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4 – Develop Empathy

In this Make:able toolkit, we’ll be guiding you in developing empathy for your end user. This involves:

  1. Learning not only about their disability, but their personality, lifestyle and daily challenges.
  2. Analysing your insights to frame a specific challenge to solve.

In terms of framing a specific challenge to solve, you might find that when you first meet your end user, they already have something in mind that they’d like designing for them. This is a great starting point but don’t forget to go through the full empathy process and learn about all aspects of their lives. Firstly, you might discover surprising things that help you to reframe the challenge in a better way or you might discover a completely different and more important challenge to take on (more info on framing challenges later in the toolkit). And secondly, regardless of whether the challenge is reframed or not, you’ll gain a whole range of insights that will help you when it comes to designing.

Watch the overview video below before browsing through the empathy methods and tips. Then use your key learnings to plan and implement your empathy strategy. Remember that some methods may be better suited to you and your end user so think carefully about which to use. Additionally, you don’t have to stick to the methods in this toolkit – feel free to explore others!


Online Research

Online research can be an invaluable tool in the design process as it allows you to gather insights from multiple global sources in a short period of time. Rather than reinventing the wheel, you can 'stand on the shoulder of giants' but where possible, ensure you couple this with your own primary research methods.

User Interviews

Interviews are a great way to thoroughly understand the needs and wants of your end users. In addition to revealing answers to your planned questions, the direct face-to-face nature of interviews can lead to surprising insights that you might not have considered. The key to a good interview is careful and considerate planning.

Download Interview Template


Simulating the experience of your intended end user allows you to step into their shoes - to thoroughly understand the physical and emotional aspects of a specific activity. Simulation activities are not a replacement for interactions with real end users but they give designers important and empathetic knowledge.

Watch Example Simulation


Observations are a creative approach to learning about those we are designing for without interfering with their natural behaviours. When performing observations, ensure you plan suitable activities that your end user is comfortable doing.

View Example Observation

Challenge Mapping

Challenge mapping is a method used for identifying pain points in an individual’s daily routine. It is particularly useful when your end user struggles with multiple tasks throughout the day as it can help you to hone in on the most important area. It works best when combined with other methods such as interviews. Check out the video below and to access the challenge mapping template with examples, copy and paste this link into your browser -

Watch Video

Empathy Map

Empathy maps are a great way to bring together the highlights from interviews, observations and other practical methods - ensuring teams have a common understanding of their end user. Simply create a quad chart (with the labels: says, thinks, does, feels) and map out key insights in the relevant quadrants. The activity encourages you to think about your end user from multiple angles and provides you with an organised dataset that can be analysed for trends and opportunities.

Download Template

Combine Methods

A good strategy is to combine a practical empathy method with a mapping method. For example, you might perform a user interview and use your insights to create a challenge map. Alternatively, if designing for a Make:able Champion, you might perform a careful observation of their case study video and make educated assumptions to create an empathy map.

Working with People with Disabilities

Check out this conversation with Chad Leaman and Justin Pezzin from Makers Making Change, where they talk about best practices for working with people with disabilities.

Watch Video

Get to Know your End Users

Andy Lin, Founder and Director of The Emerging Tech Lab at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, talks to us about getting to know your end users and not just their disability.

Watch Video

Capture Footage Respectfully

Documenting your empathy studies is very important but your priority is to ensure your end user is comfortable with your methods. For example, if they are uncomfortable speaking on camera, you might suggest an audio recording or use photography and notes.

Empathy is Not Sympathy

Remember that both you and your end user share the common goal of achieving a life-improving solution. As long as you are respectful and make them feel comfortable, don't be afraid to ask difficult questions. It's important to focus your efforts on learning about them rather than only sympathising with them.

Zoom in and Out

When developing empathy, we want to get both a broad overview of their lifestyle but also in-depth insights into individual activities. For example, if you're interviewing your end user and come across an interesting point about a specific task they struggle with, dig deep into that to fully understand it and don't be afraid to veer off from your initial interview plan/questions.

This section of the toolkit is for those who have opted to design for a Make:able Champion. 



When designing for a Make:able Champion, you may be limited in that you cannot directly meet with them. However, there are still effective ways you can develop empathy for them. These include:

  1. Researching their disabilities.
  2. Performing careful observations of their case study videos and reading through their profiles.
  3. Thinking creatively to simulate their disabilities, whilst performing various tasks.
  4. Emailing questions to them. To submit a question to a Make:able Champion, please email them to We aim to respond within 7 days but please note that this cannot be guaranteed. Answers to questions will be uploaded to the Champion’s profile (see next sections of the toolkit). Therefore please check their profile before emailing questions to ensure they have not already been answered.



The following 2 sections of this toolkit consist of profiles for our Make:able Champions, Valerie and Bev. Proceed to your Champion’s profile to learn more about them!

Welcome to Valerie’s profile!

We are delighted to introduce you to Valerie, who we were introduced to by our partners Makers Making Change. Valerie is 66 years young, loves planting flowers and describes herself as a geek and problem sovler! She has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was 3 years old and scoliosis for the last 20 years. She started using a wheelchair 3 years ago and since then her health and quality of life has declined. Watch the video below to learn more about Valerie and the challenge. We will also be adding additional details throughout the challenge below the video.


Kitchen Counter Measurements

Valerie’s kitchen counter has a height of 36 inches and a depth of 24 inches.

Distance to Floor

If designing a reaching/grabbing device, this should be long enough to reach the floor from Valerie’s wheelchair sitting position. This is approximately 24-30 inches.

House Access

Valerie lives in a bungalow with an attached garage. In the garage there is a power wheelchair lift to take her from the kitchen door to the garage floor at which time she can exit into the backyard or to the driveway and street. Her most frequent problem is closing the kitchen door behind her and when returning opening that same door.

Have additional questions?

If you have additional questions for Valerie, please email them to and we will do our best to respond within 7 days, although this cannot be guaranteed. We will be uploading the answers to any questions in this section of the toolkit so be sure to check back for regular updates.

Welcome to Bev’s profile!

We are delighted to introduce you to Bev, who is extremely excited to be part of this year’s Make:able challenge. Bev is 58 years young and is a resident at Leonard Cheshire’s Hill House in the UK. We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Bev over the past few weeks and we can’t wait to see what solutions you come up. Watch the video below to learn more about Bev and the challenge. There are also additional details listed below the video.


TV and Set Top Box

Bev uses a Samsung Smart TV, together with a TalkTalk YouView DN372T Set Top Box. The set top box is no longer supplied by TalkTalk. Therefore, if you are designing a device to work with box, you may have to do some online research about compatible devices.

TV Remote

The remote Bev uses is the TalkTalk Tv Box Remote v1. The image below shows the buttons Bev uses. These are highlighted in pink. Although the set top box is no longer supplied, the remote is still available to purchase from various retailers, should you wish to examine it or design an attachment for it. If purchasing, please ensure the model is v1 and looks like the below image. We have also created a 3D scan of the remote, which is available to download here.


Daily Routine

Bev’s typical daily routine can be viewed on this document.

Hobbies + Activities

Bev has physio twice a week on her arms and hands to keep them supple. She has a beautician at Leonard Cheshire who paints her nails once a month. She joins in with activities, so this could be making things with staff, or joining in an activity like VR headsets. She cannot do all this independently but using the remote and iPad is the only thing she can do but does rely on someone to put the iPad in front of her and put the remote in her hand.

Bev also goes out with her family occasionally for a meal or shopping, or just to visit family. Bev’s hobbies are playing cards, reading on the Kindle app and she loves spending time with her granddaughter and her two daughters.

Product Preferences

Bev would like something that has large buttons and here favourite colour is purple!

Hand Positions

A group of students recently asked Bev if she could perform different hand/arm positions for them. Below is an image showing the requested positions, along with Bev’s attempts and comments on each position.


Have additional questions?

If you have additional questions for Bev, please email them to and we will do our best to respond within 7 days, although this cannot be guaranteed. We will be uploading the answers to any questions in this section of the toolkit so be sure to check back for regular updates.

With your empathy studies complete, it’s now time to frame the challenge. In simple terms, this means honing in on a specific challenge or set of challenges that you will aim to solve. This might involve analysing challenge/empathy maps, replaying recorded footage to pull out key insights or a range of other methods. Remember the goal is to figure out what challenge to solve, not what solution to make! A good way to do this is to explore multiple How Might We statements before selecting the most suitable one. For example, for our Make:able Champion, Bev, we might frame the challenge as – ‘How might we help Bev to independently control her TV?’.



A key thing to note here is that we are not suggesting a solution. A poor example of a How Might We question would be, ‘How might we help Bev to press buttons on her remote’. Although the solution may involve the remote, by framing it in this way, we are completely limiting ourselves to only thinking about one design avenue. Spend a few minutes analysing your empathy studies and experimenting with How Might We questions before selecting one to take forward.

Before moving on to the next toolkit, you should have achieved the below objectives.

  1. I can define the term empathy in the context of designing an assistive device for an individual.
  2. I can plan and implement a human-centred design strategy to develop empathy for an end user.
  3. I can analyse and use data/information from empathy studies to frame design opportunities.


Go to Next Toolkit – Idea Generation