Practicing Empathy By Design

Empathy is widely discussed as a critical element in great design. In fact, one of the very first statements in An Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide, by the Stanford d.school is, “Empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process.”

But how many people who are interested in design, practice empathy as a professional skill set? The answer to this question may very well be that a lot of designers practice empathy. Yet, if we look closer, it’s worth reflecting on how often we discuss the art of observation or learn about empathy in a workshop and then put empathetic skills to work in environments that are within our regular, everyday lives, squarely in our comfort zone.

There is a big opportunity to exercise our empathy skills by being immersed in an environment that is not something we experience every day, as this increases creative thinking and delivers diversity in perspective.

While end-of-life is something that literally every person will experience, it’s often overlooked, despite the incredible value presented in understanding empathy on a deep level.

It’s fascinating to think about how under-designed and over-defaulted our standard experience is at the end of life. How often can we say that 100% of humans will experience anything in life? Stop and really think about that question, it’s rare to get that 100% mark. Even though death is something we all experience, what we envision we want, usually doesn’t match up with reality.

According to a recent study by the California Healthcare Foundation, Final Chapter: Californians’ Attitudes and Experiences with Death and Dying, 70% of Californians say they would prefer to die at home, yet in 2009, only 32% of deaths in California occurred at home. This compares to 60% of deaths in California the same year occurring in an institution such as a hospital or nursing home.

There are many systems issues that contribute to this fact, and yet, there is a wide open space for designers to globally improve our collective human experience.

For example, according to the same report, 82% of Californians say it is important to have end-of-life wishes in writing and only 23% have documented their preferences. Similarly, almost 80% say they would like to talk with a doctor about end-of-life care, but only 7% have spoken to their doctor about it.

Designers that value empathy and are interested in immersing themselves in end-of-life experiences to support families in this phase of life can volunteer for local hospice organizations. However, not everyone may be ready to commit to signing up as a volunteer. But if you’re interested in learning more about the large opportunity for designers to have an impact in improving how we design the future of end-of-life, you can sign up to attend End Well, our one day symposium this December. This is a first of its kind convening of thought leaders from design, healthcare, policy, technology, the arts and patient advocacy coming together to discuss how to make the end of life experience more human-centered.

Below is a snapshot of the interdisciplinary End Well speakers that have been announced:

  • BJ Miller, MD, Palliative care physician at University of California, San Francisco and former Executive Director of Zen Hospice Project.
  • Lucy Kalanithi, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. She is the widow of the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, When Breath Becomes Air
  • Ivor Williams, Senior Design Associate at the Helix Centre
  • Yoko Sen, Musician, Sen Sound was also named a Top Idea in the OpenIDEO End of Life Design Challenge
  • Laurel Braitman, PhD, New York Times bestselling author Writer-in-Residence at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University School of Medicine.
  • Michael Hebb, A serial entrepreneur and founder of Death Over Dinner and Teaching Fellow at University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media
  • Cynthia Carter Perilliat, Executive Director of Alameda County Care Alliance
  • Anthony P. Bossis, PhD, Clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine
  • Pamela S. Hinds, PhD, RN, Executive Director of the Department of Nursing Research and Quality Outcomes and a professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University, School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Dawn Gross, MD, PhD, Palliative Care Physician, Creator and host of Dying To Talk, a radio program dedicated to transforming the taboo around death.
  • Tracy Gaudet, MD, Executive Director of the Veterans Health Administration’s National Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation.
  • Randi Belisomo, DBe, President and co-founder of Life Matters Media, Writer for Reuters Health on issues related to end of life health care and policy.
  • Mark B. Ganz, President and CEO of Cambia Health Solutions, and on the board of directors for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
  • Ali Shaheed Muhammad, DJ/producer and artist, well known as part of the legendary hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest.
  • Jessica Zitter, MD, MPH, ICU and Palliative Medicine at Highland Hospital, in Oakland, California. Her work here anchors the Oscar-nominated short documentary, Extremis. author of Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life.
  • Alexandra Drane, President and co-founder of Eliza Corporation
  • Frank Ostaseski, Co-founded Zen Hospice Project, Metta Institute in 2005, author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully
  • Torrie Fields, MPH, Cancer Survivor, Leader at Blue Shield of California and Care 1st Health Plan in the development and implementation of programs that strive to improve quality of life for individuals with serious or life-limiting illness and their families.
  • Eric Weinstein, PhD, an American mathematician and economist, research fellow at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University, and is a managing director of Thiel Capital in San Francisco.

Guarantee yourself a day of fascinating conversations and fresh perspectives and click here to grab an End Well ticket before they sell out!

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