Design Thinking deploys "emotional and cognitive empathy"

Interesting take on the importance of "design thinking" as a way to shape services and products with as much sensitivity to their potential users, and their ways of living, as possible.

This story is about how Unicef learned from their mistake in providing malaria nets for Malawians in 2005 - which then ended up being used as fishing nets (and elsewhere too). 

The lesson? Try to understand the local context a lot better - sustenance was more important than malaria protection to the Malawans.

The author details two kind of empathy that are deployed in this kind of design thinking. Excerpt below:

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to problem solving. It develops an understanding of problems through engaging with those affected – the users. Its approach to solving problems is participatory, involving the users in finding solutions.[...]

[...] There are two types of empathy in design thinking: emotional and cognitive. Emotional empathy centres on instinct, emotions and shared experience. The emotional aspect includes assessing our own thoughts and actions for the purpose of personal learning and development. Design thinking encourages students to cultivate curiosity and challenge prejudice to discover commonalities with other people who may be different from them. Listening is extremely important, too.

Emotional empathy is a starting point for individual team members in any design thinking programme before they shift focus towards the user for whom they’re designing solutions.

The second dimension of empathy is cognitive. Here, one comes to understand how others may experience the world from their point of view. Cognitive empathy includes the mental process of acquiring and understanding through thoughts, experience and senses. It includes processes like knowledge, memory, judgement, reasoning and decision making.

Understanding different points of view requires humility: we may have been trained as experts in our various disciplines but that hardly means we know everything. Each person possesses very little knowledge, which becomes valuable when a team comes together.