This paper will draw on the authors’ experience as design educators and practice-based design researchers in trauma-informed care (Cassidy) and interdisciplinary collaboration (Vickers). Growing practices of collaboration and interdisciplinarity in design fields has expanded the ways design methods are being deployed to respond not only to more imperative wicked problems (Head, 2022), but also to critical problems in fields outside of design such as the health, education and justice sectors. Design thinking models, along with co- and participatory design practices are driven by the need for designers to employ methods shaped by empathy, to understand the lived experiences of users in these humancentred industries.

Workers in the health, education and justice sectors are routinely exposed to the narratives of vulnerable populations they are supporting, requiring the deployment of empathic practices. Trauma-informed principles (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (N.D.)) are also increasingly being applied within these fields, as values-based modes of working that are intended to benefit both the service user and service provider. As a result, practitioners in these fields are increasingly educated in the importance of self-care and integrating protective and compensatory experiences (PaCEs) into their work practices (Hays-Grudo, J. and Morris, A. S. 2020). PaCEs emerged as a strengths-based approach of positive experiences intended to increase resilience and protect against the risk of mental and physical illness. As design is increasingly deployed into diverse fields and integrated into trauma-informed models of practice, we have observed a skew in user-centred approaches being prominent and the designer – as a service provider – not being afforded the same trauma-informed principles in their practices as they offer for end-users.

As design educators we increasingly teach and promote the use of empathy in design methods, and its power in creating meaningful design outcomes. However, we believe there is a lack of curriculum focussed on training young designers in similar protective methods as are found in the health, education and justice fields when working in the empathy space. Responding to this observation, this paper will examine literature on empathy from diverse fields of practice, and introduce the notion that designers are empathic labourers, who, similarly to other fields are increasingly at risk of compassion fatigue, burnout and / or vicarious trauma. We therefore propose the outline for a strengths-based model of design education and practice that integrates protective and compensatory experiences (PaCEs) for designers. The value of which will be to empower the next generation of designers to tackle human-centred and life-centred design challenges with a stronger grounding in methods and mechanisms for their sustained wellbeing.


Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (N.D.) Retrieved 31/7/2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/orr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm

Hays-Grudo, J., & Morris, A. S. (2020). Protective and compensatory experiences: The antidote to ACEs. In J. HaysGrudo & A. S. Morris, Adverse and protective childhood experiences: A developmental perspective (pp. 23–40). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000177-002

Head, B.W. (2022). The Rise of ‘Wicked Problems’—Uncertainty, Complexity and Divergence. In: Wicked Problems in Public Policy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-94580-0_2

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Stream C: Panel Two