Proposal: Fostering Empathy in Industrial Design Education

Using mixed methods to assess how empathy is fostered in industrial design education.

North Carolina State University  |  PhD in Design  |  Mixed Methods Research in Education


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 fostered in students across different industrial design programs in the United States, and how effective are the practices and strategies utilized to promote this social ability in the aforementioned context.

The proposed research study aims to assess at what extent industrial design students are developing empathy throughout their formal education, determine how empathy is fostered in industrial design programs, and identify effective educational practices and strategies to develop this ability. 

In order to accomplish these goals, the study proposes the use of a mixed methods research strategy where qualitative and quantitative techniques for data collection and analysis will be utilized sequentially (QUAL→quan) to identify instances and strategies of industrial design education intended to foster empathy, and to determine their impact on the design students’ measures of empathy.

The motivation behind this study is the concerns raised by a recent study that report a decline in empathy since the year 2000 among American college students, considering the importance of this ability under contemporary approaches to design that emphasize the importance of empathically understanding the users and communities served through design solutions.

To support the development of this research study from the theory, this proposal presents a conceptual framework that covers classic and contemporary literature on empathy, design education, and the role of empathy in the design field.

Download full paper (3.8 MB): Fostering Empathy in Industrial Design Education.pdf