Common Ground is a platform that unites cooperative business members around shared goals through commitment, connection, and contribution.


MICROSOFT Design Expo 2019, 15 weeks


Carlie Guilfoile, Saloni Sabnis, Khushi Shah


Design Research, Concept Development, Prototyping, Interaction Design, Visual Design


Sketch, Principle, After Effects



Empathy at Scale

Through technology, we can watch natural disasters unfold, witness social and political revolutions, and can observe injustices as they happen. However, most people may never actually 'feel the pain' of those who are having those first-hand experiences. Without each individual's active participation based on empathy, super-wicked problems are impossible to deal with.

“Empathy conjures up active engagement — the willingness of an observer to become part of another’s experience, to share the feeling of that experience.”

- Jeremy Rifkin, the author of The Empathic Civilization

  • How can we leverage the natural triggers of empathy we have for friends & family and apply them to those who are far away?
  • How can we extend empathy to those with different life experiences (e.g. race, country of origin, privilege, socioeconomic class)?
  • How can we shape a story that will resonate with people?

Our Solution

Future of business is shared. We build community-driven businesses.


In order to mitigate socio-economic inequality and build a more inclusive and sustainable society, it is important to renovate the structure of the businesses. However, this change could not occur at once right away. Thus, to begin with, we propose Common Ground that supports cooperatives, jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprises.

Our mission is to renew our collective role in business by supporting inclusive, community-owned organizational practices that deliver equity across diverse communities. 




Our design might intervene to create a preferable future, one that is proactive, and one that benefits all our stakeholders and generates solidarity through the gates of the service workplace. In the preferable future, people will be connected and collaborate around shared values. Passive consumerism will be replaced by empowerment and solidarity around community goals. Co-ops will be a dominant ownership structure enable social, political, and financial inclusion. 

Process Overview


Research and Problem Framing

We began our design process with an expert interview and secondary research on global issues related to socio-economic inequality, automation, and unsustainable economic growth.

Through this process, we realized that these issues present the biggest challenge to the most vulnerable in our workforce, low-income service employees.


Public and workers aligning together can gain extraordinary power to influence businesses

 - The Guardian

"..workers launched a campaign to hold a public referendum on a $15 wage– not expecting to win, but… the city’s residents– by a slim margin of 77 votes– passed the country’s highest minimum wage."

Research Methods

To better understand the landscape of this problem, we spoke to 3 key stakeholders: 4 managers, 13 consumers, and 17 workers in low-income service roles. We’ve been designing with our stakeholders by involving them in our research process, from exploratory to evaluative stages.


Individual Interview


Appreciation & Break up Letter


Design Workshop


Persona Building


Community Reflection


Future Cards


Our research yielded 4 insights as such;


Because of the difference in hierarchy and power structure, it is difficult to generate empathy between stakeholders in the current business system.


"Honestly, I don't understand why we should make a close relationship with workers. Our relationship is functional - and getting to know more about each other is difficult - no time and motivation." (consumer interviewee)


A number of affinities lay between management and service employees, such as wanting to make the business better or making consumers happy. But most conflicts also lay between them, such as pressure and indifference.


Service workers are just as concerned about the quality of relationships with other stakeholders they are with wages.


"..if you’re working with someone that’s miserable, you’re miserable” (employee interviewee)


Service employees placed more collaboration, teamwork related images for their motivation. Also, most of them agreed that money is important but not the most priority.


Service employees do much for their community but they feel that the community does not do enough for them.



Consumers want to support socially responsible businesses and communities, but unaware of how to do that proactively.


"I think it’s worthwhile, to better understand the world they come from and their perspective on things… But I don’t know how those conversations can occur, at least in this environment– I mean we’re all so busy..." (consumer interviewee)

"To be honest, I cannot know much about what’s going on in the business. So what I can care about is what benefits I could get if I buy a product or support business." (consumer interviewee)


Consumers showed their desire to support others. They are willing to do something for their community and help neighbors, such as providing financial support and resources, listen to them, and volunteer for child care.


Service workers feel undervalued and excluded from decision-making in the workplace.


Customers picked HAPPY and SUPPORTIVE, different from workers who picked EQUAL and UNITED. Especially, the EQUAL card picked multiple times.


"The uncertainty of low-wage work has more to do with management decisions. They just can’t blame us. They affect people’s lives just because of how they’re running things." (service employee)


"They laid off full-time union employees and weren’t considering their family and health. I wish they would have considered us as a whole and respected our contract." (service employee)

Design Objectives

With our design challenge in mind, we enumerated objectives for our intervention. These objectives served as the basis for our concept ideation and will serve as guiding factors for evaluation upon implementation.

Induced Motivation

Help people easily move from tapping into their extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and show users the efficacy of even small actions of solidarity.

Easy Accessiblility

Give access to information that can help consumers commit to services that reflect their values.

Connected Commonalities

Create an opportunity for employees to share commonalities and build a personal relationship with co-workers and consumers.

Inclusive Voice

Facilitate a greater sense of agency in the workplace and leverage worker's on-the-ground knowledge to help contribute to business decisions.



Rose, Bud, and Thorn



Concept Development

A Digital Platform for Co-op Business

  1. Help members manage multiple membership cards and benefits
  2. Make it easy to discover businesses based on value and location
  3. Recommend and support off-line events of businesses
  4. Provide a space for discussion, appreciation, and endorsement

Key Features


Design & Iterations

Developing Wireframe


Prototyping & Evaluation


Final Wireframe & UI Design


Concept Video

Interactive Prototype


Enable transitioning from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and rewards.


Help people discover & join community-owned businesses.



Encourage online & offline solidarity and collaboration.


Help consensus-building for a vibrant democratic community. Creates opportunities for appreciation and safe spaces for discussion.



Translate community conversation into actionable data aligned with goals.

How It Tackles Problem

Why Co-ops, not other forms of business?

A cooperative is a values-based business, owned by and operated for the benefit of the people at the heart of the organization, not outside investors.

Through the research, we realized that building empathy in the current hierarchical business structure is nearly impossible. Thus, we decided to focus on promoting and scaling a co-operative business model, one that currently employs 10% of the workforce worldwide. A cooperative is a value-based business, owned and operated for the benefit of its members, not outside investors. Co-ops gave us an opportunity to tackle empathy at 3 levels.



What did I learn?

As an interaction designer, what I learned the most was how to deal with uncertainties and unfamiliarities. It was difficult to deal with a lot of ambiguities and challenges throughout the process because the problem that we wanted to solve is very complex and cannot be tackled easily. Moreover, all of our team members have not much experience of interacting with those service workers so that it was not easy for us to reach out to them for the first time. Through this project, I could go through the whole design process, from exploratory research to frame our problem spaces to evaluation and iteration.

What could have done differently if provided more time?

I am pretty satisfied with the project in general, but there are always spaces for improvement. If I could rework on this project, I would want to explore more on how to leverage offline connection and solidarity through more advanced technologies such as AR. As I learned through the project, in-person relationship is essential to build empathy. Even though our platform supports by increasing accessibility to offline events and discussion, we haven't thought much on how our platform could support when the members are all gathered in those events.

For more information about the project, please refer to medium documentation.

Copyright 2020 Jay (Jaeyeon) Huh. All rights reserved. 

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