As a sensitive and intuitive person, I have always understood that the ability to empathize with others is an essential part of day-to-day interactions. This week, I discovered that it is also a crucial aspect of the discipline of design.
Koskinen and Battarbee’s article about empathic design expanded my understanding about the role of empathy in creating products and built environments. The authors conveyed the increasing need for interpretive designers who are better able to relate to users and comprehend their needs, which broadened my perception of what my responsibilities might be if I choose to become a full-time interior designer. If all of the requisite skills and qualifications of an interior designer were put together to form a puzzle, technical expertise would only be a few of the pieces; nowadays, the puzzle would incorporate more and more of the social and emotional abilities that are necessary for gaining insight into how people relate to the objects and spaces around them. This information made me consider all of the experiences I had in my internship last summer and think about how the professionals I worked with communicated with their clients in order to interpret their needs and wishes.
Linda Sorrento’s article, A Natural Balance: Interior Design, Humans, and Sustainability, helped me discern how empathic design can be applied to sustainability. The reading emphasized the importance of recognizing interrelationships between humans, buildings, and the natural world as a basis for accomplishing an “integrative design process.” I believe that empathic design techniques can play a significant role in adopting the perspective that Sorrento explains. In order to successfully implement sustainable solutions such as eco-corridors and daylight sensors, designers have to project themselves into users’ situations and discover how people think about and interface with the places they live and work in. One thing I have observed is that most people want their everyday lives to be as easy as possible (a lot of people won’t even recycle if they have to go out of their way to do it). Therefore, our responsibility as interior designers is to integrate sustainable features in a way that is convenient and natural for the space’s end users – we can’t improve the health of our planet unless the solutions we provide make people’s lives easier.
While the readings supplied me with a good foundation for understanding empathic design, Paul Bennett said something in his TED Talk that really gave me a deeper appreciation of the impact it can have. He described the process of generating products as “people designing their own experiences.” This simple statement made me realize that there’s more to developing an idea than just producing an end result. When we design a room, we are not only generating a space in which humans can function, we are shaping the experiences that they have in that space. The same goes for designing a garment or a household item. I think that grasping this concept is key to creating artifacts and environments that provide comfort, enjoyment, and meaning for the people who use them.