Prototypes, simulations and role-plays can allow designers to experience not only usage
environments but also force them to channel their knowledge within constraints that they
would not normally experience.
Current Industry Use of Empathic Design and User-centred Design
Currently the automotive industry’s use of a user-oriented approach to product design is
limited. This is probably due to the size of the design teams responsible for the
development of cars. Enabling a team of hundreds of designers to empathise with
customers is likely to be significantly more challenging than ensuring small dedicated
consultancy design teams do so.
Toyota’s Lexus division has organisational structures in place to ensure the voice of the
customer is considered in the development of its products . These structures include
dedicated departments and inter-section committees. However the customer information
that this system considers is gathered in fairly conventional ways, for example warranty
surveys, telephone questionnaires and dealer sourced information. This reliance on
negative data allows achievement of basic and linear qualities but provides little scope for
Ford have used some revolutionary approaches to gathering customer information. The
Ford Focus is so named because it is the product of customer focus groups where car
owners identify their car requirements. Ford also used some interesting techniques in
trying to understand fringe users by using sense deprivation suits designed to recreate the
senses of the elderly . Here Ford aims to satisfy the elderly user and hopes that in so
doing the typical user will be delighted. The journalist Helen Mound comments that it
might have been more appropriate if Ford had considered using “Mum suits” that mimic
what it’s like to be a mother with screaming baby. However, these efforts do seem to be
fairly groundbreaking for the automotive industry, and would increase the designer’s
empathy with the customer.
Mazda employ a technique known as Kansei Engineering in the development of their
cars . This technique involves building a database of the keywords that represent their
customers’ feelings towards their products. Factor analysis is used to identify which
product features correlate with these keywords and this information is used to develop
design rules that ensure the desired features are designed into Mazda cars.
Although pioneers of quality research , the automotive industry’s approach to
customer satisfaction in design typically follows the standard “do market research, hand
over customer requirements, do QFD” route with all the limitations previously discussed
(see Gustafson for an example of the use of QFD at Volvo ).
Daewoo, newly embarked in the automotive industry, claim to stand for customer focus
, however their focus is on the experience of owning a car. They consider ownership
as a service and seem less interested in a customer focus in the design of their products,
admitting themselves that their cars are nothing out of the ordinary .
Elsewhere the use of an Empathic Design approach to product development tends to be
concentrated in the computer industry or in specialist design consultancies.
Examples of these approaches in the computer industry include the use of customer
observation at home and work by Intuit in the design of accounting software .
Microsoft observed customers to identify the different types of software they used whilst
designing their own universally compatible software . Cabletron included a paediatric
cardiologist on its research and development team when designing a computer network
responsible for the display of different formats of patient information around a hospital.
This enabled the design of a better solution by fully understanding how the software and