As part of the Microsoft Design Expo, we were tasked with designing for empathy at scale over the course of 10 weeks. To really understand the problem space, we looked into the origins of Empathy. We found that Empathy was a transliteration of the phrase “Einfuhlung” which means "seeing into". Wilhelm Wundt, the father of Psychology, used this term to describe the feeling you get when you look at a piece of art.
How might we build meaningful connections across different cultures in urban spaces?
Angela Yung, Surabhi Wadhwa, Justin Lund
Interaction Design, Prototyping, Usability Testing, Film, Video Editing
Sketch, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop
Parallel is an interactive wall located in various public spaces that fosters cross-cultural connection.
How it works...
Parallel is an interactive wall located in various public spaces. Passersby begin by writing or drawing on the wall to leave thier messages and art in a public space.
The experience offers motion tracking and the use of cameras and microphones. Through this experience, they begin collaborating with another participant who is located in a different city.
After a series of interactions between
two participants, the wall reveals the person on the other side and generates prompts to encourage participants to start a conversation and tell their own stories.
Through our literature review, we found variation in what people believe creates empathy, however, 4 factors were commonly agreed upon:
Empathy requires making mental connection between oneself and another which is facilitated by social connection.
Storytelling can be a compelling way to gain new perspectives.
Working toward a shared goal together requires a better understanding of one another.
Curiosity and openness towards others allows us to learn about others.
In response to these insights, we wanted to create a socially engaged design experience by bringing the community together in a shared activity or experience. While there have been many interactive wall installations and products, none have connected people from different locations.
As we imagined the interactions, some ethical concerns arose, namely the possibility of offensive language or expletives. We decided that rather than imagining what people would do, we needed to put it to a test. We created a behavioral prototype out of cardboard and paper and placed it in a farmers market and allowed people write/draw on the wall and had them meet a new person who was on the other side of the wall.
Results: The testing revealed overwhelmingly positive responses and participants left reflecting on their experience of having met someone new in a serendipitous way.
Wizard of Oz
The second iteration of the behavioral prototype aimed to test how people would interact when they virtually met one another. In this version, we set up a projection and the participants began by interacting with an avatar on the screen. The projector then revealed the person behind that avatar and the participant is prompted to converse with the person on the other side.
Results: We found that conversation flowed naturally after prompts were administered. Upon querying, we found that participants were intrigued by the possibility of meeting someone who could potentially be in a different country.
What Makes Parallel Unique?
Art Facilitating Empathy
Art is how people initially connect with one another in this shared activity. When the wall reveals the person on the other side, it might not be someone you expect. The scene around them is different that what you see around you, and you realize they are in a different country. You get to learn about people from a different culture as you're "walking down the street".
Fostering Human Connection
We wanted to focus on the interactions between participating individuals. These prompts were intended to spark conversation and encourage participants to tell their own stories. As participants hear stories, they form connections and might even think that the person on the other side of the wall isn't so different from themselves.
Parallel started off as a controversial concept with many concerns about safety and privacy. While we were encouraged to pivot, we were able to use prototype testing to prove that our concept was worth designing for. After showing our stakeholders at Microsoft the results of our prototype test, they were impressed with the results. In addition, many of our participants expressed interest in the concept and asked us to stay in contact with them so they could follow this project. The effect that the experience had on our participants had the greatest lasting impact on me because we were designing something our users were excited about and saw value in.
My greatest takeaway from this experience is the importance of prototype testing not only to validate your design choices but to be able to justify them to stakeholders. Having tangible data to show is a good form of communicating to others.