Decoding Empathy

Dec 2019 | News & Notes

The System of Empathy

Empathy has almost become a cliché in the design world. Maybe understanding empathy better would provide more robust content to the notion of empathy and to the design work claiming it to be central in user-oriented design.

At the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad India, they have developed a tradition of gigamapping that is quite characteristic. It is recognised by its vivid use of metaphors, making these maps immediately accessible. A group of students under the guidance of Professor Praveen Nahar and  Sahil Thappa pulled apart the notion of empathy and revealed it as a system of its own.

This map was exhibited at the RSD8 in Chicago. There is much more to the map than what you see in the image above. Click it to dive into the information.

Team: The apathetic beings
National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India

Guide: Praveen Nahar & Sahil Thappa

Team members:
Swayamsiddha, Shefali, Awanee, Supreethe, Vaidehe

Informed Empathy: Tool, Practice, and Mindset

Project Synopsis

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 is what sets us apart from other living organisms. This innate, intuitive ability within each and every one of us, can be a very useful tool; a 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.

This project attempts to find ways of creating more empathy

We began to ask important questions. 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?

Deconstructing it further provided insight.

Based on extensive research and reflection and experimentation we arrived at a map of how this chain reaction in our brains unfolds.

This map was different for one who felt empathy and wanted to react and for one that was unaffected by an event. From this comparison, 5 variables emerged that have an influence on one’s empathy output. These parameters were Imagination, Information, Inquiry, Emotional Capacity, and Bias. We realized playing with parameters can have different outcomes on one’s empathy.


What we propose is to come out of our passive selves and become active members of change. The transition from a state of subconscious empathy to that of a conscious one. With simple tools that we have arrived at through research, we believe this can be achieved. We call this framework ‘Informed Empathy’.

We narrowed down on 6 aspects of an individual’s life where empathy had a large role to play and We designed multiple interventions that are manifestations of this tool; a playbook for school children, an Empathy Card toolkit, speculative experiments and a tool for measurement amongst others. Different outcomes for various domains such as education, upbringing, social media and conflict resolution.

By exposing people to ‘Informed Empathy’ we seek to help them create a generative learning environment that promotes co-creation and growth, it also allows us to seek meaningful feedback, and create new partnerships. We believe that large scale transformations for equitable and inclusive solutions, in fact, start at someplace small, it starts with basic human consideration – empathy.