Tool Share: Love + Break-Up Letters

In anticipation of our upcoming workshop, Facilitating Design Thinking, a few members of our team will be sharing their favorite tools and how to go about using them. Last week, TDG Marketing Lead, Jane Garcia Buhks kicked things off and wrote an awesome piece on Empathy Interviews. Now, I’m going to keep it going with one of my favorites: Love + Break-up Letters.

Whether or not we’ve actually sent them, most of us have written a strongly worded letter to the person who has held our heart or who has hurt it. And usually, the sending of the letter isn’t what makes it satisfying—it’s the action of writing out all your thoughts and feelings.

Love + Break-up Letters are a great tool for building empathy because they encourage the writer to think about their emotional responses and behavior in a new, unexpected way.

I’m not the kind of person who can be put on the spot with a question and answer with an eloquent, well-stated response. I’m a hands-on learner and processor, so, to really sort out what’s going on in my noggin, I have to put pen to paper. I love this tool because it’s a way to better understand the nuances of human thought.

So, What Do Love + Break-Up Letters Have To Do With Design Thinking?

Ever answered a question one way, and then again in a totally different way when the question was asked differently? (Think about how you might answer, “What do you do for work?” compared to “How do you spend your time?”).

It’s not just asking the question that’ll get you the information you’re looking for, but also how you ask it. Love + Break-Up Letters is a great example of that. Sure, you can ask your user “what do you like/dislike about this brand” and risk them word vomiting a response, or you can change the context and offer a more interesting approach to getting those feelings out.

It’s for this reason that we share this tool at our workshop Facilitating Design Thinking. Because the workshop is hyper-focused on building empathy with customers and developing meaningful insights, we utilize Love + Break-up Letters to help get to those deeper motivations and feelings.

What are Love + Break-Up Letters

Love and Break-up Letters are empathy building tools that are intended to reveal a person’s emotions, motivations and values regarding your brand, product or experience. They’re useful for revealing emotional preferences and drivers of behavior, which are often more difficult to uncover in an interview. Thanks to the folks at Smart Design for developing this tool!


1-2 hours prep

Participants, 1 Facilitator, 1 Record-keeper

Blank paper, pens, and an audio or video recorder

When you should use Love + Break-up Letters

It’s helpful to have a few interactive activities to go along with your Empathy Interviews. Use Love + Break-Up Letters when facilitating to keep your participants engaged and allow them to talk about their experiences in a new way. It’s also way more fun than asking them to list their likes and dislikes!

Consider this tool when you need to:
  • Identify emotional drivers behind behaviors
  • Learn about customer preferences
  • Change up how you’re conducting empathy interviews


1. Prep the Instructions

Whether you’re leading this activity in-person or remotely, be tight with the instructions and what kind of brand relationship you want them to focus on. If doing asynchronous research, be sure to also include an example and when to submit the letter.

2. Read it Aloud

Ideally, you’ll have the research participants read their letter in their own voice. They will be able to add emotion, body language, and tone that best reflects their mindset about the brands. Record the video or audio of it to share with your team, stakeholders, and to save in your archives.

Some Helpful Resources

Smart Design: The Breakup Letter
Smart Design: Love Letters
6 Designers Break Up With Once-Cherished Products

Want to practice this tool IRL (and learn how to lead your team through it)? Come hang out with us at Facilitating Design Thinking: Understanding Customer Behavior
on May 7-8.
Katie Duffie
[email protected]
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