Seung Chan Lim

Realizing Empathy

For the first nine years of my professional practice, I apprenticed as a Computer Scientist / Interaction Designer practicing both Human-Centered and Information-Centered design. Unsatisfied with the designs of personal computing products resulting from either approaches, I decided to relocate myself to an environment in stark contrast to my own, in order to understand what was missing.

For the past three years I immersed myself in a traditional art school, studying acting, dancing, drawing, writing, and making with  clay, glass, light, metal, paper, plaster, plastic, type, and wood. Through this experience, I came to the realization that the process of  making with physical materials—including my own body—is analogous to engaging in an empathic conversation with another person. Reflecting on this experience, I discovered that a deep sense of reciprocity, and a firm grounding in ethics is missing from the design of the modern personal computer.

The outcome of this thesis investigation is a hypothesis that translates both the  language of making with physical materials, and the space in which the interaction takes place, to the domain of computation. Based on both my craft and performance studies, I have distilled and developed six necessary qualities—shared sense of safety, comfort, honesty, integrity, dignity, and metaphor— that a computer must be designed to afford before it can provide an opportunity for an empathic conversation between computation and the human body. The thesis explores these qualities through the use of a full-scale sketch model, series of video exploration, a book of written stories, reflections, and conversations, as well as both static and animated diagrams. I hope you empathize.