Empathy, More or Less: Scaling Intermediary Experiences of Emotion and Affect in Innovation

LORA V. KOYCHEVA Technical University of Munich Questions of scale permeate current approaches to empathy in applied human-centered work—and especially design thinking—but they have remained largely unquestioned. What is more, empathy has become an empty signifier, and empathizing is often a near-formulaic and pro-forma endeavor. To catalyze a reworking of the concept, in this paper I synthesize what has been said so far of empathy and its role in design and innovation, and I take stock of what these contributions point to. I ask: “How can we think of empathy as a scalar phenomenon and thus re-scale it in innovation?” I offer some illustrative, if unresolved, tensions with empathy I have had in my own ethnographic work with a robotics start-up, and I conclude the article with a series of provocations with the hope they will be taken up further. Keywords: empathy, ethnography, design thinking, robotics Article citation: 2020 EPIC Proceedings pp 243–262, ISSN 1559-8918,