generation activities with a series of these empathic experiences involving a baseline product to be redesigned. Many professional designers incorporate empathy and empathic experiences into their design practices, but evidence of their impact on resulting designs has been largely anecdotal. In this paper, their effectiveness is investigated formally with strategically designed experiments. The research hypothesis is that empathic experiences, when coupled with concept generation activities, lead to designs that are more original, especially with respect to features that enhance product-user interactions. To test this hypothesis, experiments were conducted on two example problems in which participants were asked to develop concepts for a next-generation product. Experimental groups completed a controlled concept generation task after engaging in empathic experiences with a prototype product to be redesigned. Control groups completed an identical concept generation task after interacting with the prototype products freely. Resulting concepts were analyzed for their originality, technical feasibility, and embodiment of a specific set of innovation characteristics. Results indicate that the experimental participants who were exposed to empathic experiences prior to concept generation produced concepts with significantly higher rates of original product-user interaction features without any sacrifice in technical feasibility. The overall originality of the concepts is also higher for redesign problems with an abundance of existing solutions, indicating that the EED method also helps alleviate design fixation.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number051009
JournalJournal of Mechanical Design
Volume136
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

ID: 7083069