Why Designers Need To Show Empathy as They Rethink Work Spaces

As the world comes out of the pandemic and designers figure out how to adapt workplaces to the new reality still being determined, experts warn companies not to underestimate what workers have gone through in the last two years and to factor that into their plans.

The years of upheaval, sickness, and for many, isolation, have taken a toll on many Americans, leaving them battered and yes, traumatized. And that is causing new problems designers need to be aware of.

“The volume of grief of trauma that we’re all always swimming in, the longer that we suppress that and don’t acknowledge that, the longer this is going to continue,” Rachael Dietkus, founder of Social Workers Who Design, told the Fortune Brainstorm Design conference on Monday. “It’ll be a different kind of a pandemic.”

She called on companies to hire social workers to help employees navigating all the trauma they might be feeling from upheaval and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

And empathy will need to be a big part of the equation, particularly because of how differently people may have experienced the trauma of the pandemic. “When we’re talking about building humility and empathy, we’re talking about how we unpack our biases, our unseen areas, our power, our privilege, and the spaces that we navigate in the spaces that we work,” said Antionette Carroll, founder, president and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab.

She acknowledged it’s a skill people learn from experience rather than in school, alas. “I didn’t study empathy in design school.”That informed how Ford Motor Co redesigned its campus in Dearborn, Michigan, seeking to offer a restful workplace that invokes the peacefulness of nature, particularly to promote healthfulness.

“We’re going to keep the elements that promote healthy living, like a great facade with glazing that allows natural light to penetrate the depth of the floor plate, or like our interior courtyards, and the landscape,” said Jennifer Kolstad, global design director at Ford.

But being empathetic doesn’t have to mean being slow and overly deliberate, especially given the urgency of re-inventing work spaces now that the pandemic is receding.

“You can be high performing and empathetic with your people,” said Paul Papas, managing partner at IBM Consulting Americas. Choosing between those two imperatives is a “false choice,” he added.

By :Phil Wahba

Source: Why designers need to show empathy as they rethink work spaces | Fortune

Applying Empathy In Design Thinking By Darren Evans

As designers, we break down problems, understand the ‘why’, and put them back together, better. Empathy should therefore be the starting point of the process – the source of the inspiration – from which we apply, test, and iterate new concepts, to validate our empathic thinking. We need to understand what a user says, does, thinks, and feels.

To do this effectively, we need to remain neutral ourselves, which is not easy. We must be congruent, and reflect and design without judgment or assumptions. Only then can the power of empathic design come to the fore – and not just because it is in vogue.

Authentic empathy could be a genuine cornerstone of a brand proposition, for example, and many technology businesses are renowned for empathy featuring heavily within the principles that guide their behavior. Tech is not the only industry to demonstrate empathy, of course, but its forward-thinking stance and the youth of many organizations within it, perhaps explains why empathy is a core cultural trait, rather than something that more traditional brands could only aspire to achieve.

However, designers can apply empathy mapping across all disciplines, from product design to systems thinking, and more established businesses can ooze empathy too.

Authentic empathy in practice

A 100-year-old client of ours, for example, has just re-written its strategic plan for the next 10 years. This is a 90-page transformative document, and the company’s principles lie at the heart of it all. Because these principles have been defined as a collective, they are truly shared by everyone throughout the organization and act almost as a marker – the barometer – guiding how and why things are done in a certain way.

Empathy is one such principle, which means that if someone sees a colleague going against what the brand stands for, they take time to consider what could be causing that and whether they can understand it, before calling it out.

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