The Role of Empathy in Experiential Learning: A Case Study of Empathy as an Interior Design Learning Tool

Lilia Gomez-Lanier


Empathy definitions do not adequately reflect the realities of empathy in the context of interior design for the elderly or disabled. This mixed research methods study explored the role that empathy as a design learning tool may have on the design process and learning experiences of interior design students, whom ultimately will design spaces for the elderly and disabled. To explore the use of empathy as a learning tool prior to commencing a renovation design project for three disabled farmers and their families in the southeast area of the United States, interior design students participated in class exercises that simulated various physical disabilities. After completing the exercises students reported high levels of emphatic concern for physically disabled older adults that made them more in tuned with the program needs of their clients, the farmers. Additionally, the students acknowledged that they had gained a greater understanding of inclusive design, whereby all end users of spaces regardless of physical and mental capabilities are to be considered when designing interior environments. Lastly, students enhanced their problem-solving skills by gaining insights into the importance of considering all details in design, ranging from the addition of coat hooks to door hardware selection and floor finish materials to furniture placements. This study is significant because two of the fastest growing sectors for interior design is healthcare and aging in place.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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