Chimps, Designers, Consultants and Empathy: A ‘Theory of Mind’ for Service Design by Steve New and Lucy Kimbell Sept 2003


Designers Consultants
  • Groovy designer
  • Affective Immersion in the life and experience of the client/user
  • Imaginative Visualisation of ideas
  • Tolerance of ambiguity
  • Paid less
  • Offer a process
  • Client-advisor relationship is often interactive with a balanced power dynamic
  • User needs/Cognitive Aesthetic Empathy
  • The design problem co-evolves with repeated attempts to solve it
  • Deep engagement with users


  • Shiny suited consultant
  • Rationalist empathy
  • They know something that you don’t
  • Diagnosis and prescription of problem.
  • An understanding of the problem based on locating it within a universe of familiar problems
  • Paid more
  • Creators of and traders in knowledge
  • Empathy with users but also communications of specific values and assumptions
  • Degree of formality and distance




Empathy relates to individuals ability too imagine the opinions and feelings of others.

Rationalist and Aesthetic Empathy

Rationalist empathy is based on some procedure or programme of inquiry.

Aesthetic Empathy is based on an immersion in the life and experience of the client.

Cognitive and Affective Empathy

Cognitive Empathy relates to an individual’s ability to work out what is going on in the other’s mind. Descriptive understanding.

Affective Empathy refers to a shared emotional response. Embodied understanding

Client-advisor relationship is typically top management

Deliver an answer, presumed expertise likely leads to less empathy.

The problem of ‘client capture’ –  in professional services it is important to maintain a degree of formality and distance. This may limit the scope of empathy.

Equipment for Empathy

Mirror Neurons the brain has some type of dedicated circuitry which allows for the transmission of ideas and sameness.


Individuals can flip between different types of empathy given different situations. Or in the context of a professional environment. Empathy needs to be more than just a toolkit. For the consultant empathy requires mechanisms of internal communications and knowledge management such as the development of ‘archetypes’ shared linguistic and conceptual models of relevant issues, continuous translations of tacit and explicit knowledge.