Introducing The Empathic Design Institute

September 17, 2021

By Erin Hunter

I am delighted to introduce a project we’ve been working on here at Design for People.

The pandemic has given us a lot to think about. Although many Design for People team members had been working remotely before the emergency, going fully remote allowed us more introspection into identifying the purpose in our work.

Why do we do what we do? What are our shared values and ideals? Where we hadn’t sat together to figure it out, we drew on our individual values.

It turns out that although our team of employees and contractors scattered all over the U.S. are each truly unique and diverse, we share respect and empathy for the users of our digital experiences. Maybe that’s one reason we still like to work with each other after so many years.

We decided to elaborate on our empathic approach in our work — and create a place to share it with the world, so everyone can instill empathic design principles. We call it The Empathic Design Institute.

After all, if you want to change the world, you can’t do it by yourself.

Empathic Design Logo

The Empathic Design Manifesto

Where the Internet once was a place that unlocked vast amounts of human potential, these days it seems it’s about to get us. Websites try to trick you into subscribing to something you don’t want. Social media is a scourge or a threat, hijacked by nuts with sinister agendas. Your inbox and text messages are full of phishing fraud. Your smart home eavesdrops on you. The IoT is mostly unsecured and scary. Nobody sees how vulnerable they are, because nobody reads the T&Cs for the apps, memberships, or whatever they embrace. That’s because they’re designed to be unreadable.

Somewhere along the way, masters of digital began talking less about unleashing the power of human creativity… and more about “owning eyeballs.” We grew less focused on improving users’ lives – and more about monetizing them. Not a thing wrong with monetizing. But when you play three-card monte with your customers in pursuit of that goal, when you conceal your agenda to exploit them – it’ll catch up with you. It is catching up to the whole industry right now.

The potent antidote to all this is… empathy. Empathic design. An aesthetic -– a point of view – that understands what people want and delivers it in stylish, resonant ways. It’s actually not a new idea. High time for it to be resuscitated.

The empathic design aesthetic belongs at the heart of digital.

We’re here to show you how.

Call it a movement. Call it an uprising. Call it a measured, strategic response to everything wrong with now.

  • Where digital is intimidating, we mean to provide comfort.
  • Where it feels adversarial, we mean to be an ally.
  • Where it disenfranchises people, we mean to empower them.
  • Where people get frustrated, we mean to please them.

With empathic design, nobody’s eyeballs get owned. Nobody gets taken for a ride. Everybody sees the value of the experience… and wants more.

Good design. Good business. Good karma.

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