(Re)storying Empathy in Design Thinking

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Megan StrickfadenAdolfo RuizJoyce Thomas

Abstract: Storytelling can be associated with temporality, memory, emotion, embodied ways of individually experiencing life, and social ways of collectively experiencing the world. Storytelling is also a kind of re-storying of human experience that has the potential to drive design solutions in very significant directions. We believe that storytelling has the potential to be a cornerstone towards breaking down assumptions about others and revealing beliefs and values about the people that designers call their users or audiences; and as such, storytelling can be significant to human-centred design processes and towards building empathy in design thinking. This paper highlights some of the central ideas around storytelling, re-storying and empathy from the fields of design studies, contemporary literature, psychology, and philosophy. This includes explorations into how designers invest time into storytelling and how this can lead towards deepening empathy and understanding of others’ circumstances. Our core assumption is that storytelling and re-storying are key ways to connect one person with another and to bring together groups of people through sharing and exploring details about individual experiences including intimate and emotional qualities of the human condition. Moving from our highlighted core concepts we put these to work through three projects created by authors and presented as case studies to better understand temporality, memory, emotion and embodiment, and to explore how empathy can be enacted. The three case studies are: a self-knowing activity called Embodied Maps; an activity that has been made into a short film called Evolving Lines; and an ethnographic film created to explore low vision and the urban environment called Light in the Borderlands. Each of these case studies are examples of different types of re-storying, woven together to shed light on and facilitate deep reflection and meaningful conversations about oneself and among people who carry distinct cultural knowledge and disparate lived experiences. Storytelling and re-storying in each of these case studies are developed through sustained and respectful dialogue over hours, weeks, and months as part of design inquiries leading to and facilitating meaning-making processes. This paper promises to illuminate how storytelling and re-storying can be used as a means to being a more empathic design thinker and move towards innovative design solutions that are more suitable, functional and, ultimately, valuable to people.

Keywords: Design Process, Embodiment, Emotions, Film as Story, Human, centered Designing, Lived Experience, Memory, Sociocultural Knowledge, Storytelling, Temporality

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1002971

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