Interested in learning about UX in Galway? Check out Empathy Jam

16 Oct 2019

Participants at Empathy Jam 2018. Image: Empathy Jam

Empathy Jam Galway organiser Diarmaid Ó Fátharta discusses the UX event, which ‘pushes attendees out of their comfort zone’.

In 2017, when Diarmaid Ó Fátharta was living in New York on a graduate visa and working for a company called Artech Holdings, he attended an event called Empathy Jam.

It’s a day-long research and design hackathon programme, where attendees get out and talk to people in the city, before coming back to the event space and designing user experience (UX) solutions for them.

“I really enjoyed it. It was on a very large scale, which is natural because it’s in New York City, where there’s a very large UX community,” Ó Fátharta told

When he returned to Galway in 2018, where he now works as a product manager for Artech, Ó Fátharta began attending monthly UX meet-ups and discussed the idea of introducing an Empathy Jam to Galway. He thought it would be a great way to reconnect with the city and its tech community.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how many people in the community were working in UX. It seemed that there were lots of opportunities coming up in Dublin, from what I saw before Empathy Jam. I thought this could be something great, just to get people together, have some fun and create a good environment for learning.”

As he settled in Galway, Ó Fátharta realised that there was a “huge hunger” for such an event in the city. This is why he decided to organise the first Empathy Jam Galway last year with the help of Mairead Hogan and Karen Young, who are both lecturers in UX and HCI subjects at NUI Galway.

‘Such a buzz on the day’

While Ó Fátharta enjoyed the Empathy Jam event he attended in New York City, he believes there’s something special about running that kind of event in Galway. “What I loved about what we had in Galway was the community feel there,” he said.

“With the size of Galway itself, it’s almost kind of intimate and everyone lives in close quarters. It’s just such a friendly city. I thought people were a bit more at ease going out onto the streets. While they were nervous, we told them, ‘Look, if people don’t want to talk to you, they’ll tell you politely’. There was such a buzz on the day from people excited to learn more.”

Ó Fátharta explained that it’s quite an ambiguous event. “When you hear ‘Empathy Jam’, you don’t know what to expect from it, as opposed to a gaming hackathon – you know exactly what’s going to happen there. With this, people have a bit of a fear of the unknown, but a lot of people found it really rewarding.

“It pushed attendees out of their comfort zone to really talk to people, which is something they might not ordinarily do due to not having the resources if you’re working in the area of tech or UX.”

Ó Fátharta said that the response to the inaugural Empathy Jam Galway was positive. While the organisers expected around 20 people to participate, based on feedback from UX meet-ups, they ended up with 40 participants. This year, they’re expecting between 50 and 60 people to take part in the event.

Empathy Jam 2019

Anybody can participate in Empathy Jam, whether you’re a seasoned UX expert with lots of experience in the tech industry, or whether you have only just learned what the letters U and X stand for.

“We are trying to move away from the focus on tech. We want people to recognise the importance of using their empathy in crafting solutions,” Ó Fátharta said.

“It’s not limited to technological solutions. You can use it in any realm of your life. We’re using it in terms of working in tech, but we want to give people the ability to build on that skill of understanding people and connecting with them, and not to be rushing to build a solution without fully knowing what the issues are.”

Ó Fátharta added that there are “a few core people” that the organisers are targeting.

“Students, first of all. We had a huge amount of interest from students last year. Some came from the class of my co-organiser, Mairéad Hogan, who works in the Business School at NUI Galway. She gave them the chance to attend Empathy Jam to record their process and their learnings as part of an assignment.”

But it’s not just limited to that demographic. There were also attendees working in the industry, who were interested in transitioning into UX or expressed curiosity about it.

“It’s open to everyone, really. We want to leave it open for everyone. The more diverse range of attendees we have, the better. People will be working in teams on the day, so it’s best to have a diverse range of experiences and opinions. That’s the best mix when you’re coming up with different solutions.”

What to expect

When the event kicks off on 2 November, attendees will have the chance to get to know each other before forming organic teams. After that, a speaker comes in and provides participants with advice on how to conduct their research for the first half of the day, guiding them through brainstorming and the details of the challenges.

Ó Fátharta explained: “Then, participants will be crafting questions that will get the best insight from people on the streets, because all of the attendees will be going out on the streets of Galway talking to people that they think are relevant to the challenge they have.”

Once this is done, they reconvene to see if they can confirm their assumptions and what they already knew about the subject, or if they have learned something new. After this, they expand on their ideas, work on simple prototypes and return to the streets to get some feedback on their fleshed out ideas. There are three prizes at the end of the event.

This year’s event takes place on 2 November in Galway’s PorterShed. If you’re interested in learning more or buying a ticket for Empathy Jam, you can do so here.

Updated, 10:20am, 16 October: This article was updated to include the names of all of Empathy Jam’s organisers.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic