Decoding Empathy

Systems design project on informed empathy
8 Weeks
(Oct - Nov)
Project Summary

Project Overview

Decoding Empathy is a systems project done during my academic term at NID. It looks at the role of empathy as a part of human systems. This project attempts to find ways of creating more empathy. We began our project by asking: When does one feel empathy? When does empathy lead to action? What makes a person take action and not take action? And most importantly, how do we influence this decision? Looking at empathy itself as a system and deconstructing it further provided insight and led us to develop our 'Informed Empathy' model.

My Role

  • Primary and secondary research
  • Giga-mapping process
  • Conceptualization of outcomes
  • Informed Empathy video animation
  • Empathy playbook structure and design

The Prompt

Most simply put, empathy is our ability to feel what another is feeling. Our inquiry into this theme was born from the belief that empathy sets us apart from other living organisms. This innate, intuitive ability within each of us can be a handy tool that can be used not only in our daily lives but also to design better, educate better, and govern better. Empathy has been key to our survival as a species. It is what creates a sense of community and belonging. It is safe to say this sense of interdependence has diminished over time, but empathy is still part of our biology. We are wired to be empathetic. But can we do it consciously? Is it something that can be taught?

The Giga-map

Our decoding empathy systems Giga-map shows the entire journey of the project. The map starts on the left with our research into empathy through the lenses of psychology, behavior science, neuroscience, and philosophy. In the center is the chain reaction of how empathy unfolds in our brains based on our research, reflection, and experimentation. We represented it in the form of a factory. We realized this map was different for one who felt empathy and wanted to react and for one that was unaffected by the event. From this comparison, five variables emerged that influence one's empathy output shown on the right of the map. These parameters are -Imagination, Information, Inquiry, Emotional Capacity, and Bias. We realized changing the levels of these parameters in a situation can affect one's empathy.


The Empathy Video

Empathy is a term that everyone uses very commonly. But do we really know what it is? This video aims to intrigue you about empathy its origin and informs you about the various views on it and things that affect it. We wanted to introduce our informed empathy model in a fun way. Videos have a global appeal, are scalable, and are an accessible form of media. They engage the audience and prompt shares. A video can reach a larger audience, and through this video, we aim to reach people of a varied age group.

The Empathy Playbook

Our childhood memories and experiences shape our lives and make us who we are. Many values that we learn as a child stick with us for life. To build empathy in society, it is necessary to introduce it to children in their formative years. The Empathy Playbook was inspired by the 'Systems Thinking Playbook' by 'Donella H Meadows.' It consists of five sections for our five parameters. Every section has five exercises based on each parameter. This book aims to create awareness about empathy and the five parameters that affect empathy through fun activities and games that you can play in groups. The Empathy playbook can be used in schools. The teacher acts as the facilitator and carries out various activities with children. The book would be introduced to children from 10 years to 15 years.

Empathy Cards

The empathy cards are a reflection tool to responsibly help one deal with situations. It helps resolve conflicts through empathy. The cards have been designed such that people can keep them and refer to them when they feel the necessity. The parameters on the cards have been synthesized into a simple formula of AEIOU to make it easier for people to recall. This outcome intends to teach this mindset reflection for empathy until this becomes a habit.

Carbon Footprint Experiment

Empathy is about feeling another's feelings. But can we empathize with things that do not have a life? The Carbon Footprint experiment is an experimental concept for humans to empathize with the earth. We are aware of the effects of pollution, global warming, climate change on the planet. But why do we still fail in controlling our actions? We think that personifying inanimate objects helps us empathize with them. This experiment shows a person what the earth would look like in the future if it were them. Answer the questions, imagine you are the earth, and know what the earth would look like with your carbon footprint.

The Counter Intuitive Plug-in

The counter-intuitive search engine is an intervention as an optional plugin for search engines and social media that shows people multiple perspectives of a topic or a situation before forming their views. These are prototypes that do not necessarily focus on the utility of the outcome but are focused on achieving a kind of mindset that sensitizes people to think and consider more perspectives and possibilities and accordingly make more informed decisions or opinions. This intervention aims to introduce a mindset amongst people to look around for more information before they respond to something.

The Idea Bank

With the emergence of technology and its ever-growing involvement in our everyday lives, empathy will be one of the essential skills of the future. After ten weeks of decoding empathy, we suggest 30 ideas for the future world of empathy. It is a bank of design briefs that could be taken forward, developed, and hopefully implemented. Some of these ideas we converted into posters in the form of newspaper articles from the future.



We were invited to present our research paper at the RSD8, IIT Chicago. We also conducted a design thinking activity to generate valuable project briefs using our tools.

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