Tag Archives: empathy

Does a Persona Improve Creativity?


Inclusion of Other in the Self (IOS) scale (Aron et al., 1992)



The purpose of this study was to test whether the priming of a brainstorming task by a persona increases ideational fluency and originality, i.e. the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of creative performance. We conducted a preliminary (n = 18) and final (n = 32) experiment with international students of business. These experiments revealed that priming of brainstorming by a persona increases originality of ideas by a large effect size (Cohen’s d = .91, p = .02), and not significantly ideational fluency by a medium effect size (Cohen’s d = .33, p = .39). As an alternative explanation to empathy, the found creativity effect may be attributed to priming that retrieves related memory items and thereby facilitates idea generation. As practical implications, design thinking practitioners can expect more original ideas and overcome design fixation if they brainstorm on a persona which is modelled in a concise and consistent way that caters to understanding the user need.


empathy, persona, creativity, originality, ideational fluency, brainstorming, brainwriting, design methodology, design thinking, design research




Empathic story-telling print ad in Canada

Canadians living in Ontario buy wines at LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). People working at this place often check photo-ID (e.g., driver license) to verify whether the buyer is old enough to drink alcohol. These carefully-managed and highly safe liquor stores sometimes make their customers unhappy, in particular, those who forget to bring their IDs.




Therefore, LCBO needs to educate their potential customers to always present their IDs to the employees at LCBO. Instead of forcing us to do something, it tell a gentle story that people can easily empathise with. Inside the toilette of one of the University of Toronto buildings, a black-and-white print advertisement is placed on the wall. It shows two photos with a sentence, “First year or fourth year?” This advertisement nicely associates what we find it difficult in our daily school life (e.g., guessing someone’s year) with what they find it difficult in their workplaces (e.g., guessing buyer’s age). Empathic story-telling works for advertisement.

Devices help us empathize with others

Empathy matters in design and new  product development (e.g., Dev Patnaik’s Wired to Care). In order to deeply dive into target customers’ thoughts and feelings, marketers have used some combination of observation and interview (i.e., market-oriented ethnography in Rosenthal and Capper 2006) and even pictures (e.g., Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique). Academic researchers in the marketing area continue exploring tools (e.g., Listening-In in Urban and Hauser 2004).

However, designers seem to invest more effort into empathy probably because they are able to develop tangible devices. Last year, I met several interesting empathy support devices at the exhibition by the College of Design at Kookmin University. Students developed a series of devices that help researchers put themselves into the shoes of pregnant mothers, asthma patients, and even the seniors suffering from the pain of hands and legs. In order to empathize them, researchers carry baby dolls or wear masks, gloves and sand sacks.



Classroom for empathy, creativity and cooperation

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Although classrooms are used by students, they are not student-friendly. NHN NEXT, however, provides its students with the carefully designed spaces so that its students listen to the lectures, do their group projects, read some books, and even take some rests conveniently and comfortably. Teaching public software developers (e.g., portal sites, games, and social network services), NHN NEXT was found in 2012 by NHN, the Korean version of Google.

In this educational institution, students learn how to understand users deeply, how to develop new programs, and how to work with other developers harmoniously. Therefore, its classrooms are designed to encourage its students to be empathic, creative, and cooperative. For instance, desks in the classroom have 6 power outlets, providing 2 power outlets for each student. The wall in the group study room is painted white, which allows students to write/draw/erase their thoughts and ideas freely. The library has multiple shelves in which faculty members leave their books so that students read the books that their favorite professors recommend. Finally, several game rooms are placed in the public space, allowing students to play console games to get excited or relaxed.

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