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2014 / 2015

Creating a way for the world to explore, understand, and chart emotion



Visualize human emotion and create an interface that allows people to navigate and understand Dr. Paul Ekman's model of emotion, to satisfy a direct ask from the Dalai Lama.

A few years back, Dr. Paul Ekman was introduced to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and had hours of intense discussion about human emotions. Both of them fascinated by the other, as well as the collision of their fields, they formed a strong friendship that would bring on collaboration and new discoveries. Dr. Ekman expressed the desire to visualize his work, and the Dalai Lama expressed the wish to support the endeavor. 

Dr. Ekman came to us at Stamen to take his research and create an interactive "Map of Emotions."


This was initially scoped to be a 6-month project, but it ended up outlasting the entire team's time at Stamen. 


​Design a site that:

  • Teaches universally-recognized emotions and their varying degrees

  • Teaches the derivatives of each emotion

  • Teaches unique signals

  • Allows for self-discovery

  • Creates a spatial relationship between appropriate emotions

  • Gamifies education

  • Ultimately helps users navigate to "Calm"

  • Satisfies Paul Ekman



Concept - collaboration with team

Visual design

User Experience

Presentations to client




Project Managers

The mouth-watering ask

When Stamen was approached with the opportunity to work with a leading psychologist commissioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself, we were out of our minds with excitement. 

This was the entire studio's dream-project, and only two of us (three including a contracted Project Manager) were lucky enough to get to work on it. I think we all let our excitement get the better of us, however, because from the get-go, we failed to understand the true wishes of our client. 

At the time of the project, Paul Ekman was an 80 year old man with very little knowledge of the internet and its possibilities, and Stamen was experimenting with processing, touch, and motion-tracking. We had very different ideas of what this "map" could be. 


In order to have any idea how to visualize emotion, we needed to understand Dr. Ekman's model. He supplied us with tons of his research and he and his daughter Eve came to the studio multiple times to give us crash courses.

The materials he supplied us with gave us a good idea of his expectations, and encouraged us to provide a solution that would exceed those expectations. 

Ideas and Iterations


We needed to find ways to both visualize and navigate emotions, so we went broad with our ideas and got feedback from Paul. 

From eliciting emotions to quizzes and from atomic structures to literal geography, we explored as many concepts as we thought had merit. Paul always gravitated to the most literal. 


As we learned more about our subject matter and our client, we moved away from the more literal geographic spacial concept to something that could be viewed from many sides. 

We learned new characteristics about Paul's model of emotions, and defined new features of the site:

  • Emotions have no set spatial relationship to each other. 

  • We need the ability for users to navigate the general world of emotions, as well as be able to chart and track their own. This means dual views are necessary, and comparing the views would be idea. 

  • Each emotion has different intensities and stages that would also need to be represented. 


As visual concepts evolved, we started to address how a user would begin to track and understand their own world of emotions, which was more of Eve's specialty. 


I won't be coy about it; this is one of the best moments of my career. 

Though the work wasn't perfect, I will never forget the feeling of seeing HHDL himself flipping through the pages of our work accompanied by the incredible Eve Ekman. 

The Dalai Lama Reviews the Map
Play Video

Here's some of what we sent him:

The Direction

Though it wasn't presented in it's entirety to His Holiness, we decided as a larger team to move forward with the Atomic world. 

Our next steps were to map out both the way the site would function and chart the Atomic rings. 


We got the project near-completion before everything blew up. Miscommunications with the client and misunderstandings within the team caused the project to fall apart. 

This was truly a traumatic time for all involved, and it was a shame to see such an incredible experience come to such a fiery end. 

The team disbanded, but eventually, the CEO managed to convince Paul to another try, starting almost from scratch. Unfortunately, no one from the original team stayed long enough to work on it.  


Password: SuperSecret

(It's very long because I thought people cared at the time. Oh, hindsight! Feel free to skim.)

For the Heck of It

I was so excited about this project that I decided to go through the exercise (on my own) of exploring what a community of users learning about emotions could be. 

Using the work we had started with Eve on the Timeline of Emotions, I developed a quick flow that could capture and track a person's emotional occurrence. 


So many things could have gone differently with this project. While it was one of the most rewarding projects I've ever worked on, it was also one of the most painful. All in all, I'm still so glad I had the chance to do it. 

  • We all learned a lot about investing time in understanding our client. Instead of trying to convince Paul with the work, we should have spent more time collaborating with he and his daughter before any design work happened. 

  • Team unity is another lesson we all learned throughout this experience. It's never a good idea for anyone on a team to have solo-conversations with an unsure client, especially if that team member is feeling unsure about the direction. Discussions should happen internally first. 

  • Lastly, if I had the chance to do this project again, I would change basically everything about the UI, and much about the UX. It was early in my interaction career and while I stand behind the concepts in this work, the interface itself is heinous, and that was all me.  

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