Educational Model for Improved Empathy ("The Pleasurable Mask Experience")

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Vaes, Kristof Romain Victor; Corremans, Jan; Moons, Ingrid
Series: E&PDE
Section: Pedagogy
Page(s): 227-232


Increased empathy and direct contact with users can provide a valuable resource for designers, who often design products for use outside their own experience. Learning design students to research, improve and incorporate empathic and emotional insights in their designs will give them the competitive edge that is necessary to place a ‘rich’ and viable product on the market. This statement is especially true for products that have a strong emotional impact on their users and observing bystanders.

This paper reports the results of a User Experience Design project, in which 65 third grade bachelor students Product Development at the Artesis University College of Antwerp participated.

During a 6-week project, students were challenged to develop a pleasurable dust mask, accompanying negative connotations had to be eliminated while motivational aspects had to be incorporated. The participating students worked out their individual concepts in a group process and were assigned to four specific target groups (personas): bike couriers, yourself within 40 years, children ages 3 to 7 and children aged 8 tot 13.

Apart from the course structure and the associated teaching methods, the paper emphasizes the ways in which we tried to increase students’ emotional awareness and empathy towards this potentially stigmatizing product and the total user experience of its wearer. The empathy enhancing activities were strategically incorporated in the course structure and enriched the design process on three occasions.

Preceding the actual project, students were challenged by an immersive experiment in which they had to wear dust masks each time they went outdoors. The reactions of bystanders as well as their own practical and emotional experiences had to be visually reported.

Three weeks in the project, direct contact with target users was established during a co-creation session with members of each of the 4 target groups.

Concluding the project, recommendations for further development were gathered by confronting target users with the final propositions that were uniformly presented on storyboard concept cards. The use of these concept cards forced students to present their ideas in a clear and convincing manner, emphasizing on the main topics and user experience aspects of their designs.

The empathy enhancing activities proved their value in the confrontations of our young designers with their own assumptions, which often were against the expectations of the target users. The overall set-up of the design exercise, the empathy enhancing activities together with the implementation of a qualitative and quantitative research phase, proved that students master both creative and research skills.

Keywords: design education, user experience design, product acceptance, co-creation


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