Empathy as a Problem-Solving Tool

in conversation with Tamara Panić (Faculty of Applied Arts, Belgrade)

Tamara Panić is an industrial designer based in Belgrade, Serbia. She is currently working as an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade, at the Department of Industrial Design, where she teaches at Undergraduate and Master studies. Tamara is also a Ph.D. student at the academic study program Applied Arts and Design, at the same Faculty. From 2008 to 2012, she gained experience in several design studios, at the position of an industrial and graphic designer, working on various projects including graphic communications, visual identities, packaging and product design. In 2013, she co-created Design studio Oblikus, founded with the intention of creating electronic products, everyday objects, furniture, and packaging design. With the studio, she had come a long way from setting up concept designs through the development of functional prototypes to optimization and preparation for serial production. Some of these projects were awarded the prestigious Red Dot Concept design award: Best of the Best and A Design Award. Studio’s projects were exhibited in Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia and Germany. The project Moonlights was part of the exhibition A preview of the Future, as a permanent feature at the newly opened Red Dot Museum in Singapore.

The domain of crafts has been attracting a lot of attention over the past years within the design field. Have you been aware of that process, and what does it tell you?

Of course. In the contemporary approach to design the accent is put on the design as user interface and design as an experience, which is speeded up by the constant development of technology. This has brought us into the smart era, with more and more automatization and less and less manual work. Creatives are craving for tactile, research-based and experiments with the materials, and the craft skills are an immense inspiration in that context.

Do you think it is at all possible to divide the two fields—making/crafting and design? It seems that there is so much in common, but yet so much that is different.

Design and crafts have, in their basis, a common goal — the embodiment of an idea that is supposed to enrich people’s daily lives, in a functional and aesthetical ways, as well as in the user experience itself. It seems that the craftsperson is more free in that process and that he/she creates his/her own rules, while in the designers’ process limitations are present at the very start, in order for the product to fulfil the requirements of production and the market.


Creatives are craving for tactile, research-based and experiments with the materials, and the craft skills are an immense inspiration in that context.

What was/is the position of crafts or crafting in your own design output?

Being an industrial designer is an exciting position, among other reasons because each new project brings new rules in working with a new material, and its proper utilization dictates the level of quality of a given project. In the process of realization of functional prototypes that I was involved in, crafts people played an important role, selflessly sharing their knowledge, in order to help the optimization of the production process. Their skills and tricks made a big difference and enriched the idea, each time.

You are working with students a lot. How are, in your opinion, new generations perceiving the position and role of crafts in the domain of design?

It is absolutely clear that young creatives are fascinated with new technologies, the possibilities of 3D printing and advanced software, with which they can effectively communicate and realize their ideas. It is a reflection of the times that they are living in. But still, in recent years much more focus within the design community is put on the process and how an idea comes into being. There are more and more exciting conversations about behind the scenes aspect of the development of any given product.

Design is increasingly becoming a methodological tool
employed in different domains, such as business, management or education. What do you think about this, and is this something that design students are recognizing and embracing?

Industrial design is an economic category and its business component is essential for its sustainability on the market. Students are getting better and better in understanding that a good product needs to strike a balance between the people’s needs, technological and technical feasibility, and eventually market results.

In your opinion, what defines a process of making as a crafting process? Is it the means of production, the perfection (of the results) or the overall approach to a project?

I would say it is the overall approach to a project. Designing and crafting are mental processes that involve thinking, and the path that a creative professional covers on the path from an idea to its realization reflects this metamorphosis of the idea into an act of creation in the best possible way.

How do you see the relationship between design(ers) and crafts (people)? What is the role or empathy in that equation?

That relationship needs to be based on trust, mutual respect and the capability to leave the comfort zone. Empathy plays a key role in this connection, which should in itself have the goal of achieving better problem-solving capabilities, and a bolder approach to a creative challenge.

Which parts of the crafting process you feel are relevant for the process that designers usually go through? And also, the other way around?

Designers should be encouraged to start exploring and testing ideas directly in the material very early on, while crafts people could be inspired by the work methodology that each designer goes through in a typical project development, relying on design thinking and human-centred approaches.

What drew you to get involved with the MADE IN project?

A huge motivation was to, together with the participants, explore the world of crafts, to get to know the individual stories of the craftspeople and what inspires them to achieve excellence in their respective skills. I was sure that it would be a good polygon to learn a lot from them, and above all to get inspired.

In the absence of support from the side of public institutions, enthusiasm and responsibility are down on the creatives, who need to fight for their values and the social space that belongs to them.

What was the starting point and the intention of the workshop you facilitated within the project?

The starting point were meetings with the craftspeople and building of trust; then exploration, listening, understanding, researching… Through these encounters, enthusiasm naturally followed, on whose wings a fantastic working atmosphere came to life.

What was your impression of the craftspeople who were mapped in the initial research done for the project?

It is a fan of phenomenal people who are preserving tradition in a very authentic way, and by nurturing those skills they often add a modern twist, which is all truly refreshing in our era of hyperproduction.

In the end, what would be the lessons learned, aside from the actual project(s) that the workshop resulted in?

Personal contact breeds magic. The meetings of people and exchange of ideas definitely open new roads.

Did the MADE IN experience bring you to any new thoughts about how to nurture the design/crafts crossover in the future, specifically in relation to the situation in Serbia, or the wider region? What is missing (aside from the strategic approach and support from the side of public administration, which usually goes without saying)?

A huge applause for Nova Iskra and all of the project partners for creating this project, which is absolutely necessary in order to raise awareness about the importance of supporting local design communities, the valorisation of craft skills, tradition and creative collaboration. In the absence of support from the side of public institutions, enthusiasm and responsibility are down on the creatives, who need to fight for their values and the social space that belongs to them.

in conversation with Jenny Nordberg
in conversation with Rianne Makkink (Studio Makkink & Bey)
in conversation with Ania Rosinke and Maciej Chmara (chmara.rosinke studio)
in conversation with Lukas Wegwerth