Cultivating Empathy: Kickstarting the Design Thinking Process with Encounter Journals


Gear icon to indicate problem and project-based learning and Design Thinking.
Gear icon shape that indicates this is a project-based learning resource. The gear shape represents Design Thinking, Process-oriented projects, and problem-based design.


Empathy-based design is revolutionizing how educators approach Design Thinking in the classroom. By focusing on understanding and relating to others' needs, students develop not only problem-solving skills but also emotional intelligence and social awareness.

The Power of Encounter Journals

What Are Encounter Journals?

Encounter journals are innovative tools that guide students to identify areas in their lives where they can connect and serve others. These journals use writing prompts, photography, and short video reflections to document daily interactions and observations.

How They Work

Students use these journals to record personal encounters over a few days or a week, capturing their experiences through:

  • Writing prompts for daily activities
  • Photography of encounters and surroundings
  • Short video logs for immediate reactions

Each human encounter can be documented through photo, video, drawing or writing. These encounters can start to connect students to individuals in their community who may need their help. This journal template can be duplicated and used for longer or shorter durations of time.

Bridging Empathy and Design Thinking

From Personal Connections to Problem-Solving

As students document their interactions, they naturally uncover challenges within their communities. These personal connections fuel the desire to create meaningful solutions.

Focusing on Initial Design Thinking Stages

The journals primarily target the first two stages of the Design Thinking Process:

  1. Empathize
  2. Identify the Problem


Diagram of Design Thinking: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Icons represent each stage. Arrows show the process.
Design Thinking Process shown as a 'Mobius strip' diagram with 5 stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Arrows indicate flow and iteration. Emphasizes use of failure and refinement in design process.

Benefits for Students and Educators

For Students

  • Enhances problem-solving skills
  • Fosters emotional intelligence
  • Encourages diverse perspectives
  • Creates structured activity journal

For Educators

  • Provides practical strategies for teaching empathy
  • Facilitates meaningful classroom discussions
  • Seamlessly transitions into design thinking projects

Creating an Empathy-Driven Classroom

By implementing encounter journals, educators can nurture an environment that:

  • Encourages empathy and understanding
  • Prepares students for complex, real-world challenges
  • Promotes a human-centered approach to design
  • Introduces the Design Thinking process with human connection

Included Files

  1. Interactive Digital (Pages) Journal Template Page
  2. Printable PDF Journal Template Page


Encounter journals offer a unique and powerful way to kickstart the design thinking process. By cultivating empathy, students are better equipped to tackle design challenges and create innovative solutions that truly address human needs.



2 replies

July 10, 2024

This is exactly what we need for our engineering challenges in 6th grade! Thank you for sharing.

July 12, 2024

This is a fantastic idea - Encounter Journals - great way for students to "design think". Thanks for sharing!

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