Empathy Cubes

“Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s situation and feelings. Our ability to empathize affects how well we communicate our thoughts and feelings with others, how well we understand others, and how comfortable people feel communicating with us.” – Jennifer J. Preece and Kambiz Ghozati, Experiencing Empathy Online (paper available here)


Empathy Cubes is an initial paper prototype of a design-as-research exploration into empathic communication over a network using a tangible interface.

A methodology was devised whereby one’s perceived current state of well-being is measured and quantified using five different quotients: health, productivity, love, calm and happiness. To gather data, an online survey was sent to a group of close friends who were asked to rate their perceived levels of the above categories on a scale of 1 to 5.

Each participant was then assigned a cube and each quotient reported was mapped to a side on the cube (with one side being left for his/her name). The group averages of all the quotients were then calculated and mapped onto a “key/group average” cube. Colours were assigned to different quotients (eg, blue for productivity) in order to make it easy to compare cubes across the same category.

Being tangible and easy to handle objects, the cubes served as a simple glanceable interface to (1) compare well-being data across different categories between individuals and (2) when comparing an individual to the group’s average levels.

Feedback received:

+ The cubes seem to encourage play and curiosity about others’ scores and serve as a rudimentary glanceable interface.

+ Putting all cubes of the same colour together leads to interesting connections as the eye is immediately drawn to the extreme numbers and one is prompted to check which participant scored high or low in the category being viewed.

–  The “key / group average” cube could be of a different size than the other cubes.

–  Colour scheme could be improved in the next iteration.

Questions for further research:

What behaviour would the cubes encourage if actually shared by a group of friends or colleagues? Would it lead to empathic communication outside of the system? Would participants fake data to manipulate others feelings about themselves? How would time be factored in to the system? What would be the frequency of the measurements? What shapes other than cubes could be used? What other form could such a system take?