Hear. Generate Empathy.


This phase was all about generating empathy. We wanted to get a feel for people and their lives at MIHCR. We wanted to see them at work, hear what they hear, feel what they feel and know what they think. Take a look at how we went about it.

“I can’t come up with any new ideas if all I do is exist in my own life.”

Emi Kolawole Editor-in-Residence, Stanford University d.school

Idea Board

We want to co-create. One of the first things we did as a team was to create a physical board where others can raise their grievances, make suggestions and list inspirations. It helped us open up to our users and set the expectations for co-creation.

In-context immersion

A staff member showing the team their workspace. A staff member showing the team a drawer with poosters in it.

To gain empathy and understand the people we were designing for on an intellectual, emotional and experiential level, we immersed ourselves in their cubes, offices, meeting places, hallways, storage places etc. We observed what they did, how they did it and asked them questions on why they did what they did. We uncovered great insights and many latent opportunities from understanding people in their context.

Co-create workshops

We organized various workshop-style events to involve everyone working at MICHR in designing their own workspace. These events involved fun activities centered around understanding and co-creating space and culture. Not only did they help us peel the layers off the existing culture, they also brought everyone together and spread awareness about the importance of space in our work lives.

Some of the artifacts generated out of these workshops include:

Network Map

A network map made with yarn and push pins A network map made with yarn and push pins

To understand how we as an organization traverse through our space, we invited the MICHR staff to co-create a network map (color coded by group) that mapped the most traversed routes within the organization. The exercise helped us become aware of our regular paths and opened our eyes to how physically trapped we were within our own groups.

Low tech social network

A social network map that shows post-its with people connected to each other

To map out the connections between people, we invited the staff to create a low tech social network. Each member added themselves as a node to the network and then drew connections between themselves and their peers with whom they interacted.

The low tech social network made us realize that the admins. were the most connected nodes in the system and were central to space and information flow within the organization. The network also helped us identify connections between people we would have normally not guessed.

MICHR's workspace on the cover of "Time Magazine"

A large sticky post up board with brainstorming activities on them

To understand the aspirations of the MICHR staff in relation to their workspace, we asked them to imagine that the space was already built and was so successful that Time Magazine was doing a cover story on it. We then asked them to imagine for us what the header, sections, images, and callouts of the cover story would be.

The imaginary scenario freed the staff to think without the constraints of budgets and realistic possibilities and brought out the inner visions that staff had for their space.

Voted, weighted ideas

A concept poster with votes using sticky dots

As a ways of achieving some convergence on the ideas we had brainstormed on, in each of the workshops we broke into smaller working groups to think through and prototype corresponding solutions. The finished artifacts were posted and voted on by the larger group. This not only helped spread the ideas but was also a consensus building exercise. We as a team then used these as inputs into our final design.

Quantitative research

Bar graph image

The Rethink space team also used quantitative research methods like surveys and polls to gather information from staff about their space and to capture reactions to ideas and improvements proposed. A poll was also used to if we should move forward with the proposal and which proposal to move forward on.

Next: Understand