Blog 7: The Importance of Empathic Design

During week 9 of Sustainability, we dove straight in to the discussion of empathic design! We began the week by reading articles that related our field of study to empathic design. Since I am a merchandising student, I read the article called Shopsense: a radical redesign of the supermarket shopping experience. This article was all about creating an “assistant” for older individuals that could help them shop. Being young and having complete mobility and great eyesight, we often fail to realize how difficult it may be for an older individual, who may not have complete mobility and great eyesight, to get their shopping done. For many older individuals, shopping can be painful and tiring with having to constantly bend and reach for items. They may also have a hard time knowing exactly what they are buying with limited vision. Kinneir Dufort and the Appliance Studio saw these challenges for older individuals and decided to create a device to help them called Shopsense. This device creates a virtual store for the user as well as provides them with an assistant to help them shop. This allows shoppers the ability to select their groceries without the hassle of bending or reaching. All they have to do is select the items they want from this device, check out, and pick a delivery style they prefer! I thought this idea was amazing! Especially after my eye opening experience when using the GERT suit a couple of semesters ago. I never truly thought about or understood the challenges that older individuals face until using the GERT suit! It was so hard for me to bend down and reach up as well as stand up and sit down! I hope Shopsense or even services similar to it become widely available to people everywhere!

It should not have to take experiencing something for yourself to understand the fact that we need to design things based more on people’s individual needs, instead of what we think consumers will want. If we continue to design what we think the consumer wants without actually observing their life style and learning what is important to them, we will never design the right thing. Sometimes it will surprise us to learn what is valuable and important to other people, just like when the class went around the room and talked about their most valued item. Mine was a cookbook my grandma made for me. I know most people would not have guessed that, just like how I would not have guessed anyone else’s. This is a great exercise to show how crucial empathic design is. It is important to listen and take notes on what is important to other people. This will allow us to design products/experiences that will be beneficial in every aspect. There are two types of research methods, market research and design research, that can help discover what is important and needed by others. There are pros and cons to both of these methods. The pros of market research, which can be done by creating focus groups as well as surveys, is that it is great for validation because you will get many results. The more people you survey, the more results you will get! But a con to this method is that in surveys or focus groups, many people do not say what they are actually thinking and instead, say what they think they are expected to say. Therefore, while this method may be validating, it may not always produce the most accurate results. The pros of design research are that it focuses more on the actual individual, which allows much insight to be gained and can lead to more innovative designs. The con to this method is that there are not as many results to validate your predictions. It is important that instead of using only one type of research method for empathic design, we integrate both by using the 5 steps of the empathic design process. These steps are: observation, capturing data, reflection and analysis, brainstorming solutions, and lastly, developing the prototypes. Each step is equally important because if even just one step is skipped or looked over, it could completely change your results which could hinder you from creating a product for someone that was suppose to meet their needs. The design probes activity is a great example of this. As a learning community, we used the 5 step empathic design process to create a product/service that fit the need of the student we studied, even if we did not realize we were doing it! We observed the unnamed student’s 48 hours, and captured data while we were observing by looking at details and visuals of their 48 hours. We then reflected and analyzed as a group about what we just observed and pointed out the problems this student could potentially have based on the information provided. Lastly, we brainstormed ideas together, which resulted in developing the prototype that could potentially solve these problems! This was such an eye opening activity for me! I never thought about how studying someone’s daily routine could potentially lead to creating something that could benefit his or her lifestyle. I also learned that studying someone’s habits could lead to creating something beneficial for them that they did not even realize they needed! I now see how vital empathic design is and I look forward to learning more about this topic!

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