Empathic Experience Design for Cognitive Impairment

Leonardo Orea Amador, University of Texas at El Paso


Empathic Experience Design (EED) is a technique that lets product designers empathize with their product users with the use of empathic experiences. These empathic experiences are activities that let designers become immersed in a simulation of the users’ typical environment and conditions and gain powerful insights of the user’s product experience. The simulation uses “tools” like earplugs and gloves that can simulate specific conditions such as hearing loss, or lack of sensitivity, for example. Literature shows that this empathic approach enables designers to discover unarticulated customer needs known as user latent needs. Latent needs produce significant benefits in the creation of new design solutions that are most likely to be welcomed by the general market. This study seeks to create a simulation that lets designers use EED to empathize with individuals with cognitive impairments. For this purpose, designers, or individuals without impairment, experience a momentarily cognitive overload created by taxing specific cognitive resources. This effect is achieved using cognitive assessments that are able to impose a controlled cognitive load on the designers. By combining EED with the cognitive impairment simulation, a new design method was created. The resulting method was called Empathic Experience Design for Cognitive Impairment (EED-CI). This method was constructed in two steps. The first step was to determine a specific EED design framework that enables the extraction of latent needs. This EED framework leverages on lead users analysis and empathic design, which are two of the most prominent design methods used in the extraction of user latent needs. The second step was to merge this EED design framework with the cognitive impairment simulation and define the final method. Furthermore, EED-CI was evaluated with respect to its ability to build empathy with the user, and to facilitate the extraction of user latent needs. The evaluation was performed by asking 29 students from the University of Texas at El Paso to complete an analysis of user behaviors and needs using three specific cognitive impairments as a reference. The analysis was completed before and after an empathic experience using pre and post-experience interviews. The participants also reported their perception of their cognitive skills and their overall perception of empathy by answering a survey in between the analyses. The results demonstrate that EED-CI is capable of recreating momentary conditions of cognitive impairment in individuals without impairment, and it is also capable of facilitating the extraction of user latent needs.

Subject Area

Design|Systems science

Recommended Citation

Amador, Leonardo Orea, "Empathic Experience Design for Cognitive Impairment" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10620306.