Empathy @ design research: A phenomenological study on young people experiencing participatory design for social inclusion

Kwok Leung Denny Ho, Jin Ma, Yanki Lee

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents the results of an experiment in teaching participatory design for social inclusion based on an interdisciplinary effort between sociologists and design researchers to study design participation for social inclusion. Using their experiences from the Design.Lives Lab 2009, the researchers adopted a phenomenological perspective to analyse the extent to which co-design relationships are interrupted by designers' natural attitudes and the possibility of employing the concept of layers of embodied relationship to improve participatory design. It was found that the natural attitudes of designers can lead to an unbalanced relationship between designers and potential users, resulting in a lack of concern for designers' sensitivity to the spatial dimension of the designer-and-user relationship. With the potential impact of designers' natural attitudes in mind, it is suggested that interrelated layers of empathy are practised as a process to provide more opportunities to understand users' experience. These findings offer a different perspective on the form, extent and nature of co-creation. This experience could help to formulate an agenda for developing design education for participatory design and social inclusion. The effort to find suitable methods would help novice designers to develop skills and sensitivities that would eventually enable them to establish a genuine co-creation process in design.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-106
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • Active-design partners
  • Empathy
  • Inclusive design
  • Participatory design
  • Phenomenology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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