Aya Jaffar, a graduate of the MFA Transdisciplinary Design program, created the Empathy Workshop, a design-led exercise held at the Fast Company Innovation Festival. The workshop introduced festival attendees to the human-centered design processes Jaffar employs in her work for a branch of the design consultancy IDEO.org that takes on humanitarian issues, including the current refugee crisis. The workshop’s goal was to develop participants’ empathy for others and help them find commonalities with displaced persons and thereby connect on an individual basis. Says Jaffar, “How can we gain empathy for refugees if we don’t interact with them?”
The engaging collateral devised by Jaffar and her colleagues included fictitious refugee “letters” that discuss relatable struggles like finding jobs or keeping in touch with far-off family. The suite was anchored by a poster that folds into a brochure, with prompts to guide participants through the workshop. Questions on the brochure’s cover challenged workshop attendees to apply their newfound empathy to problems like those facing refugee organizations daily. “The questions suggest there might be a variety of answers. They aren’t closed cases, and people respond to that,” says Jaffar.
Having grown up in Iraq and moved a number of times, Jaffar has long investigated the meaning of identity and place. “It felt natural to combine my passion and Parsons’ approach to solution finding. People can ideate answers to significant world problems only through collaboration and openness.”