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Parallel is an interactive wall that connects people from across the world and opens a window into other cultures.


Design Challenge

How might we extend empathy to those with different cultural backgrounds and life experiences?

Project Type

Advanced Projects in IxD: Microsoft Expo (DES 483: Winter 2018)


Researcher, Experience Designer



Concept Development, Product Vision, 
Research + Strategy, Interaction Design


Justin Lund, Surabhi Wadhwa, Angela Yung


Socially Engaged Design

Increased use of technology can be viewed as a major reason as to why 1 in 5 Americans often feel lonely or socially isolated. We wanted to use technology to bring people closer. We looked at examples of Socially Engaged Design which involved communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. The problem with these examples however, was that they were limited by their physical location, making them only accessible to a specific socio-economic status. We wanted our design intervention to be accessible by everyone and by installing them at different geographical locations, we hoped to facilitate conversation and foster meaningful connections with people from different walks of life.

"Empathy conjures up active engagement —

the willingness of an observer to become a part of another's experience, to share the feeling of that experience."

Jeremy Rifkin (author of The Empathic Civilization)

Research Methods

Testing our assumptions

Before we dove into the design and technology aspect, we wanted to test our assumptions with real people and validate our design response. Our client raised concerns regarding people’s safety as well as some privacy issues. We were advocates of freedom of expression and wanted to learn whether or not it should be regulated. We also waned to see how people would respond to being filmed in public.


How does it feel to have a conversation with a stranger you’ve just met?


How does one interact through gestures and explore body movement?

Wizard of Oz

How would people respond to collaborating and interacting with strangers?

Reflective Interviews

How did people feel about their interactions and overall experience?

Key Features

How it works

Interactive transparent touch displays (36-feet long, 12-feet tall) are installed in urban spaces at different geographical locations. Collaborative exercises periodically appear on the digital screen that encourage people to draw or write using gestures. Body movements are tracked through motion sensors and projected as avatars in real-time. Once participants have interacted with other avatars, visual cues prompt them to place their palm onto the screen. Placing their hand on the screen allows them to see a corresponding participant from another location. After the reveal, participants are presented with questions that make it easy for them to start a conversation and get to know each other.


Virtual avatars represent full body movement through motion capture in real-time


Free response and connect-the-dots exercises encourage expression and collaboration through digital art


Placing one’s palm on the screen reveals the person on the other side


Prompts encourage conversation - “Describe your ideal day look like” or “What is something you’ve always dreamed of doing and why haven’t you done it yet?”


Positive Humanism

We wanted to show real people and honest reactions instead of hiring actors and scripting responses for our concept pitch. Everyone who experienced Parallel gained something unique. Several participants walked away with the strangers they had just met, continuing to reflect on their experience.

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