Shelby Zink
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understanding love

Empathy Building Tools

Exploring empathy through social experimentation


The importance of empathy is a regarded lens to navigate through while designing. I wanted to explore the meaning of empathy, how to better practice empathy, and how it differs from love. As a designers, we should be asking ourselves how can I be more empathic?


My hope with “It’s a Love Thing” is to encourage deeper connections through practicing meaningful forms of discussion.

A research book

“It’s a Love Thing” is a compilation of secondary research and in-depth interviews which explore the difference between love and empathy. The book breaks down what it means to be empathic and experiments different techniques to build empathy with strangers and peers. “It’s a Love Thing” explains the concept of feeling versus emotion, love verses fear, different forms of love relationships, and why there is a lack of empathy in pop culture. Lastly, two social experiments put prating empathy in social settings to the test.


EXERCISE 1 & 2: Putting Empathy to the Test

1. Sharing Feelings in Public Spaces

2. Building Empathy at a Social Gathering


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Millennials are not willing to be vulnerable in public spaces.

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asked students if they would be willing to wear how they felt for a day. asked them to share when the length of time for which they kept it on their feeling tag and why they removed it via text MESSage.


Show it’s possible to be vulnerable in a public & observe the depth of info shared.

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New social environments can be anxiety ridden and devoid of deep conversation.

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Strangers participated in a series of empathy building activities to remove the social barriers and create an alternative environment where genuine feelings and self expression is encouraged.

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Help participants realize the power of their share humanity and make clear that despite our unique experiences and viewpoints similar feelings and emotions are at the core of our human connection.

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Upon arrival to a party Participants were asked to hang a card around their neck with their name and up to three description words of how they feel to create an open vulnerable environment.

After mingling, participants were asked to write a short personal experience in their phone and save it for later. On a card they wrote three corresponding feelings to their story and displayed it on a table for the rest of the party to see. Each participant then placed their phone number in a bowl and picked a number. Their story was then send out a participant at random.


Putting yourself “in someone else shoes” is at the foundation of building empathy. Participants were asked to put themselves in the shoes of the story they received and paired a feeling card to the message they recieved. After picking a card, participants talked among themself to meet the person who’s story they received.

Connection and understanding is at core of empathy. Once participants found their story matched, I put their empathizing ability to the test, reveling their feeling card to their sender.

Empathy practices breakdown barriers and expose our shared humanity. After the empathy building actives participants had the opportunity to shed some of the negative assumptions and feeling they carried into the party. We did this during and ripping the negative feeling words they carried into the party.

Empathy practices also refresh a mindset. At anytime throughout the party participants could change the feelings they projected to the party with a new card around their neck.