Designing with Empathy

  • May 15, 2023
  • 2 min read
  • Jana Jankovic, senior designer
The Power of Empathy: Understanding Needs and Improving Communication by Stepping into Someone's Shoes

Working with nonprofits is different from working on for-profit projects in many ways. The people nonprofits help and their stories are often much more emotional than any for-profit work we typically encounter. Our team has been moved to tears more than once while reading about the communities our nonprofits serve, whether it's delivering meals to people who are too ill to cook or shop for themselves, or helping marginalized communities in New York find their voice.

While reading about a given project, we may feel sympathy. However, we make a determined effort to stay empathetic instead. Sympathy can detach us from the person by making us feel sorry for them. Empathy, on the other hand, puts us in that person’s shoes and helps us understand their needs.

Many experts and practitioners emphasize how empathy is central to human-centered design, and we wholeheartedly agree. We believe that trying to understand the problems people are facing is crucial to effective communication. Managing budgets, changing deadlines, and taking on new projects in a busy studio always presents challenges to our focus. That's why, as a studio, we start each project review with a discussion on empathy regarding the client in question.

At Antarctic, we are committed to continuing to practice empathy as a skill, cultivate it, and incorporate it into our design processes. Given the current state of the world and the ongoing design challenges we face, it is crucial that we strive to understand others.

Example of empathic work

Here are some references and resources that our team has used to stay on track regarding empathy in design. We hope you find them helpful!