Prototyping for empathy is a method that is used by the d.School in order to immerse one you in the situation of your client, user, etc.
When do I use this method?
You can use this method when you have already done some design work and want to dig deeper into a certain area. You can also use it to test a hypothesis or probe an insight you are developing. In general, use this method whenever you need to get a better feeling for the person you are interested in (be it a user, client, a certain role, etc.).
How do I use this method?
First, think about what aspect of the challenge or situation you want to learn more about. Then discuss or brainstorm different ways how you can investigate the subject. Depending on the situation you want to explore you can simulate a person’s context or environment and put yourself in the shoes of that person. For example, if you want to simulate how it feels for blind people to orient themselves inside a building, then get a blindfold and test it yourself in order to find out what they go through. If you want to know how customers think about reaching your back office in case of a complaint, let them draw a picture of the situation or act out the situation with them in a role play session.
You can then talk about these “prototypes” and your experiences either with the target group or with your (design) colleagues.
What are the benefits?
With this method you can gain empathy for your target group by simulating their conditions and environment. You will feel physically how a situation is perceived by your user, client, etc. Prototyping for empathy is a useful method that makes a lasting impression and helps you to not forget about the person for whom you are designing.