Empathy in Design and Monsters University

Added on by Arturo Gutierrez.

I just returned from watching Monsters University with a rowdy group of nieces and nephews. The movie was enjoyable, and like most animated films I found myself thinking if any of the kids were able to understand jokes that were clearly aimed at adults.  

Something else I noticed was the behavior of kids at the theater and began to wonder if seating could be designed in a manner that is more suitable for families.  

One of the basic tenants of design thinking is to practice empathy to gain a clearer understanding of what a user, client, or general consumer experiences, needs, doesn't see, etc... Of the many things I noticed today was the additional space (at the cost of other movie goers comfort) used by children during the movie. While engaged in the flim, I found my nephew Wyatt clenching the railing in front him, jumping on it, trying to go through, and swinging his arms in excitement in a space intended to sit quietly in.

Other things noticed: 

  • parents walking children over other movie goers for too many restroom breaks.
  • parents walking children too small to be interested in the film because they were restless.
  • parents raising arms rests, to reach to others, then lowering arms rests, then raising again to get through.
  • adults (myself) sitting in front of children intent on kicking the back of the seat in front of them throughout the film.  

You get the idea. Movie theater seating is still a largely uninnovative aspect of moviegoing. There could be spaces created for parents to walk and carry a crying or restless child. There could be more central aisle theater entrances and exists to allow easier unobtrusive mobility. Boxed off family seating could be a solution (and additional revenue stream) to some of these problems. 

This isn't a post about solutions. What I mean to relay is that simple observation, and attempting to understand what a user lives through with the products we create, can lead to valuable understanding and innovation. One of my favorite theaters is the Landmark living room theater in LA, along with the Living Room theaters in Portland for some of the enhancements they provided to consumers. Sitting on a couch in theater isn't for everyone, and if you sit next to someone you weren't expecting to share space with it can lead to discomfort otherwise avoided by the arm rest of traditional seating. But some of the changes these two theaters have brought to theater watching demonstrate innovation in it's simplest forms.

 Empathy. It works.  


- arturo gutierrez