Project Leaders: Dr Katie Gaudion, Dr Dan Lockton

Size: 12 participants

Duration: 5 days , Monday—Thursday 10am—5pm, 6pm on Friday

Key words: Empathy, experience, design


Empathy is central to people-centred design, but what could it really mean to experience the world as someone else does? The aim of One Another is to explore multiple perspectives on empathy through activities which introduce participants, practically, to other ways of thinking and perceiving.

Over five days, participants will experience heightened senses through the perceptions of autistic and synaesthetic individuals, expand their assumptions around the world of experience from one to another, explore animal behaviour through a visit to London Zoo, and follow hidden rules while creating a meal. The week culminates in designing or performing experiences for others, with the aim of giving participants new ways of understanding the world.


Day 1: Sensation and Perception

Feelings are connected to our senses, which enable us to experience and respond to our environment, but as we are all on a sensory continuum the way we feel and experience the environment can be very different from one person to the next, which may also be influenced by our culture, values and preferences.

Working beyond the boundaries of a neurotypical culture, this workshop explores different ways of being-in-the-world, by exploring the world of experience through an Autistic and synesthetic perspective. Together in teams, the participants will explore how creativity and skills in making and spatial/visual thinking can describe and communicate different ways of being-in-the-world. This workshop aims to inspire artists and designers to be more aware and attuned to the sensory perceptual qualities of the environment and expand our own assumptions around the world of experience from one to another.

Day 2: Expanding our Empathic Horizon

We so often anthropomorphise animal behaviour, making assumptions about how animals think, based around how we think humans think. We maybe even feel we are able to empathise with our pets. Perhaps we even believe we recognise something of ourselves in some animals’ ways. From ethology (the study of animal behaviour) to ideas from unique communicators such as Temple Grandin, to stories of controversial relationships between humans and dolphins or chimpanzees, there are many ways in which empathy with animals can give us interesting insights into our own ways of thinking and experiencing the world. But can they ever be ‘translated’?

In this activity, we will visit London Zoo through the eyes of researchers, aiming to explore and understand patterns of animal behaviour, relate them to our own ways of experiencing the world, and temporarily ‘adopt’ them. We will watch a documentary, and we will also consider other non-human actors, from robots to chatbots to ‘smart’ technologies, and question some of the boundaries we draw for ourselves.

Day 3: Animals (and non-humans) in Translation?

Morning: Our ability to empathise is largely based on having experienced a situation or feeling before, or being able to imagine what that situation might be. How then would we be able to empathise with a person who experiences and reacts to things completely differently to us? The psychological concept of the ‘fundamental attribution error’ sounds complex, but is really quite familiar from everyday life: when we are making assumptions about someone else’s actions, we tend to explain them in terms of his or her personality, or character, but when we’re explaining our own behaviour, we emphasise the situation and context we’re in.

How much are we able to understand and share the feeling of another person? To what extent can we put ourselves into another person’ shoes and know exactly how they feel? This workshop explores the role of empathy through improvisation around the role of the fundamental attribution error and invites the participants to explore this subject and develop new empathic approaches to expand their own empathic horizon.

Afternoon: Much of everyday life in social situations is structured by hidden or tacit ‘rules’, or heuristics—some cultural, some learned, some followed by some people and not others. But the secret rules we’re following, or assuming others are following, can be different, and understanding these differences, and priorities and meanings people attach to different ways of doing things can be a big part of building empathy for others. If you’re involved in designing or creating experiences for others, developing ways of understanding the rules people are following in a situation can be a very useful research approach.

In this activity, we’ll look at decision science research around heuristics, and related ideas from two somewhat left-field 1960s popular psychology texts, R D Laing’s Knots and Eric Berne’s Games People Play, and devise strategies for exploring the rules each of us is following, through visiting a supermarket and choosing ingredients to prepare some food together.

Day 4 & 5: Creating an experience for others

Over the week, we’ll have explored different ways of trying to experience the world as someone else does, developing multiple perspectives on empathy through a range of practical activities which introduce us to other ways of thinking and perceiving.

For the final two days, we will, in groups, try to create—through designing or performing—experiences for others, short transformative engagements which can pass on these new ways of experiencing the world to other people. As part of a final exhibition / performance, guests will be able to take part and try out these experiences.

Leader Biographies:  

Dr Katie Gaudion is a senior research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. From completing an MPhil in textiles design to a PhD in Innovation Design Engineering, Katie’s research explores design and neurodiversity with a particular focus on autism spectrum disorder.
Dr Dan Lockton is visiting research tutor in Innovation Design Engineering at the RCA, interested in design, people’s understanding of the world, and how it affects behaviour. He is currently writing Design with Intent, a practical guide for designers, to be published in 2016 by O’Reilly Media.