Outhouse Issues Teach Students Empathic Design at ReNUWIt Bootcamp

Achievement date: 

Empathy-based design pushes engineers to focus on the response that users have to a product, and everybody has an opinion about outhouses. So redesigning the “outhouse experience” offered a rich target for an Innovation Bootcamp hosted by Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center headquartered at Stanford University, in partnership with the Engineering Pathways to Innovation Center (Epicenter).


Empathic design is not typically taught in civil and environmental engineering programs, exposing the students and post-docs to a new and creative approach to design. Many of the students said they were inspired to dig deeper into design thinking and apply it in their research, and the bootcamp will help shape future collaborations between ERCs and Epicenter.


The outhouse design challenge became the focus of the two-day bootcamp, which attracted participants from the four campuses affiliated with ReNUWIt: Stanford; University of California–Berkeley; Colorado School of Mines; and New Mexico State University. Ranging from undergraduates to post-docs, the students formed multi-disciplinary teams for brainstorming, need-finding, interviews, empathy mapping, prototyping, design iteration, and final design pitches. The bootcamp furthered ReNUWIt’s goal of educating students to become innovative, creative, and adaptive.