-Microsoft Research (Design Expo 2019)

A training application for crisis & suicide helpline volunteers to learn and practice empathy skills in a way that is engaging, repeatable and scalable.

UI/UX Design

UX Research

Conversational Design

Concept Development

Project Management

Individual Role

App Design

UI Micro Animation

User Flow/Wireframe

Project Duration

10 Weeks Project Development + 6 Weeks Project Refine

Project Theme: Empathy on Scale

Design a product, service, or solution that enables/creates empathy across a large and diverse demographic. Demonstrate a creation that is innovative, maps back to a clear need, and leverages current technologies (or those that are feasible in the near-term).

Our Design Journey

What's empathy?

In this project, we discovered that empathy is more than a feeling. It can also become a practice.


The emphasis is not on how deep we can relate to other people’s problems or lives, but on how we can make other people feel heard and understood.

So it’s less about what *we* feel, and more about how we make *other people* feel.

All begins with a conversation

We had a conversation with our friend Ali, who is a suicide survivor.


We realized that Ali is not an isolated suicide survivor case. There are many people who, like Ali, suffered from depression and had attempted suicide. Maybe we all have friends that seem cheerful but deep inside, their mind, they struggle with suicidal thoughts. 


In the U.S alone there are 5 million people who had attempted suicide. There are some people who rely on mental health practitioner or friends, but for people who live in rural areas, or places that are not accessible, mental health services are not always readily available. 

In the U.S



So a lot of people who doesn’t have access, rely on suicide prevention helplines. 


Here, we see that the number of national lifeline callers in 2017 reached 2 million people, a very sharp increase compared to when the helpline first started in 2005.


Number's of Calls


Number's of Calls

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline U.S

However, to meet the increasing demand for suicide prevention, just scaling up is *not* enough.

According to a counselor, Jasrin, there’s an immediate and increasing need for crisis helpline. Volunteers are often sent out without adequate training…


Because there is an immediate and increasing need for crisis helpline, volunteers are sent out without adequate training...


And from Our friend, Ali, a suicide survivor who had a terrible experience calling a helpline. During the call, he felt offended and not heard. He didn’t feel the responder was genuine in their responses.



I feel offended and not heard, I felt worse after...I don’t feel the responder was genuine in their responses.


Fortunately, Ali survived. But what if he didn’t? 

This is when it hit us that it’s not enough for helpline centers to **JUST** scale up but they need to scale up **without** compromising the quality..because life are at stake.

Helpline centers need to scale up without compromising quality of responders

In order to learn about how we can solve the problems, we researched into how different centers train their volunteers, and we have identified several main issues that make the training process inefficient.


Helpline Clients







Training is not standardized & not designed with user-friendliness

Training empathy skills is still very dependent on specialist. 

To solve these issues, we designed LISTEN:


An application for helpline volunteers to learn and practice empathy skills, in a way that is more engaging, repeatable and accessible.

Brainstorm, Prototype, and Iterate

List out the existing program stages in helping a caller

Building Rapport





Plan of


Wrap up

the call

Study training manuals to understand how to design the content

Ideate the possible solutions

Study Google and Amazon Conversational UI Design Guide and draw out conversational flow

Design the conversation on PowerPoint to test out the concept

Build lo-fi prototype to test the interaction



High level conversation flow

1. Break down complex concepts into smaller modules

2. Simulate experience with a real caller via pre-recorded scenarios

3. More verbal practices

Break down user flow for module, reflection 

How the app works

How to navigate through each screen

Home page -> Onboarding

Level of practices with hints

Given scores


Working Prototype (based on the proof of concept)

Scenario Voice-over

Voice Recognition

Sentence Similarity Scoring (word2vec)

Next Steps

So what we have built so far is an app that allows volunteers to learn empathy skills and verbally practice them.

But for Listen to be adapted by centers, we need to

Complete Training Experience

Accurate Language Scoring

In Conclusion

Since helpline volunteers are the first line of help for people who are at risk for suicide, helpline centers really need to scale up in a way that still maintain the quality of their volunteers.


By creating a training experience that are more engaging, repeatable, and accessible for volunteers, Listen allows for scaling up effectively **without** overwhelming the centers and the specialists. Essentially, Listen leverages on the volunteers’ own willingness to help and learn.

Just like the helpline volunteers, we all can learn ways to empathetically listen, reflect, and talk with people around us in a way that makes them feel understood and heard.

This is how we arrived at this concept of

Empathy as a practice

More about project details, click here

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