The image of the new Tianjin Binhai Library in Tianjin, China, became our inspiration for imaging an all-consuming VR experience where people in the City could experience the lives of others.

The idea of our transparent City Hall (for our MSc HCI Creativity Module) morphed into a Library of Human Experiences.

Our Critical Fabulation led us to imagine Citizens of the City donating their lived experiences to be share with others in an VR experience for the purposes of connecting with others more deeply.

Imagined uses included:

  • Learn what it’s like to be Prime Minister for day
  • Learn a skill from an expert
  • Try out a new job or volunteering experience
  • Go on a virtual date to see if you’re compatible
  • What is it like to cross the channel on an inflatable?
  • Experience the city as a disabled person
  • Understand what its like to be a criminal or a victim
Mocking up a leaflet for the imagined Empathy Library enabled us to explore how it may function.
We explored use cases and terms & conditions.

Cultural Probe

We developed a cultural probe to send out to friends (particularly thinking of my actor friends), to imagine what it would be like to experience the life of another: what might they learn, how might it change their perspective?

Cultural probe inviting people to imagine and report on an experience at the Empathy Library.

Wikipedia: Cultural probes (or design probes) is a technique used to inspire ideas in a design process. It serves as a means of gathering inspirational data about people’s lives, values and thoughts. The probes are small packages that can include any sort of artifact (like a map, postcard, camera or diary) along with evocative tasks, which are given to participants to allow them to record specific events, feelings or interactions. The aim is to elicit inspirational responses from people, in order to understand their culture, thoughts and values better, and thus stimulate designer’s imaginations. Probes is one of the prominent approaches in the practice of co-designing. It is design-led approaches as described by the landscape of design research and practice. probes are usually used in the early front end of the design process. The probes were not designed to be analyzed, nor did we summarize what they revealed about the sites as an explicit stage in the process. Rather, the design proposals we produced reflected what we learned from the materials. Furthermore, probes were born to gather “fragmentary clues” about people’s “lives and thoughts” which means they are tools to inspire — others argue that they can be used to, provide relevant information and gather empathetic data.

Film Making

We explored simple film-making to imagine how the Empathy Library might work. In this experience, I took the scene from “It’s a Sin” to imagine what it would be like to be a refugee crossing the channel. I didn’t need to do much, Russell Davies had done his work properly when he crafted this scene as he turned the viewers reality on its head by crafting a situation where an English person is forced into this horrific situation.

Before and After experience of the Empathy Library — crossing the Channel as a refugee, with footage from ‘Years and Years’ BBC.

The first VR experience I had was in the British Library where a PhD student was running a study from one of the tables using a VR film “Clouds over Sidra” that gave the experience of being in a refugee camp.

Critical Speculation

We also imagined what could go wrong with such an idea, from data leaks to hacks, for the experiences to be leveraged by criminals, to fake experiences being uploaded.

Collaborative Miro Board brainstorming for the life-cycle of the Empathy Library.
Mock-up of Daily Mail Newspaper reporting the dark side of the Empathy Library.

UX UI Analyst at Capgemini