Designing with Empathy

One issue we touched upon, which I think is really critical, is this idea of being easily able to influence behaviors in ways that are very important. For people who don’t know [how to better their lives], don’t think about it, or are busy doing other things, there’s a lot you could do to improve and facilitate what they do in ways that are useful. That is certainly true in behavioral economics and in design.

The other one is, if you remember in the book, we talk a bit about this sort of empathy bridge. The idea is that if we’re able to describe to you what it’s like to be super busy, maybe you’ll understand a little better what it’s like to be super poor. I think this empathy issue is really critical for when we think about policy, including neighborhood design—for you to perceive the other as not as exotic and bizarre and less good, but somebody who easily could have been you and vice versa, given a different situation. Our policies toward the poor, toward criminals, toward all kinds of people, are extremely non-empathetic. It’s very easy for us to erect enormous boundaries and distinctions based on our understanding, which creates lots of trouble in everything, from neighborhood safety to sharing our ideas and everything else.

from an interview with Eldar Shafir in Metropolis

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