Skip to main content

Empathetic Design: Human-Centered Urban Design

Futuristischer Park kreiert von KI

How UX can change our urban spaces.

Design is often reduced to aesthetic design – imagine the color scheme or shape of a product. However, design is found in all areas of life: the experience of travelling by train, the construction of cycling paths, or the planning of pedestrian zones. At Empatic, design means being aware of how to solve challenges in the best possible way. We had the opportunity to share this viewpoint at the “Best Place to Live” conference in Vorarlberg in May 2024, where we led an interactive presentation about the importance of empathy in designing cities worth living in. Success in urban design, is about understanding people’s needs and problems, and developing solutions based upon them.

Car-Centered Cities

We travel all over Europe to meet clients and users for many of our projects – by train when at all possible. But, when we arrive at the train station, we are often faced with this question: do we order a taxi, or walk two kilometers along a busy main road, dragging luggage and our workshop materials? In the city, too, we encounter this problem daily – our environment is designed for cars.

This car-centered design leads to less space for social interaction, increased heat due to a lack of greenery, and dangerous routes for cyclists and pedestrians. It is clear we need human-centered urban planning.

Urban Planning meets UX: Designing the perfect park

At the ‘Best Place to Live’ conference, the focus was on human-centered urban planning. Our session was dedicated to the question of how to design spaces that are not only functional and beautiful, but also noticeably improve quality of life. The aim was to develop concepts for urban parks that truly meet the needs of their users.

Using the lens of empathetic design, and interactive design methods, we narrowed in on the most pressing wishes and concerns of park visitors. The result is a collection of ideas that are as diverse as the people who use these parks: play areas, relaxation zones, eating facilities and meeting areas. Experiencing the park, and nature, should be just as easy as playing sports.

The concepts presented were not only new, but also bold and a little crazy: diaper vending machines and washing lines for children after playing in the sand, interactive learning installations in the middle of a forest, communal gardens, and dedicated spaces to “luaga” and “losna” (“looking” and “listening” in the Vorarlberg dialect).

One topic we were unfortunately unable to address in the session, was how to get public decision-makers to listen, and actually implement projects that are developed through citizen participation.

Design means developing solutions

For us, design means immersing ourselves in the worlds of different people and understanding their challenges. Through this act of empathy, we develop solutions that improve quality of life – far beyond digital interfaces. We always strive to create emotional connections and solve real problems. We take this approach to all our projects, whether digital user interfaces or offline experiences and services. Using our UX methods helps us to develop effective and sustainable solutions.

Empathetic design is a powerful tool – and way of thinking about design – that allows us to go far beyond aesthetic design. It improves people’s lives by solving real problems and meeting their needs. Our workshop at the conference showed how important it is to put users at the center of any design process. What does design mean to you? Where would you like to design solutions to improve problems?

We look forward to speaking, and making the world a better place together – one design step at a time.