Course Description

2-Day Empathy in Action Training Cape Town May 2020

Cape Town

Empathy in Action Training offers a deep dive into empathy and how it relates to human-centred design. In an interactive and experiential training, you will be introduced to five aspects of empathy and how they are applied to the design process. Each aspect introduces an understanding of, and skills-for-practice of, these layers of empathy.

The Empathy in Action Training offers a combination of empathy methods and tools and practice to develop skills under the guidance of two experienced facilitators.

This Empathy in Action Training is relevant for facilitators, practitioners and trainers of human-centred design, design thinking, UX and service design. Researchers who are looking to understand their research data more fully will also benefit from this work. The nature of the Empathy in Action Training is highly experiential, combining activations of ideas and reflective learning.


Empathy is central to design thinking and human-centred design. To design innovative solutions that address the deeper needs of people requires a knowledge and understanding of what those needs are. Empathy is a core capacity with which to gain deeper insights of others and their needs and motivations. Often, however, empathy is sidelined as a ‘fluffy’ concept and is rushed through during the design phase. The possibility to delve deeper into empathic engagement and discovery presents the opportunities for more grounded, clearer and thorough understanding of our users’ emotional landscape.

Can empathy be taught? In our experience it can. We are born with the basic empathy equipment. How it is developed depends on many factors and life circumstances. The good news is that, due to neuroplasticity, awareness and practice can build on and develop skills later in life. Similar to going to the gym to strengthen physical muscles, practice can develop the empathy muscle.

We’ve all heard the expression to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’. This metaphor implies physically placing oneself in the context, situation and emotional state of another in order to gain empathy and understanding of that person. It is, however, possible to literally embody empathy for another through activated and performative approaches. By employing various role-play techniques adopted from Forum Theater, Russian Theater training methods and a host of other techniques, including storytelling, we can breathe life into our data and explore nuances that lead to deeper understanding.


The facilitators will share their experience and guide you through the process of Empathy in Action as it relates to design:

Katherine Train will be your empathy facilitator. She has been coaching, facilitating and researching the application of empathy in organizations in South Africa during a time when South Africa is emerging as a new democracy with its cultural and resource diversity and history of social upheaval. Katherine has been facilitating workshops on empathy and related topics since 2005 in corporate, NGO and the public sector.

Colin Skelton will be your embodied empathy guide. Drawing on practices and techniques from performance and theatre traditions around the world, he will introduce various activated ways of harvesting, exploring and engaging with research data as it relates to empathy. Colin has led and facilitated creative workshops in South Africa and abroad for over 20 years.


The skills of Empathy in Action consists of five elements:

Self-empathy and intention setting: With self-empathy you will learn to create a presence with your own inner life and to find the inner resources to be relevant and present to other people whether the end users you are researching, your team members or teams you are facilitating. Exploring personal stories and finding creative expression in these details sets the context for a broader dive into empathy beyond our personal domain.

Kinesthetic empathy and connection with others: During this session you will learn to use kinesthetic empathy as a means to engage with colleagues and clients. You will learn about the role of coordination and synchronization in understanding the deeper needs of users and facilitating creative teams.  Mirroring leads to physical and physiological synchronization which literally helps us to ‘tune into’ other people’s emotions, thoughts, behaviours.

Reflective empathy and hearing the other: During this session you will understand and practice the different stages of reflective listening from the most basic with literal reflections to more complicated by reflecting the essence, the emotion or the mood of what the speaker is saying. This includes non-verbal reflective ‘listening’.

Imaginative empathy and diversifying perspectives: During this session you will learn about perspective taking and the practice of viewing a situation or context from the viewpoint of another person. This ability to shift between our own personal perspectives of the world and those of others, a duality of awareness, is explored. You will learn first to know something about our own position and situation in order to relate to the ‘other’.

Empathic creativity and actionable outcomes: Here you will be guided to identify empathic insights and how to apply them to tools in the design process.

We can also offer you a tailor-made coaching program designed around your specific team objectives to guide you through the DT process. Our DT professionals can come over to you, we are represented in over 25 countries.


About this Event

65 Wolfe street, Wynberg, Cape Town

7-8 May 2020
Language: English
Maximum participants: 10


Early Bird Ticket Price: R9 850, until 7 April 2020

Regular Ticket Price: Price R11 495

Prices are intended excluding VAT.

The ticket includes daily lunch, morning and afternoon snacks, and beverages.

A certificate from DesignThinkers Academy is awarded to participants who successfully complete the course.

Discounts available for teams signing up, Non-Profits and Government Organisations.

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