Business Strategy | User Experience Design

Empathy Research Toolkit

Portraits for the People

Toolkit on how to research with EMPATHY  and record data through visual notetaking when trying to solve and understand wicked problems* through a personal investigation on homelessness in LA County

Wicked Problems: Problems so complex they seem impossible to solve.



Role: Solo Project
Venue/Client: Design students; Design for Transformation TDS Class
Date: Jan 2017- May 2017



  • Researched (online, data analysis and report, ethnographic method, volunteering) on local homelessness problem
  • From online data, noticed that Pasadena County was the only area in the LA County where homelessness has decreased in the past couple years
  • Investigated reasoning behind Pasadena's success by interviewing and researching local shelters and resources
  • Brainstormed main pain points and solutions
  • Created a map that people without homes could utilize as a consolidate document of local resources in Pasadena with Data Visualization class; includes diverse perspectives from students' interactions with homelessness
  • Developed a open source toolkit that designers could use to learn how to authentically connect and empathize with difficult and sensitive topics through the utilization of visual notetaking ("Empathy through Visual Data") and multiple reiterations and prototypes. Toolkit posted above.
  • Created social media presence, sharing the visual notes and stories of the people without homes ("Portraits for the People"), gaining over 180 followers in a week on Facebook




    • Connect the local ArtCenter community to people without homes
    • Research extensively on a specific wicked problem
    • Find solutions without making assumptions
    • Raise awareness on how we can improve the design process of solving wicked problems
    • Create a consolidated platform for easy accessibility and usability for local homeless resources (Map)
    • Create a toolkit to share with a specific community ("Empathy through Visual Data")

    Results/ Final Thoughts

    • This was the most sensitive and authentic project in 2017 as it challenged the perception of what it meant to help as a designer solving wicked problems
    • The goal of ultimately sharing and passing on something to a community made the project more meaningful (lesson: having a vision is just as important as having passion)
    • Visual notetaking is not that well known in the design world even though it is a very useful skill to have
    • What could have been done differently or pushed further:
      • Test the toolkit more extensively with designers and design students to see the impact or lack of impact it brings
      • Create a way to collect all the stories heard and recorded of the homeless and try to synthesize it into a data set (so that others will be able to address other pin points realized through the data)