Empathy Mapping Ghosts of the Past: Designing Beyond the Rational

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I will facilitate a face-to-face design fiction workshop with a group of between 5-15 participants. We will use empathy mapping, role-play and participatory printmaking during the session and work collaboratively in groups of 5 with up to three pieces of English folklore as key sources, these offer a variety of perspectives on the affective ideals of ‘marriage,’ bringing together fascinating and obscured tales of hope, self-sacrifice and embodied female power whilst also considering a past where gender inequality and injustices were more acute.

The workshop will have three goals: to critically explore what is gained and by whom by the existence of these tales, to elicit and articulate the participants feelings towards cipher-like historical characters, and to explore our personal and collective relationship to rituals through experiencing first hand some ritual-play. The workshop will have two stages, the first Empathy Mapping Ghosts of the Past will last for 30 mins in which I will share the key texts as the primary “semiotic resource” (Leeuwen, 2005: 285).

Key sources/texts:

Hobby’s Well - named after a wishing well in Grosvenor Park, Chester. Local folklore claims that if a ‘love struck’ girl stood with one leg in the well and one leg outside then their wish for a husband would come true. We will explore how this ritual feels and what associations it triggers from our contemporary stance.

Impossible Stairs - formulated on the Wishing Steps, which are a long ‘flight’ of stairs arranged in six landings and sets of three that were built into Chester’s Roman city defence walls in 1785. Local folklore claims that if an unmarried girl can run up these steps three times without drawing a new breath, then the man of her dreams would propose to her within the year. Like Hobby’s Well the ritualistic nature and context of this folktale will be explored alongside the broader allegorical signifier of ‘stairs’ and the physicality of successfully ascending.

Charlotte Lucy – is based on the tale of C.L. Beatrix Egerton the only daughter of Wilbraham and Elizabeth Egerton of the Egerton of Tatton family, who was purportedly drowned in Rostherne Mere (Cheshire) on the eve of her wedding in 1845. However, official records cite her death as a consequence of a bronchial infection. This piece will function as a counter narrative to Hobby’s Well where we will explore the dynamics of escape from marriage through self-sacrifice.

We will then play/speculate with the traditional function of the “empathy map” (Gray, 2010). An empathy map is a widely used tool within the field of UX and HCI practice, used to foster a deeper insight into the customer or service user's motivations. However, in this workshop we will repurpose the mapping quadrants: Says? Thinks? Does? Feels? towards imagining the fictional characters inside their narrative frame. The group(s) will be invited to establish some visual drivers and map cultural associations (i.e. images, words, referents, emotions). Once the group(s) have externalised their thoughts, we will come together and discuss any patterns that have emerged and attempt to consider the function (goal) of these narratives in terms of what may be gained and by whom by their existence as folklore.

Having immersed ourselves into these narratives the second part of the workshop - Designing Beyond the Rational (lasting 60 mins) will seek to specifically discuss our relationship to the ritual acts in these stories. I will introduce the concepts of disenchantment (Josephson-Storm, 2017), the notion/ limits of "neck-up’" disembodied perception as Cartesian rationalism and objectivity, which can promote an unhelpful viewer neutrality and detachment (Fisher, 2021). Alongside the sentipensar “thinking-feeling” approaches as discussed by Borda (1987) and Escobar (2020). Then I will facilitate group role-play and ritual-play using the process of printmaking to individually experience/perform newly designed rituals. These rituals will be aligned to the themes found in Charlotte Lucy, Hobby’s Well and Impossible Stairs source texts – and act as prompts to reflect, through direct embodied experience - on the meaning of rituals, aspiration and agency.

In the last 10 mins, I will close the workshop with an invite for the whole group to reconvene and review the outcomes of their printmaking and to offer any end reflections on how these acts made them feel-think and offer up any further adjacent references or associations. Participants will be invited to take their ritual printmaking away with them.

Summary: Aims and Goals

What participants will gain from the workshop:

Through the empathy mapping experience, the participants will have a more affective encounter by engaging with the selected folklore and begin to understand the power (and limits) of institutional frameworks that influence how we see and use folklore.

Through the role-play and ritual-play participants have been introduced to the possibilities of activating embodied experiences and their self-awareness or consciousness regarding rationalist and sentipensar thinking-feeling processes as legitimate forms of knowledge and experience.

As the workshop facilitator:

I would seek permission to use the participants’ images and insights as data for my ongoing critical research project To Have & To Hold (Leishman, 2019 - ), which is formulated around the same key texts, and lastly depending on the diversity of disciplines represented in the group I would potentially gain further understanding of new contexts and impacts for the design practice-based approaches and topics shared in the workshop.
Period8 Jun 202310 Jun 2023
Event typeWorkshop
LocationNew York, United StatesShow on map