Teaching empathetic design through the pedagogy of discomfort

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookConference contributionpeer-review


Students and novice designers, especially those just out of high school, have difficulties understanding the concept of empathy in the design process. In addition, they often confuse empathy with sympathy, and their design solutions show an element of condescension and stereotypical outcomes.

To address the above problem, we have employed two strategies; 1. Transformational teaching: to create a dynamic relationship between teachers, students and a shared body of knowledge to encourage learning and personal growth. This was achieved through situated learning with teachers acting as intellectual coaches who guide as and when required. And 2. Pedagogy of discomfort, According to Boler, pedagogy of discomfort as a teaching practice aims at disorienting learners through unsettling their taken-for-granted assumptions; and, consequently, engaging them in ‘collective witnessing’, ‘mutual exploration’ and ‘deliberate listening’. This was achieved by designing the learning context to engage students in an activity that is both surprising and requires them to un-anchor from their comfort zone.

This paper shares our experience using the strategies mentioned above to teach empathic design to novice designers. We discuss our findings around a case study, an interdisciplinary course comprising students from visual design, industrial design and nursing working together in a culturally diverse environment to solve a real-world problem based on ageing and dignity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication25th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education
EditorsLyndon Buck, Hilary Grierson, Erik Bohemia
PublisherThe Design Society
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9781912254194
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2023
Event25th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education - Elisava, Barcelona School of Design and Engineering , Spain
Duration: 7 Sept 20238 Sept 2023

Publication series



Conference25th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Teaching empathetic design through the pedagogy of discomfort'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this