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The Empathy Deficit - Draft 198

This was not easy. To declare to the deciders of my future what my existence is about and how I want to contribute to the world.

Being a tutor for the last five years at the Academy of Design(AOD) in Sri Lanka, I have come across students from all walks of life. I learnt that a basic skill the future designers (as well as some current) lacked was kindness. The innate practice of empathy. While teaching Design Thinking, I introduced Human Centred Design to the Foundation Programme to establish an empathetic starting point in their design journey. Speaking to these children, and encouraging them to include their stories, personality traits, and their likes and dislikes in their designs, I realised that along with AOD’s acceptance of differences, my class gave them a place to celebrate who they are. Currently, this is the only programme in Sri Lanka that teaches empathy based design.

Sri Lanka, where I live, witnessed a 25 year old civil war due to racial differences. Even since the end of the war, diversity among class, religion, race, and even location is highlighted each year with a variety of racism driven incidents. I believe it is vital that the next generation of Sri Lankans and even those who are raised in racial conflict backgrounds are nurtured at a young age to have an innate sense of self-identity and empathy to see the world through similarities and celebrate the differences.

This is where design will play a major part. I understand the impact of visual communication where problems are solved via researched insights. As designers mainly focus on designing for others, I see establishing empathy and the practice of it on others as well as on yourself as a crucial part in the design process. I have a special focus on Gen Z, and the route to being empathetic designers with emphasis on the significance of the internet (good and bad), the influence of a pandemic world, and how visual storytelling can influence neuro-linguistic programming. For my Final Major Project, I created a project named ‘Chaotic Good’ where a set of guidelines are delivered via a book, a wearable, and an app to promote sincere kindness in order to reduce anxiety and depression among Gen Z. This brings me to the path I wish to take on how I would promote self-identity and empathy in design.

When I lived in England in the early 2000s, I had a fondness for novelty shops filled with trinkets that were an easy impulse buy. I had badges, stickers, notebooks, mugs, wrist bands, and anything else that spoke of my different personalities. Sri Lanka doesn’t offer that opportunity. As a conservative country, the youth of Sri Lanka doesn’t have the necessary means to show to the outside world what they are truly like and how they connect to others. I want to create a community where they accept the new generations and their quirks, and promote empathy and kindness within Gen Z through novelty items that are intelligently designed.

I have already established a brand under the name ‘Skinner Box’ where customers can experiment with different personalities via different products. However, to calibrate aptly with the new generations, this degree would equip me with the necessary tools and resources to enhance my vision further. This is something I’m very passionate about, and I would like to avoid getting it wrong.

In these last 17 years, I have had numerous jobs, some part time, some full time. I have been a bartender, a receptionist, a water polo coach, an assistant to a stylist shooting commercials, a photographer, a copywriter, a journalist, and a lecturer among other things. In all these parts of my story, nothing was planned, but the questions I asked, and the observations I’ve made, especially as a journalist, analysing the experiences have made me more insightful and more aware of who I am as a person. I have drowned and lost my soul in advertising and journalism. However, I found my tether when I discovered the culture of peoples’ stories and ultimately, insights in the form of human behaviour - and that is what I wish to offer.

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