Empathic Design vs. Market-Based Research

This past week, we discussed the concept of empathic design: what it means, how to do it, and why it is a valuable way of designing.

Coincidentally, I am taking a Services Marketing course this semester that aims at teaching us how to better understand customers to better design services for them. The approaches we have discussed in this DHM course have been on the other end of the spectrum from those we have discussed in my marketing course, although both, I believe, are valuable.

Comparing empathic design to market research, however, is kind of difficult, in my opinion. Empathic design works effectively and wonderfully where there is an opportunity for the designer to pay attention to a sample of people who can represent the majority of the users of a space, if designing for a commercial space. If designing for a smaller space or a residential environment, empathic design can also be extremely successful; however, it’s interesting to view the design of a service process from a company’s perspective, because market-based research starts to look a little more effective than empathic design.

Interior designers should have a goal to design for all potential users of a space – that’s why ADA exists, that’s why codes exist – for the health, safety, and welfare of all users. But, that’s not why businesses exist. Businesses exist for profit, and the best way to measure their service quality is to look at their sales and profits and to reach out to customers and ask them for feedback.

One component of the “service package” that we discussed in my marketing class is the concept of “tangibles” that come with a service. A service can include a product along with a service or it can be solely a service, except even when there is no product, there are still tangibles involved with a service. Tangibles are things like the interior environment of an auto shop, or the uniforms that employees wear at a car wash service business, and they play an important role in market-based research, so maybe a utilization of both empathic design procedures and of market-based research could be useful to a design attempting to satisfy their client.

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