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Can Design Teams Be Empathically Creative? A Simulation-Based Investigation on the Role of Team Empathy on Concept Generation and Selection

M. Alsager Alzayed, S. R. Miller, J. Menold, J. Huff, and C. McComb
2020, ASME 2020 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference

Research on empathy has been surging in popularity in the engineering design community since empathy is known to help designers develop a deeper understanding of the users’ needs. Because of this, the design community has been invested in devising and assessing empathic design activities. However, research on empathy has been primarily limited to individuals, meaning we do not know how it impacts team performance, particularly in the concept generation and selection stages of the design process. Specifically, it is unknown how the empathic composition of teams, average (elevation) and standard deviation (diversity) of team members’ empathy, would impact design outcomes in the concept generation and selection stages of the design process. Therefore, the goal of the current study was to investigate the impact of team empathy on concept generation and selection in an engineering design student project. This was accomplished through a computational simulation of 13,482 teams of noninteracting brainstorming individuals generated by a statistical bootstrapping technique drawing upon a design repository of 806 ideas generated by first-year engineering students. The main findings from the study indicated that the elevation in team empathy positively impacted simulated teams’ unique idea generation and selection while the diversity in team empathy positively impacted teams’ generation of useful ideas. The results from this study can be used to guide team formation in engineering design.