Hannah Jiang

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Final Project Proposal 1

Free Writing & Mindmap

After the free writing exercise, I found myself writing about experiencing different lives and building empathy with one another. I then created a mind map around the word “experience” and how it relates to others.

During the process, I explored a few different ways to build empathy between people. Actors, role-playing games, pregnancy suits – all of which were floating about in my mind. I found that as designers, the ability to understand people and how they feel, think, or behave is increasingly important for impactful designing. So I decided to research further on how empathy translates to design and daily life.


Definition of “empathy”: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
I want to do research on what role empathy is playing in our lives and whether it is a skill that can be achieved. If it can be achieved then how people go about becoming more empathetic? After going through the articles and books I found on empathy, I had a better understanding of what the answers may be to these questions.

In “I Don’t Feel Your Pain”, David F. Swink states that empathy has constantly been identified as a core component of emotional intelligence and a powerful predictor of success in many professions.1 Empathy is not only the key to maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family, but critical to the success in our careers. Helen Riess, M.D., director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, states,

“Many people think that empathy is either something you are born with, that either you have it or you don’t, the exciting news from all our research is that empathy seems to be a mutable trait. Certain conditions can blunt expressions of empathy and, conversely, certain awareness-building and reflection activities seem to be able to up-regulate empathic behavior.”2

Then what methods are there we can use to increase empathy? Pay more attention, increase awareness about our own non-verbal expressions, notice the voice tone and also listen without judgment.3 In “Through Other Eyes”4, the authors address that teachers are playing a critical role to help students to venture outside of their own experience. Learning history is a good way to exercise on understanding people and their decisions.

In summary, empathy is a skill that can be learned and trained by paying more attention to others including their words and nonverbal expressions.


During the research process, I picked 3 domains related to empathy that I am interested in and would like to explore further.
1. Behavior Analysis
Behavior analysis is a subject that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals, it can be used to address important social behaviors like taking drugs, abusing alcohol, committing crimes, etc.
   Precedent – Listening to Killers
Listening to Killers is a book written by James Garbarino who has served as an expert witness. His job was to interview murderer’s about their life experiences such as childhood memories to describe the psyche and sociological issues of a criminal. Many times these analyses were used in court to defend the charged individuals from receiving the death penalty.

Garbarino once interviewed a guy named Danny Samson who had been sentenced to death twice and was going to trial for another murder. At the end of the interview, Garbarino asked Samson if there was anything about himself that others would be surprised to hear, Samson paused for a moment and replied, “I cry myself to sleep at night”5.

2. Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is more natural and unconscious that shows our true feelings and intentions6. This can be in the form of gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, or pitch of the voice. Often times nonverbal communications can be more effective. For example, when your friend looks sad but says he’s not. The body communicates unconsciously. Others are more telling than others, however, being able to understand that facilitates the expression of empathy.

   Precedent1 – Acting and Guessing Games
There is a game at a party where each player has a note with a country’s name on it, the player needs to act out what he thinks best depicts the country and let the other players guess what country he’s got. The player is not allowed to use any words to depict it. The form of body language is permitted to convey the message – in this case a country.
   Precedent2 – Slidefaces

Slidefaces is a game designed to improve one’s ability to recognize emotion. Players are presented with one of 6 basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, surprise, happiness, or sadness), there is a face on the screen split into three rotating sections that can be spun by the player to match the face to the given emotion. A toddler’s game but serves the purpose of understanding people and how they feel.

3. Healthy Relationship
Open, honest, and comprehensive communication is fundamental to healthy relationship. Social conflicts are always related to misunderstanding. However misunderstandings are inevitable because we cannot ever truly empathize with another individual—we can only try.
   Precedent – Emotional Technology

“Emotional Technology” is an animation film released by The School of Life. The clip describes a speculative mood reader device that can tell users exactly how they are feeling at a certain time and why.


People who have problems understanding each other in a family or romantic relationship. The product/design will be used when the user is communicating with others. It can also be used when alone to improve their skill of empathizing.

Design Questions

  • How can we get people to empathize more?
  • With what methodology can we understand one another?
  • Impact and Initial Ideas

    Relationships play an important role in our lives. The parent-child relationship is critical in the development of our behaviors and mental health7. A healthy romantic relationship makes people happier than double their income, a new study has found.8

    My goal for this project is to help people understand and communicate with each other to maintain healthier relationships and essentially live happily.

    To achieve this goal, I’m thinking about designing a wearable device that can detect the words and tone of an individual during a conversation. A game can also be implemented within the device to help users improve their ability to empathize with others. Working with the device there could be a game that can help users to improve their empathizing skill, such as playing a short clip to the users and let them guess what the characters mean from their verbal and nonverbal languages.

    1. Swink, David. “I Don’t Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy.” Psychology Today. March 07, 2013. Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/threat-management/201303/i-dont-feel-your-pain-overcoming-roadblocks-empathy.

    2. “A Steady Dose of Empathy.” H&HN. Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.hhnmag.com/articles/5114-a-steady-dose-of-empathy?id=7800008222.

    3. Swink, David. “I Don’t Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy.” Psychology Today. March 07, 2013. Accessed October 29, 2017.

    4. Skolnick, Joan, Nancy Dulberg, Thea Maestre, and Sean Stokes. Through other eyes: developing empathy and multicultural perspectives in the social studies. Toronto: Pippin, 2004.

    5. Garbarino, James. Listening to killers: lessons learned from my twenty years as a psychological expert witness in murder cases. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015.

    6. Segal, Jeanne, Melinda Smith, and Greg Boose. “Nonverbal Communication.” Nonverbal Communication: Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm.

    7. Farber, Neil. “10 Things to Know About Parent-Child Relationships.” Psychology Today. April 10, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-blame-game/201604/10-things-know-about-parent-child-relationships.