Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Empathy

Photo: Dan Terpstra (
Speaking at PechaKucha Grand Rapids. (Photo: Dan Terpstra,

I recently gave two talks at two very different conferences. One was a pecha kucha (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide) at the Midwest UX conference [video], and the other was a TED-style talk for The Summit youth ministry conference [video available for purchase].

Even though the audiences were very different, both talks ended up revolving around design and empathy.

And building those presentations was hard, scary work. I bounced drafts past friends and colleagues. After a late-night run-through with another designer (only two days before The Summit), I ended up rewriting almost the whole thing. I knew I was onto something important, but I was really nervous to give the talks.

Because I don’t feel like an expert on empathy. Or design. Because I still have a lot more to learn about ministry and theology.

Because I don’t like feeling vulnerable.

I procrastinated. I rehearsed. I downplayed what I was going to talk about. I wrote out notes because I didn’t trust myself to remember. And when the time came, I still stepped in front of the screen–half because I thought I had something worth sharing, and half because I was beyond the point of being able to back out! And I shared stories about a number of people I’ve met over the last year through design projects at AC4D and sparkhouse. Listening to and empathizing with them…and being changed in the process.

That’s what I know most about empathy.

Empathy changes power dynamics. As a designer, the stuff I make impacts what other people do–and in the world of ministry, it can even change what others believe. I have a disproportionate amount of power. But practicing human-centered design and embracing empathy shifts the power from me creating stuff for others to us making things together.

And empathy isn’t just a tool I pick up and use to understand and learn about others. Done right, empathy changes me too. It makes me accountable to others. Vulnerable.

But I wouldn’t go back to living primarily in my head, which feels more comfortable to me. No, because empathy is integral to my life as a designer. And as a person.

What is “real beauty?” A response to the latest Dove campaign

As soon as I saw the latest video from Dove’s “Real Beauty” initiative earlier this week, I tweeted the link, saying I want to show it to every teen girl I know.

In the video, women sit in a curtained-off area and describe their appearance to an FBI-trained forensic sketch artist as he renders their portrait. But the video doesn’t stop here. Earlier in the day, these women had conversations with strangers (with no explanation why). These strangers then enter the room and go through a similar process—but instead of talking about themselves, they describe the women they conversed with that morning.

The result literally illustrates the women’s negative self-perceptions when the two different sketches are matched side by side.

This is part of a larger campaign Dove has been running to showcase “real beauty”—but not without controversy. And I agree—there’s plenty that’s not-quite-right with what Dove is doing.


I still want to show this to all the teen girls everyone I know. I want to watch it multiple times for myself.

Because it’s a chance for critical reflection. To talk about media and manipulation and motivations. To help young people become savvy about advertising. What is Dove selling here? How does it reinforce or conflict with other messages we hear around us?

Because body-bashing happens, and Dove’s campaign can spur conversation about about imago dei and what it means to be made in the image of God. The video isn’t perfect, and that’s why it shouldn’t stop us.

Because it’s a good reminder that our self-perceptions are skewed. And to reframe how we see ourselves in both theological and practical ways.

Because all of us are more beautiful than we think.

And we are more beautiful than Dove thinks…because we are more than beauty.

When tools get in the way

I’ve written before about the importance of learning to use tools to communicate our ideas. Inability to use a piece of software shouldn’t be the limiting factor in pursuing a good idea.

In the intervening weeks, I’ve thrown myself into experimenting with technology that helps me be productive and communicate ideas.

I’ve spent more hours than I can count poking around Illustrator and Photoshop to replicate images of fruit and iPhone apps and storyboards.

I’ve recorded videos using iMovie, drafted numerous documents and presentations using Pages and Keynote, and created digital sketches using my Adonit Jot and the Paper app on my iPad. I’ve captured and converted hours of video and audio footage from research projects. I’ve implemented the Action Method system across all my electronic devices to track my ever-expanding task list. I’ve Skyped in a classmate from 2,000 miles away to participate in class even when he couldn’t be physically present.

I’ve figured out an entirely new paperless workflow using iAnnotate to read and take notes on the articles, chapters, and white papers for classes.

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with a lot of technological tools–familiar and new–to help me get through this quarter.

But this week, as my classmates and I sketched people and digital interfaces and gave another round of presentations, I’ve been embracing analog methods again. The tactile stuff of markers and dry-erase boards and paper and sticky notes reminded me of something important:

Sometimes the tools just get in the way.

Because the idea needs to come first. Technology can support articulating an idea and bringing it to fruition. Hardware and software can be great ways to produce artifacts. But they can also serve as a serious distraction and focus our attention on the wrong things.

When I’m working on a project in Photoshop, it’s easy to zoom in on one portion of the screen and literally move pixels around. I can refine the details for hours, and completely forget what idea or value I’m trying to communicate more broadly.

So my challenge to myself this week has been to put pen to paper and sketch through concepts before I start digitizing them. I can draw something out in a minute or less and iterate several versions in roughly the same amount of time it takes to start up my computer and open Illustrator or Keynote.

Better yet, I think the physical interaction with an idea makes me more likely to refine and improve it. And it’s also way more satisfying to crumple up a piece of paper and thro it across the room than dragging a file to the trash.

Before I die…

I just came across this project by Candy Chang, who converted an abandoned house in New Orleans into a space for people to share what matters to them.

Some powerful statements here. In addition to making me think about what I would write on a wall like this, it also got me thinking about how to transform places of loss into places where community members can share their hopes and dreams.

Beautiful project.

What would happen if people did something similar in their churches and workplaces?

(via PSFK)

#runrevrun: Keeping Fit, Keeping Faith

Today is the big launch for #runrevrun!

About a week ago, Adam Walker Cleaveland tweeted about possibly starting a fitness/running/health blog to build on the #runrevrun concept…and a week later, we’re live! I’m excited to be contributing to this community for ministry types who are trying to live healthy lives. From the about us page:

Ministers are people too, people who need to live healthy lives. This site is a place for pastors and friends to share stories about trying to keep — or get — fit. We’re runners and walkers, vegetarians and meat-lovers, those who practice yoga and those who can’t even touch their toes, but we believe our bodies are a gift from God. This site is a place to share our journey of faith and fitness.

Read more about us here, and then check out #runrevrun on Facebook and Twitter (@Run_Rev_Run).

I hope you’ll join us as we work to keep fit and keep faith.


My Mom visited over the weekend and just left this morning. We talked, shopped, cleaned/organized my neglected house, went out to eat, and set up her new MacBook (and Facebook profile!). And I’m feeling incredibly blessed.

I’m so grateful for her humor. For her perspective on life. For her patience, and gentle encouragement, and willingness to learn. For her humility.

I’m thankful that we don’t agree on everything. And that she continues to practice her debate skills (which sometimes drove me crazy when I was younger, but now means that I  consider many sides of an issue before deciding what I think).

I’m grateful she lives only a few hours away, and that in between, we check in regularly via email and phone (and soon, over Skype too).

I love that people who know her can tell I’m her daughter.

I’m thankful that even after spending all weekend with her, I am sad to see her go home.

What are you grateful for today?

I. Love. My. Job.

Why do I love being a resource designer for sparkhouse?

Because I get to work with some amazingly smartcreativetalented, thoughtful, artisticdedicated people to make some insanely cool youth ministry resources.

Today and tomorrow, we’re hosting a bunch of youth ministers and creative theologians for a “Creative Jam” to kick off work on the next round of re:form resources. Here are some shots from around “the house” today:

Stay tuned!