Empathic design, in my own eyes, is a way of taking sustainable design to a completely new level. The emphasis on the smaller details, the individual, I think is crucially important in designing with not only the long term in mind, but with functionality and meaning in mind as well. I think there are many things that are consumed daily where the meaning low to almost non-existent. I think this sort of mindless consumption is probably the biggest contributor to unsustainable practices in or society today. When a designer takes the time to put meaning into a design with other’s needs in mind, this gives the item purpose, and is likely to be kept and treated with care. Not only that, but a purchase or design or environment can bring good feelings to someone for more than just a momentary purchase.
I think this can be seen in action in the Paul Bennett TED Talk Design is in the Details, where they use a patient’s experience in a hospital as an area to better design with empathy. He first shows a video of what a patient sees daily in a hospital: the ceiling. Just white ceiling tiles and florescent lights. From there he goes through the process of brainstorming done by the staff at the hospitals in order to make the stay of a patient more comfortable. Nurses decorate the ceiling with leaves and other patterns to make the view more interesting, while other staff add mirrors to the gurneys so that doctors and patients can see each other while talking. I think these little things make a huge difference on comfort and happiness to a patient so that they are able to create connections through design rather than just providing a service. Though it is not stated in the video, I imagine these sort of details that are added made their return rate of patients much higher. Simply due to giving their designs a purpose and meaning. I feel that this source of purpose and meaning ties into my oldest item as well. My item, my grandfather’s infinity carving, is something that was passed down to me before he died. Carved when he was a young boy, he made the item as a comfort when he was stressed or upset. He would simply follow the loop of the infinity with his fingers and it would calm him down. My grandfather gave this to me knowing I had also just gone through a traumatic experience of my own, and wanted something to comfort me after he was no longer there to do so. It is just a small curvy piece of wood, something that many would have just thrown away… but it has stayed with my family for so long and has yet to stay with my family for many more years. Even though the item was made by my grandfather in empathy for himself, I think this is a great example how something can stay around and be passed on with enough meaning and purpose.
I wanted to talk to another older individual I know about some of the challenges they face and what I could do in order to brainstorm an empathic design of my own. I spoke to my father, who just turned 70 a few months ago, to see what in clothing and apparel that he found challenging. After speaking for a few moments, it was clear to see that my father really struggled with putting on shoes, especially those that he had to bend down a long time to put on. I decided to create a shoe that was both stylish yet east to get on and off without the wiggle of a foot or tying laces. I came up with this design: A shoe with straps (with fake “buckles”) that snap into place, but still had comfort on the heel and sole of the shoe. My father still likes to look good, but refuses to switch to Velcro straps, so I think this is a good alternative. I’d like to say that the sole is made of recycled plastic mix as well as up-cycled leather from older shoes that have been re-purposed. I think this would be eco-friendlier and still look good.
Overall, I’d like to try and implement this practice into more design aspects as I make my way out of college and into my career. I think this will give me more of an edge against other people in the apparel field, as I feel many areas of fashion create off an aesthetic aspect alone.