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The Importance of Incorporating Designer Empathy in Senior Capstone Design Courses

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Professional Skills development in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Schmitt Florida Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Elizabeth Schmitt is a graduate student pursuing her M.S. Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology under the advisement of Dr. Beshoy Morkos. She completed her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology in 2015. Her research thrusts lie within engineering design education, specifically: designer empathy, designing for handicapped/disabled users, and user centered design.

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Elisabeth Kames Florida Institute of Technology

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Elisabeth Kames is a graduate student pursuing her M.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Dynamic Systems- Robotics and Controls. She graduated with her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in May 2015. Her research is focused in the field of Automotive Engineering under the advisement of Dr. Beshoy Morkos.

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Beshoy Morkos Florida Institute of Technology

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Beshoy Morkos is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology where he directs the STRIDE Lab (SysTems Research on Intelligent Design and Engineering). His engineering design research focuses on developing computational representation and reasoning support for managing complex system design. The goal of Dr. Morkos’ research is to fundamentally reframe our understanding and utilization of system representations and computational reasoning capabilities to support the development of system models which help engineers and project planners intelligently make informed decisions at earlier stages of engineering design. On the engineering education front, Dr. Morkos’ research explores means to integrate innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering education through entrepreneurially-minded learning, improve persistence in engineering, address challenges in senior design education, and promote engineering education in international teams and settings. Dr. Morkos’ research is currently supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), and NASA JPL.
Dr. Morkos received his Ph.D. from Clemson University in the Clemson Engineering Design and Applications Research (CEDAR) lab under Dr. Joshua Summers. In 2014, he was awarded the ASME CIE Dissertation of the year award for his doctoral research. He graduated with his B.S. and M.S in Mechanical Engineering in 2006 and 2008 from Clemson University and has worked on multiple sponsored projects funded by partners such as NASA, Michelin, and BMW. His past work experience include working at the BMW Information Technology Research Center (ITRC) as a Research Associate and Robert Bosch Corporation as a Manufacturing Engineer. Dr. Morkos was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Engineering & Science Education at Clemson University performing NSF funded research on engineering student motivation and its effects on persistence and the use of advanced technology in engineering classroom environments. Dr. Morkos’ research thrust include: design automation, design representations, computational reasoning, systems modeling, engineering education, design education, collaborative design, and data/knowledge management.

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Ted A. Conway Florida Institute of Technology

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Department Head and Professor of Biomedical Engineering

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This paper will detail the challenges two groups of students, at two varying universities working on two separate senior design projects, experienced when designing for target users they lack empathy for. The projects presented in this paper support handicapped and/or disabled individuals. User empathy and the physical, physiological, and psychological aspects of the target user must be considered to deliver a successful design. As many engineers will gain employment in a healthcare related field, it is important that they are able to empathize with the target user – often handicapped and/or elderly individuals. This is further exacerbated by the increase in the number of handicapped and elderly individuals in the United States as medical care improves and life expectancy continues to increase. Students are not formally educated on the disparity between products/users they design and products/users they are familiar with. If not addressed, this could lead to engineers designing inappropriate and unsuccessful products. The major contribution of this paper is beyond that of the design and build of assistive technology, rather it is the experience students gained by designing a system for users that they lack empathy for (though they possess sympathy for). This is of particular importance here because senior design, an experience meant to prepare students for “real world” engineering, must integrate many engineering and societal elements beyond that of building a technical system. Specifically, students were anticipated to integrate the physical, physiological, and psychological components of the end user into their design – soft content not formally taught to students. This paper will detail the unanticipated, yet beneficial experiences students gained beyond engineering design through this project, as well as the challenge involved in incorporating the physical, physiological, and psychological aspects of the end user, and how students were able to overcome this challenge and deliver a successful design. Further, this paper will provide recommendations for how to formally integrate educational elements that help students learn these critical skills to prepare them for industry – where often time the engineer/designer is not empathetic of the end user.

Schmitt, E., & Kames, E., & Morkos, B., & Conway, T. A. (2016, June), The Importance of Incorporating Designer Empathy in Senior Capstone Design Courses Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26191

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