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Dr. Park teaching digital art in front of a computer with students

Infusing Empathy into Art and Design

Changing the world by using empathy to solve the concrete needs of users is what moves the design and teaching approach of our new faculty member for the School of Art and Design, Hye Jeong Park, Ph.D.  

Changing the world by using empathy to solve the concrete needs of users is what moves the design and teaching approach of our new faculty member for the School of Art and Design, Hye Jeong Park, Ph.D.  

Park joined the university’s College of Performing and Visual Arts as an assistant professor for Graphic Design and Digital Art this past fall. As a professional artist and designer, she understands the difference between art and design. Her research, as well as her teaching, is heavily focused on the empathy designers need to have toward the user even before starting the creative design process.  

“Art is about creating. Design is about creating for others, solving specific needs to build a better world,” said Park. “Empathy is the very first step to understanding the user. If we don’t fully understand the need of the user, we will be creating something that can be aesthetically pleasing, but totally useless.” Park started her career in Korea, where she obtained a bachelor's degree in sculpture from Gachon University. Later, when she came to the United States to study for her Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design at Iowa State University (ISU), she developed the idea of focusing on the interaction that a user has with an interface. Her thesis about healthcare website visual information helped her better understand how a user interacts with graphic design, and how important it is to understand the user before any designing effort.  

During her doctoral studies of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at ISU, Park went a little further in understanding the need for empathy. Her dissertation was about understanding empathy as a motivator to facilitate creative process in HCI.  

“Empathy is more than just trying to understand the user,” Park said. “To develop empathy, we have so many tools and technology. A designer that wants to create based on the specific needs of the user will have to conduct surveys, organize interviews, facilitate user tests, create personas based on user profiles, analyze data, lead formal or informal interactions with the user and the interface, etc. Empathy is to take other’s shoes, using the technological tools that we have available for that purpose.” 

Park is convinced that she needs to bring that perspective to the classroom in order to prepare the students to solve real-world needs.  

“I provide fun and interesting projects that are related to the real world’s issues and in-class activities for creative ideation, class engagement and collaboration,” Park said. “At the end of the course, students come up with solutions for real people. My goal at the School of Art and Design is to help build more academic spaces that are focused on the user. Maybe one day I can coordinate a user experience program.”  

Donna Goodwin, director of UNC’s School of Art and Design and associate professor of Art Education is excited about the perspective Park brings to the classroom and creative idea generation. 

“Her expertise will help our graphic design students be prepared to work with real-world design problems focusing on user-centered experience impacted by continuous technological change and users' evolving needs.”  

Park chose to come teach at UNC because she’s excited about the opportunities she sees for growth. 

“In other universities, it would be harder to propose ideas, but here, I find that there is a lot that we can do,” Park said. “Right now, I am working on developing the undergraduate programs and I’d like use some of the experience I bring with me to help develop graduate programs in the future.” 

Park thinks it is important that UNC brings international and diverse voices to teach and to provide a more complex vision for the university.  

“As an international designer and professor, I can see how much the university can benefit by bringing more diverse voices. There have been a lot of efforts to build an inclusive campus, but we need more diversity. I hope the contributions that I am making in my field will help to bring more international students and professionals.” Park concluded.  

Park taught Typography, Interactive Design, and 3D Design this fall and she will teach Intro to Motion Graphics and Senior Project courses in the spring. She was one of four new faculty members in UNC’s College of Performing and Visual Arts this fall. She was joined by Daniel Farr, associate Band director, and Music Education; Samuel Dong Saul, Graphic/Media Design; and Lelyn Chapin, associate Choral director, and Music Education. 

— written by Carlos José Pérez Sámano 

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