Idea Generation through Empathy

Difficulty Level:

Design Phase:

Method Overview

The method Empathic Walkthrough combines with the use of Design Heuristics in an engineering classroom context with a method designed to connect students with an understanding the context of the user, product use setting, and sociocultural milieu. Empathic Walkthrough adapted an existing method, the cognitive walkthrough, for use in an engineering education context, and extended it to maximize empathy with the end user and context, using these insights to promote a more situated form of idea development using the Design Heuristics cards.

Framework of ethics used



Method Intentions:

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Participants: Engineering and design students

Materials Needed: Design Heuristics


  1. Define inputs to the walkthrough: Identifty user, context, and a specific design problem as operationalized through a finalized design
  2. Convene the walkthrough the conpcet: Pair two engineering or design students and encouraging them to “position-take” or role-play for their defined user population.
  3. Walkthrough the action sequences for each task: Encourage the student to “talk through” the use of the product or system to generate their own action sequence, or what might be referred to as a “user story.”
  4. Record critical information: Identify user obstacles, or critical information, about the design, the designer can then generate alternatives or additional concepts that address user concerns.
  5. Revise the interface to fix the problems: Retell the “user story” using a conceived product or system within a different context and set of user concerns.

Further Reading

  • Colin M Gray, Seda Yilmaz, Shanna R Daly, Colleen M Seifert, and Richard Gonzalez. 2015. Idea Generation Through Empathy: Reimagining the ‘Cognitive Walkthrough’.(2015).
  • Design Heuristics