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Research Papers

An Experimental Investigation of the Effectiveness of Empathic Experience Design for Innovative Concept Generation

[+] Author and Article Information
Daniel G. Johnson, Matthew N. Saunders, Paul Williams

Mechanical Engineering Department,
The University of Texas at Austin,
204 E Dean Keeton St, Stop C2200,
Austin, TX 78712

Nicole Genco

Department of Mechanical Engineering,
Science & Engineering Group II Building,
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth,
North Dartmouth, MA 02747-2300

Carolyn Conner Seepersad

Mechanical Engineering Department,
The University of Texas at Austin,
204 E Dean Keeton St, Stop C2200,
Austin, TX 78712
e-mail: ccseepersad@mail.utexas.edu

Katja Hölttä-Otto

Engineering Product Development,
Singapore University of Technology and Design,
20 Dover Drive,
Singapore 138682

It is also possible to apply cognitive empathic conditions that challenge a user's cognitive ability to plan or execute a task. An example would be forced multitasking to simulate distractions or actual multitasking. For a complete description of potential empathic conditions, the interested reader can consult [57].

Weights for Cohen's weighted Kappa were calculated as the square of the relative disagreement between ratings, according to recommendations provided by Fleiss and Cohen [54]. When using this weighting system, Cohen's weighted Kappa is equivalent to the intraclass correlation coefficient, the predominant standard for interval judgment agreement [54].

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received November 27, 2013; final manuscript received February 17, 2014; published online March 21, 2014. Assoc. Editor: Jonathan Cagan.

J. Mech. Des 136(5), 051009 (Mar 21, 2014) (12 pages) Paper No: MD-13-1546; doi: 10.1115/1.4026951 History: Received November 27, 2013; Revised February 17, 2014

An important part of designing successful products is building empathy for the people for whom the product is intended. Despite recent interest in empathic design techniques, they remain confined primarily to customer needs analysis and design problem definition activities, and much of the evidence for their impact on engineering designs is anecdotal. In this paper, empathic design techniques are formally integrated into the conceptual design process, and their effectiveness is investigated with a controlled idea generation experiment. Empathic experience design (EED) is a structured conceptual design method focused on stimulating creative, user-centered concept generation by engaging designers in empathic experiences as part of concept generation. Empathic experiences are demanding product interaction tasks that are intended to help a design engineer empathize with customers who use a product under a variety of sometimes challenging conditions. Empathic experiences can represent either actual disabilities or situational disabilities, which are experienced by lead users who push a product to its extremes and experience needs prior to the general population. In some cases, these empathic experiences amplify the situational disability as a means of highlighting the challenges of interacting with a particular product or system. A representative example is the use of thick gloves to limit a designer's dexterity and thereby highlight the challenges associated with either actual disabilities, such as arthritis, or situational disabilities, such as extreme cold or fatigue that make it difficult to move one's fingers freely. The EED method precedes concept generation activities with a series of these empathic experiences involving a baseline product to be redesigned. Many professional designers incorporate empathy and empathic experiences into their design practices, but evidence of their impact on resulting designs has been largely anecdotal. In this paper, their effectiveness is investigated formally with strategically designed experiments. The research hypothesis is that empathic experiences, when coupled with concept generation activities, lead to designs that are more original, especially with respect to features that enhance product-user interactions. To test this hypothesis, experiments were conducted on two example problems in which participants were asked to develop concepts for a next-generation product. Experimental groups completed a controlled concept generation task after engaging in empathic experiences with a prototype product to be redesigned. Control groups completed an identical concept generation task after interacting with the prototype products freely. Resulting concepts were analyzed for their originality, technical feasibility, and embodiment of a specific set of innovation characteristics. Results indicate that the experimental participants who were exposed to empathic experiences prior to concept generation produced concepts with significantly higher rates of original product-user interaction features without any sacrifice in technical feasibility. The overall originality of the concepts is also higher for redesign problems with an abundance of existing solutions, indicating that the EED method also helps alleviate design fixation.

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Figures

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Fig. 1

Empathic experience design (EED) method

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Fig. 2

Prototype products: a litter collection grabber (top) and basic alarm clocks (bottom)

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Fig. 3

Flow chart for feasibility metric

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Fig. 5

Distribution of maximum feature-level originality scores for the alarm clock problem

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Fig. 6

Distribution of maximum feature-level originality scores for the litter grabber problem

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Fig. 7

Mean number of innovation categories

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Fig. 8

A selection of interesting alarm clock concepts. In the upper left, the user is required to shake a flashlight for several seconds to turn off the alarm, or alternatively, step on a scale. In the upper right, the user sets the alarm on a tooth brush each night, and the alarm turns off in the morning when teeth are brushed. In the lower left, the alarm doubles as a night blindfold that vibrates at alarm time. In the bottom right, the alarm clock travels in tracks across the night stand when the alarm sounds, making it difficult for the user to locate the snooze button.

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Fig. 9

A selection of interesting litter collection system concepts. In the upper left is the entire system corresponding to the sample concept in Fig. 6(b); one user operates a stack of removable adhesives for paper and other lightweight trash, while the other operates a device similar to a tennis ball collector that pushes larger trash through flexible one-way flaps. In the upper right is a back-mounted trash bag that places weight on the user's hips, similar to hiking backpacks, accompanied by a grabber with one-way articulating joints that allows the user to wrap the grabber backward over the shoulder. In the bottom is a derivative of the current grabber that also includes a spike for paper/plastic and magnets for ferrous trash.

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