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Conversation Toolkit for Coffee Shops and Bars in a Divided Nation


Talking with Strangers - Communication Toolkit
2017 (2 months)

Andrew Schlesinger

School of Visual Arts


The Talking with Strangers toolkit empowers proprietors to turn their 'coffee shop' into a 'coffee house’. We were inspired by the ‘coffee house’ from the Age of Enlightenment. The coffee house was the birthplace of public opinion - a place where individuals could get together, share thoughts, and develop progressive ideas. Today there is an urgent need for this, and we see the toolkit as a way to help re-build empathy and trust in a divided society. 

Talking with Strangers is a free toolkit to equip coffeeshops with simple, customisable design interventions to encourage conversation amongst their patrons.

We see the toolkit as a way to help re-build empathy and trust in a divided society. My design partner, Andrew Schlesinger and I designed the Talking with Strangers toolkit with the aim of re-building empathy, trust and healing the divide in the United States bought to light after the recent election. Talking with Strangers is free - designed to be distributed over the web with a Creative Commons attribution license.

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Talking with Strangers is a toolkit that includes multiple templates that can be customised to match the brand language and aesthetic of the establishment. 

Prior to conducting field research and prototyping, we researched the academic field of moral psychology to better understand the fundamental differences between liberal and conservatives. The most influential finding for us was thought-leader Jonathan Haidt's assertion that “you can be disgusted by a group of people, but then you meet a particular person and you genuinely discover that they’re lovely.” This insight served the backbone for Talking with Strangers, since its ultimate goal is to build empathy between people who disagree.

We were interested in exploring food as a conversational medicine and asked ourselves, how might we heal the empathetic divide from divisive politics in the United States through food and drink? The project took us across the New York to cafes, restaurants and bars. Meeting and talking with people we came to realise that people just aren’t talking with each other. The majority of people we talked to felt like they were stuck in a political bubble, talking to ‘the other side’ was

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