Design & Engineering for Empathy (2 of 5): Understanding the Problem & Evoking Empathy

Lesson Title: Design & Engineering for Empathy (2 of 5): Understanding the Problem & Evoking Empathy
Academic Standards:
Content Creator: Mr. Craig Frehlich
Level: High School
Duration: 40-50 min
  /  Design & Engineering for Empathy (2 of 5): Understanding the Problem & Evoking Empathy


  • Students will be able to explain and justify the need for a solution to a problem for a specified client/target audience.
  • Students will be able to analyse a range of existing products that inspire a solution to the problem.
  • Students will be able to understand empathy and apply it to designing a piece of furniture for displaced people.
  • Students will understand and practice the importance of giving and receiving feedback as part of effective communication.


Students will learn from the 360 Video, Clouds of Sidara, about refugees and life as a displaced people. From these displaced people’s stories, we derive design opportunities or needs. They do not bring many possessions with them and are not given many items when they arrive at the camps.

In this design situation, you will consider what would constitute a “home” for them. What functional furniture that would save spaces would be needed? Or what spaces for social interaction inside a refugee camp such as a playground, library, school, communal kitchen, etc. would need functional furniture? What are some of their problems and how could functional flatpack furniture help them?

Check out the Furniture Classifications here, for ideas on types of furniture you could consider.


  1.  In the Auditorium.  Students will be introduced to a slide that outlines the design challenge and situation.  Designers need to understand their clients by developing empathy toward the target audience's needs, wants, and frustrations. (5-10 min)
  2. Students will then be taken on a field trip to watch the 360 video, The Clouds of Sidra.  (5 min)
  3. Students will then be taken back to the classroom to discuss the video and what they noticed as needs and wants for refugees. (10 min)
  4. Students will then be taken to the Industrial Arts room where several types of 3D furniture will be presented to them.  Using sticky notes, they will label pros and cons of the various types of furniture.  (15 min)
  5. Students will be taken back to the Auditorium to discuss the idea of Form and Function as it relates to furniture.  Their homework will be to identify a specific target audience for their piece of furniture and what need or solution it might fulfill.  (5-10 min)
  6. Extension Activity: If time permits, students could be taken to the industrial design room and would be partnered up to play an empathy/communication game with Tangrams.  In this situation, dividers would separate the two students.  One student would be given 3D Tangram shapes and the other student a picture of an object that is formed by the shapes.  The person who has the image of something (ie. kangaroo) needs to explain to the other persona how to assemble the 3D shapes in order to make the object.

Demonstratives & Media

Virtual Field Trips & Lab Demonstrations
Instructional Videos

Suggested Ancillary Support

Key vocabulary-

Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster,

Displaced Person: an individual who is forced to leave their home country because of war or persecution; a refugee.

Refugee camp : a settlement to accommodate displaced persons who have fled their home country.

Persecution: hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.

Conflict : a mental or physical struggle resulting from opposing views.

Host : a person who receives or entertains other people as guests.

Asylum : the protection granted by a state to someone who has left their home country as a political refugee.

Migrant : a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.

Form: the visible shape or configuration of something.

Function: the purpose of an object.

Agency : refers to one's capability to act on their own to fulfill a goal or desire.

Efficacy : the ability to produce a desired or intended result.