Proposal: Empathy Promotion in Industrial Design Education

Understanding how empathy is expressed and developed in industrial design education.

North Carolina State University  |  PhD in Design  |  Dissertation Proposal


This research proposal presents a plan to study how empathy—the ability to feel, recognize, and understand another’s thoughts and feelings and respond to them appropriately—is expressed and developed by students in the context of the industrial design studio, through the understanding of its methodological, pedagogical and curricular conditions.

The proposed research study aims to understand the practices and circumstances that may foster or hinder the development of empathy of students for users in the industrial design studio.

This question will be addressed by exploring how faculty undertake human-centered issues in the design studio, how different educational strategies can lead the students to take the perspective of the users, how the addressed problem in the studio contributes to the students’ consideration of the users’ concerns, and how the expressions of empathy emerge and evolve throughout the design project.

In order to develop this understanding, this study proposes the use of grounded theory as a methodology to uncover the aforementioned aspects, using different techniques such as participant observation of the design studio, semi-structured interviews to students and faculty members, collection of student’s portfolios (i.e. artifacts created by the students in the studio), and measurement of empathy scores using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI).

The analysis of these data will provide evidences of students’ expressions of empathy for the user, as well as evidence of the factors that might foster the development of this ability in an industrial design studio.

Download full proposal (8.1 MB): Empathy Expression and Development.pdf