Design With Empathy Museum as a Resource

Chapter One - Personal Narrative: goal, why&how the resources work, and how this project relates to my empathy project

With the invention of computers and the internet, we experienced an explosion of new connective technologies that promised to provide us a mighty connected network. Instead, people are more isolated and ever. The internet and social media were supposed to improve our relationships regardless of time and location, and yet people are becoming increasingly isolated. Through the reinforcement of interacting with others online efficiently rather than being deep and meaningful, people getting worse at empathy. However, current design of technology has limited focus on empathy enhancing.

Through my experience of museum visits, I found the focus of museum visits are to invoke empathy, through the interaction between guides and visitors, the interaction among visitors, and the interaction between the artifacts and the visitors. I realized museum could be a resource to enhance empathy through understanding people with different perspective, which also have the potential to enhancing our sense of understanding and deeper connection with others.

Chapter Two - Design of the Resource

Theme: Design Thinking

Goals for the resource: Audience learn about the thinking process of solving a problem through empathizing.

By engaging in this topic, the students endeavored to design for the mind, demonstrating how objects can be not only aesthetically pleasing, but also responsible for producing relationships, thoughts, ideas, and ways of being. Engaging in conversations and activities, each student will go through empathetic designing thinking process and come up with product ideas. Through this first-person empathetic process, audience are not only training their design thinking skills but also their empathetic ability.

Description of the intended audience: High school and early college

Audience in high school and early college is exploring their career goals and interaction with the world. Learning about design thinking and empathy can help them with both.

Essential Question:

How did the artist/designer design this object to solve problems?
STOP 1 - SOCIAL PROBLEM: By The People - Design A Better America

BY THE PEOPLE: DESIGNING A BETTER AMERICA is an exhibition of 60 collaborative designs from throughout the United States and across borders, By the People challenges the country’s persistent social and economic inequality. Curator of Socially Responsible Design Cynthia E. Smith conducted over two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, areas impacted by natural and man-made disasters, and places of persistent poverty—in search of design for more inclusive and sustainable communities. Presented in the Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery and the museum’s Process Lab, the exhibition delivers a powerful message of optimism for achieving a more just and equitable society for all Americans through design.


After Hurricanes Dolly and Ike left many families in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley with damaged housing, a team of designers, policy makers, community developers, and organizers worked with the communities to foster social, cultural, and economic resilience.

More information on Cooper Hewitt.

STOP 2 - DIGITAL: Inbox - The Original Emoji, by Shigetaka Kurita

The installation in The Museum of Modern Art

The original 176 emoji released in 1999

From left: 1999 NTT DOCOMO emoji; 2016 iOS emoji

In 1999 the Japanese telecom NTT DOCOMO released the original 176 emoji (e meaning “picture” and moji “character”) for mobile phones and pagers. Designed on a simple 12 × 12 pixel grid by Shigetaka Kurita, emoji enhanced the visual interface for DOCOMO’s devices and facilitated the rise of the nascent practice of text messaging and mobile email. Drawing on varied sources including manga, Zapf dingbats, and commonly used emoticons (simple faces made out of pre-existing glyphs), Kurita’s set included illustrations of weather phenomena, pictograms, and a range of expressive faces. Simple, elegant, and incisive, Kurita’s emoji planted the seeds for the explosion of a new visual language.

The shift toward concise, telegraphic correspondence that began with the advent of email in the 1970s accelerated dramatically when messaging moved to mobile. The abridged nature of mobile communication tends to obscure tone and emotion. Emoji, when combined with text, allow for more nuanced intonation. Filling in for body language, they reassert the human in the abstract space of electronic communication.

Today, with nearly 1,800 in use, emoji are an increasingly complex companion to written language. Kurita’s emoji are powerful manifestations of the capacity of design to alter human behavior. Just as the design of a chair dictates our posture, so, too, do the designs of various formats of electronic communication shape our voice. Although emoji have advanced far beyond Kurita’s original 176 designs, the DNA for today’s emoji is clearly present in Kurita’s humble, pixelated, seminal designs.

Read an article about the emoji acquisition.

STOP 3 - ART: Artist Residency - Laboratory For Freedoms

Installation view of Artist Residency: Laboratory For Freedoms at MoMA PS1.

The residency is “not an exhibition. It’s an evolving organic conversation we will have amongst ourselves and in the galleries and in public space.” (Gottesman, 2017)

The For Freedoms billboard installed last fall near Pearl, Mississippi

In January 2016, artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman created the first artist-run political action committee (PAC), For Freedoms. Through this nonpartisan PAC, Thomas and Gottesman sought to use art to inspire deeper political engagement, inviting other artists to work with them on advertisements, exhibitions, and public meetings across the country that claimed political space for art. Rather than campaigning for or against any specific candidate or party, For Freedoms uses art to encourage discussions of core democratic values.

During the first 100 days of the new presidential administration, MoMA PS1 will host For Freedoms for an artist residency, which will evolve organically over the course of the project. The residency begins with the display of a billboard that For Freedoms created and posted in Mississippi during the election, and materials relating to its reception.

More information: here.

Chapter Three: Questions For The Audience
What social problem(s) do you think this designer/artist might be trying to solve?
Who is this person? What their daily lives might be like?
What their lives might be different before and after this design?
Can you redesign a product that better solve the problem?

The goal of the activity is to help the audience think about the object from the user's perspective.

At each stop, the audience will start drawing in the middle circle, with the identity and characteristics of the person. The second step is to draw the person's life before the using the object on the left squares. The third step is to draw the person's life after using the object. After the three steps, the audience will be given a piece of paper to make a prototype of a product that can better solve the problem. For the whole activity for one stop it will take 6 minutes to draw, 4 minutes to redesign and prototype, and 10 minutes to share.


Smith, C. E. (2017, January 26). Designing Recovery Housing | Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Inbox: The Original Emoji, by Shigetaka Kurita | MoMA. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Artist Residency: Laboratory For Freedoms | MoMA. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Designed and made by Ginger Chen for Museum As A Resource.


Created with images by paultom2104 - "In midst of knowledge" • Gary_Koelling - "background" • Gary_Koelling - "background" • Gary_Koelling - "background" • Gary_Koelling - "background" • Gary_Koelling - "background" • Gary_Koelling - "background" • paultom2104 - "In midst of knowledge"

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