Professor Katja Holtta-Otto (Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Melbourne)


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Elise Kalokerinos

This MSPS Colloquium, Empathy and creativity in engineering design – how the research in psychology can help understand the human aspects of engineering design was presented by Professor Katja Hölttä-Otto from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne. This event will be held in person at the University of Melbourne.


Engineering design and product development are inherently human processes. Humans design solutions with humans for other humans. This leads to the need to understand the human aspects of design. In this talk, Katja will focus on two aspects of the early design process - empathy and creativity. Both are inherently human processes and are studied in both psychology and engineering.

In design, empathy usually refers to how designers understand the user and creativity is both an individual and team process of harnessing the creativity within. Numerous design methods have been developed to support both. There is also significant research in empathic design, but interestingly in design, there is no common definition of empathy. Therefore, the research efforts struggle to build a deeper scientific understanding of the topic. Katja will present some of the recent interdisciplinary work on how this is tackled by borrowing concepts from psychology.

Similarly in creativity, most design research is at the method level – developing novel methods to support creativity. In this talk, Katja will deconstruct both concepts - empathy and creativity - and discuss how this can lead to significant novel understanding. As an example, she will present recent results from measuring empathy, or its sub-constructs, using behavioural and physiological measures adapted from psychology, as well as results from looking 'under the hood' of creativity methods and link them to creativity research in psychology and how that can support creativity in engineering design. She will also present potential new directions to pursue and is looking for new collaborators.


Katja Hölttä-Otto completed her doctorate at the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland (2005). She has worked as a Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA; Professor in Engineering Product Development at the Singapore University of Technology and Design; and most recently as a professor of product development at the Aalto University, Finland.

Dr. Hölttä-Otto is a recipient of the USA National Science Foundation CAREER award, and she has multiple best paper awards. She serves as an associate editor for the Journal in Mechanical Design and the Design Science journal.

Dr. Hölttä-Otto works in the area of design theory and methodology with specific emphasis on interdisciplinary topics linked to engineering design. Her expertise includes creativity in engineering, empathy and user centered design, design thinking and design methods in general. She regularly collaborates with experts from other disciplines, especially from psychology and her research is impacted by the interdisciplinary collaborations. She is also active in complex system design, including design of product families and is interested is circular economy for product development. She is an expert in interdisciplinary design education and is known for her active hands-on approach to innovative product development.

Announcements on upcoming Colloquiums and Zoom links to online Colloquiums are sent out via the MSPS School Colloquium mailing list. To be added to this list, please email Dr Elise Kalokerinos (

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