A Play-Based Approach to Understanding Empathy


Download the Empathy Fortune Teller PDF here.


During the course of Thesis I at SCAD, I chose to research and explore the idea of empathy in graphic design, specifically: how empathy has become conflated with the practice itself and is not understood as a tool or skill that needs to be wielded conscientiously. More simply put: as humans, it’s impossible to empathize with everyone –  our life experiences are so vastly different that it’s unreasonable to expect one single person to be able to empathize with everyone else, in every situation. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to understand where and when we can empathize so we can bring that skill to bear, and, conversely, when we should say, “I can’t relate – help me understand.”

Just like any other tool or skill, empathy can be developed with practice. But how do you get started exploring what empathy means, what other values correspond to empathy, and how to exercise them in daily life?

My approach was to make the topic approachable and entertaining by leaning on the form of the “fortune-teller” or “cootie-catcher” of my generation – the nostalgia factor draws adults in, and children are naturally drawn to the cutting, folding, and manipulating inherent in the construction of the game. The bright, friendly aesthetic communicated via color and typography also invites users to explore, and create an experience that is open and light to offset the deep nature of the content.

On the exterior, “Empathy” is highlighted as the topic of the game, with the three psychological stages of empathy: understanding, imagining, and compassion. The interior petals highlight four critical skills to master when practicing empathy, and lifting each reveals either a question or statement that serves to prompt self-reflection, consideration and discussion.


Resources and References for this project:

“Developing Empathy: 8 Strategies & Worksheets to Become More Empathic.” PositivePsychology.com, 12 Oct. 2020, positivepsychology.com/empathy-worksheets/.

Dowler, Kate. “Three Stages of Empathy.” INDUSTRY of Us, INDUSTRY of Us, 9 June 2020, www.industryofus.com/what-we-think/three-stages-ofempathy.

JOHNSON, LISA ANN. Cultivating Communication in the Classroom. CORWIN Press INC, 2017.

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