In the twentieth century, much emphasis was put on introspection: the process of looking inwards to understand ourselves. In this century, people are instead focusing outwards, trying to develop empathy toward other individuals and groups. Empathy is a useful concept for living a better life, solving political concepts and dreaming up more creative business ideas.

Design thinking is actually predicated on empathy. Innovators try to understand who their clients are and what they want in order to produce a product or service which is actually useful to them. For example, 20 years ago it was common for social service experts to design programs they thought the system needed. Unsurprisingly, it transpired that these were not the programs that the clientele was in need of, so they didn’t succeed. Now, design thinking and empathy are used to design programs which actually fit the needs of the people they serve. Source : istockphoto/15241510

Empathy is particularly important when thinking about design for healthcare. Medical services can be scary and uncomfortable, so it’s imperative that understanding of the patients’ fears and needs is at the basis of design for medical devices, clinics, services etc. And empathy is not limited only to the unfortunate (i.e. the patients) but should be extended to the medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and medical secretaries. When their job is smoother, the patients and the system as a whole benefit.

At Triode, empathy with others starts with the simplest of concepts: conversation. Discussing problems and needs with CEOs, employees of different departments, current and potential customers and the public at large can all help in understanding what type of product or service is really needed. The Mayo Clinic talked to both patients and doctors about the medical clinic experience  and redesigned their exam rooms entirely, to include separate spaces for exams and for consultation.

Once the various needs are outlined, the next step of the design process is the product strategy, which aims to solve as many of the issue as possible with an innovative product or service. When goals are defined, it’s time to brainstorm different concepts and test them out in order to evaluate them. Empathy is crucial at this level as well, since evaluation must be done by the potential users in order to determine whether the problems outlined have actually been solved. Only once they have been, is it time to move on to development and production.

Patrick Sirois

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.