Sometimes things need to be designed from scratch and our attachments and biases to old technologies or the way things have been done in the past need to put aside. One way to start is by establishing empathy with the end user.

A group of students from the Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability class at the Standford d.school traveled to Nepal with a task of designing cheaper incubators (traditional ones cost $20,000) for premature babies. When they got there, they realized most of the expensive incubators were sitting in the hospitals empty. Traveling to the villages themselves, they realized it wasn’t cheaper incubators they needed since the villages were hours away from the nearest hospital and most premature births happened in the remote villages themselves. The resulting design was a $25 sleeping bag of sorts that had a phase change pouch that could be heated with boiling water and keep a constant temperature for up to 6 hours and then just needed reheating. Thinking outside the box and not bound by constraints of simply trying to take the known incubator technology and trying to cut costs with materials, the team redesigned from scratch. By visiting the women in the villages in Nepal, focusing on their needs, they were able to create an innovative, affordable, life-saving piece of equipment. You can read more about this product by clicking this link to embraceglobal.

How it Works

Empathy allowed these designers to understanding the end user and remove their biases from already existing technologies. By the way, their goal is to save 100,000 lives in 5 years.

Not only is empathy part of d.school’s design process or one of Daniel Pink’s Right Brain Senses mentioned in A Whole New Mind, but it is something that is important in the development of young minds. Giving children opportunities to develop empathy should be part of any school’s social and emotional learning curriculum. When looking at problems in a classroom or school, sometimes it takes walking in that student’s shoes to begin to understand how one might go about designing a solution. Our kids will be able to tackle many of the so called insoluble problems of the world and many of these, if we remain optimistic and give them opportunities to innovate, will in fact, be solved.

Here is a TEDtalk featuring the product ’embrace’.


2 thoughts on “empathy

  1. nice post. we have a lot to learn from the concept of design thinking. not only does empathy play a huge part of their understanding, but everything from the approach they take when tackling a problem to process of prototyping can directly connect to all the disciplines we emphasize in our schools. design thinking should be seen as a legitimate method of teaching as it will help prepare our students to solve problems like the one you just mentioned.

    • Thanks for the feedback. As a teacher who’s new to design thinking, not only am I experimenting with it in the classroom, but trying to engage others I work with in this process. You have to know what you teach, so hopefully we can use that method ourselves to try and solve a few local problems.

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