Counselling vs. design empathy. How designers can learn from counsellors.

Top image: a man and a woman talking
Top image: a man and a woman talking

I’m a Service Designer studying Clinical Mental Health Counselling, and I started to see fascinating differences in how we use “Empathy” in the two fields.

Design empathy

The use of empathy has been the primary focus of Human-Centred Design since the 90s. Drawing from Sociology, Anthropology, and Ethnography, how we define empathy is somewhere along the lines of being in another person’s shoes and seeing experiences from their lens.

Here’s IDEO’s definition of empathy:

“The definition of empathy is the ability to be aware of, understanding of, and sensitive to another person’s feelings and thoughts without having had the same experience. As…

Image: Two women talking to each other at at a table.
Image: Two women talking to each other at at a table.
Photo by Christina @

“Empathy” has become such a buzz word in the design industry. All design job descriptions say you need that big E word.

But, what qualifies you as an empathetic designer or researcher? Everyone has varying levels of social and communication skills as well as personality traits. Is having a Bachelor’s of Design enough to make you an empathetic designer?

As I start my new pursuit of the Master’s of Clinical Mental Health Counselling program, I want to share my thoughts on empathetic and ethical design research practice based on learnings from my career journey.

Design as a change-making career choice

I’m a designer with nine years…

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Note: This is a reiterated version of the original post I wrote on the Bridgeable website. I am republishing it as after running a workshop at the Service Design Global Conference 2019 with the international design audience, I realized the greater number of members of the design community can benefit from the toolkit.

Human-centred design and co-design are key trends in the design industry; designers and researchers believe that engaging users and stakeholders in the process will create more meaningful outcomes for them. …

Hitomi Yokota

Service Designer based in Toronto. Making our society a better place through enhanced inclusion and interactions. Twitter: @hitomiyokota_en

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