Empathic Engineers is a 3-year project for better technology development

We are surrounded and affected by technology and we are facing an extensively automatized future. We often forget that people develop these technologies for other people. Thus, it is important that the developers of future technology understand humans, users and the society the technology impacts. Thus, it is important to train “empathic engineers”.

In order to be able to do this, we need to identify what exactly is relevant empathy in product development since it is currently conceptualized differently in brain research, psychology and design. In this project we aim to establish solid empathy measurement techniques using our expertise from brain research, wearable sensors and psychology.

Once we can measure empathy we can help develop ways to increase empathy during the product development process and study if increased empathy also leads to empathic action. That is, help product developers better understand the users and where technology is used and enable them to use this understanding in the designing new technology.

We collaborate with technology firms such as KONE corporation and GE Healthcare, in the project. They have expressed interest in understanding what empathy is beyond the buzzword today and especially how to communicate and transfer empathy during a complex product development project. Their involvement is essential in keeping the project grounded in the everyday realities of product development as well as applicability and adoption of the results at the end.

Our team consists of experts in product development, brain research and psychology, all essential co-dependent areas of expertise needed for this project. Through this joint effort of Aalto University Design Factory, the Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Computer Science we aim at setting the empirical bases for the education of future empathic humane-decision-making engineers.

Can we measure with facial expression analysis, how well does a designer understand a user?

What did we study? A key element of product development is understanding the user. In design interviews, the designer tries to understand what the user thinks and feels, and what are their needs.

How accurately can you understand a person?

As a designer, how well are you really able to understand users when you are empathizing with them? Our research shows, some factors may increase or decrease your empathic understanding. Do you know what they are and how do they influence your understanding accuracy? Users are not always thinking about the product during an interview.

Culture differences in user understanding

In the global economic integration, we do not design products only for local users but for users all over the world. Successful product development depends on how well meet the customer need, how well we understand the users. The diversity of users leads to a diversity of needs.

Inside the empathic brain

User understanding is a key part of empathic design, but have you thought about what happens in the brain when we try to understand another person?

Being in sync, being connected

For designers it is important to connect, build trust and a good relationship with the user. Building a relationship has been studied elsewhere. Let’s see what we can learn.

Can you transfer empathy? 

Gaining a deep understanding of users has become important in technology development, helping designers provide useful and successful solutions for the users.  Even though many methods developed for empathic design emphasize direct contact with the user, it is seldom efficient for the whole development team to meet the user.

Catching emotions

A newborn begins to cry, inducing her neonatal neighbors to join in an ensemble of high pitch cries. A few years later, that child runs to hug her classmate in pain. As a teenager, she enjoys hanging out with her friends. Sometimes she laughs with them, even though she is not sure what they are

What if you could see inside your users head?

We have started to measure what the user is thinking and it has given us quite a surprising result: we understand them up to 50%. This is significant. We tend to believe that when we talk to users and spend time in their environment, we get good user understanding.

The evolution of empathy

Empathy is part of our everyday life. Empathy allows us to understand others and to feel the joys and sorrows of fictional movie characters as if they were real. Empathic understanding helps us to recognize the needs of other people and can even lead to extreme forms of unselfish behavior. People have even donated their

Empathic engineers go global

What happens when our team project is presented to an international community of designers? The word gets spread!


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