Designing empathy: the role of a “control room” in an e‐learning environment

Annie Gentès (Co‐Design Lab, Télécom ParisTech, Paris, France)
Marie Cambone (Co‐Design Lab, Télécom ParisTech, Paris, France)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Publication date: 12 April 2013



The purpose of this paper is to focus on the challenge of designing an interface for a virtual class, where being represented together contributes to the learning process. It explores the possibility of virtual empathy.


The challenges are: How can this feeling of empathy be recreated through a delicate staging of location and interactions? How can the feeling of togetherness be organized in a 3D environment without creating a feeling of distraction? What are the tools of empathy in a mediated situation? The authors propose to use the concept of “contradictory semiotic analysis” to describe the design process that taps into visual cultures to build a representation and tools that support users' empathetic interactions. The analysis of designers' work from a semiotic point of view shows that they do not necessarily paint after life but play with different media and representations to build “remediated” situations of use.


The paper introduces the concept of “control room” elaborated after Manovich's control panel, to describe the visual interface that supports a diversity of points of view, hence supporting mediated empathetic relationships.


The paper answers the design questions: how can the system of representation support the feeling of empathy amongst participants through a delicate staging of space, people and of interactions within this space? How can a participant get, first, a feeling of togetherness and, second, a feeling of empathy with other participants? The design methodology is explained based on a “contradictory semiotic analysis” made of the comparison with similar platforms and with other modalities of empathy in different media. Second, the design proposition is described. Third, the design challenges that this type of production entails are discussed and the difficulties faced during the design process are analyzed.



Gentès, A. and Cambone, M. (2013), "Designing empathy: the role of a “control room” in an e‐learning environment", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 31-48.

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