Senses and Empathy

Tarmo Karhu

Turku University of Applied Sciences, Design Engineering, 1st year

In a user-centered design course, students were given an exercise to better understand their experiences of different senses and develop their capacity for empathy.

Students were being organized in three-person groups and instructed to plan and visualize a route that takes them around different environments and situations in and around the campus. In their group, one student was being blinded with a scarf, one student was giving verbal instructions to the blinded student and one student was documenting the process. 

After each route, students would change roles. After the exercise was done by all three students, they were asked to compose and present a brief presentation about their experiences, observations and possible insights. 

For students, doing the exercise revealed a situational awareness of how experiencing the environment can be different while blocking some of the senses, in this case sight. The change of role (of being blinded, being the instructor, being the observer) helped create an emotional awareness  about how people experience things differently (which is critical in designing for people). Thirdly, the exercise stimulated students’ critical thinking in that it made them aware of their own biases and assumptions that were being uncovered through them experimenting and experiencing.

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