Empathy is essential to the design process. It helps us see the world through the eyes of the people we are designing for, to understand their reality and uncover their latent needs. But how do we empathise with our users when we are not physically immersed in their life context? That’s where empathy workshops can come in. We conducted one using role-playing with the students of our Human Centred Design module to get them immersed in the challenges faced by elderly residents in nursing homes. Students were given a short introduction and provided a set of personas and scenarios. Using props to set the scene and get into character, students reenacted the scenarios, embodying the elderly resident’s experiences.

This process allows them to empathise with and internalise the challenges elderly residents go through in an interactive, tactile manner. Students then concretised their findings by mapping what each relevant persona sees, hears, says/does and thinks/feels onto an empathy map. This process helps to facilitate reflection and discussion for synthesising user needs.

After understanding the elderly residents through role-play, students brainstormed solutions for the challenges identified. Chosen solutions are integrated into their role-play using quick-and-dirty mockups, allowing students to put their ideas into context and gain an initial understanding of how well the solution would fit the users needs.