Sunrise on the Empathic Horizon

“Life” means something different for everyone. Each person on this earth reacts to challenges, joys, heartbreak, and so much more—in their own unique way. Because of this, it is absolutely essential that we, as human beings, strive to practice empathy every single day. Only with empathy can we better understand the people, as well as the world, around us. In class, when we talk about “putting ourselves in others’ shoes,” personally I get excited. However, I feel as though sometimes I am the only one in the room that entertains this enthusiasm. As students, sometimes we obsess about what work needs to be done rather than the process for that work. Last week, we were shown an example project from a previous class in which someone designed shaping undergarments for an older woman. This presentation was colorful, detailed, and organized. In addition, the designs included attributes that coincided with the consumer’s interests. I can tell that this person shared my passion for empathy. When we make it our goal to help others without expectation of something in return, we grow a little bit more into ourselves. But—for me, when I help others, that IS the reward. The feeling that my life benefits someone else’s life is a sensation like no other. Last Wednesday we discussed the Interview Questions for Older Individuals. After downloading this document from D2L, I modified it slightly to make it more personal, and sent this to my Grandma for her to fill out. When asked if she would fill out the questionnaire, my Grandma was overjoyed! She expressed appreciation for my interest in her life, and was excited to complete the interview. As I do not have the privilege of visiting my Grandma very much, I enjoy communicating with her often and including her in my life from afar. Sending her the interview was simply another act of inclusion. I value my family to the highest degree, and any way I can interact/help them is a part of my core existence. I also sent this questionnaire to my mom, but I changed the questions a bit more to better fit her life (she is not so old). Similar to my Grandma, my mom loved that I sent her the interview. By sending the survey to my Grandma and my Mom, I am able to understand each of their personalities better, and read their explicit thoughts so I can better empathize with them. I enjoy questionnaires in any fashion: whether I am the interviewer or the interviewee. The probes package each of us students completed for class was very fun for me. I like being questioned because I think it is fun to paint a picture of myself through words. In addition, by doing the probes package, I learned more about myself. In the “items most special to you” slides, 2/3 of the pictures were my pets (cat: Westley, dog: Joonie). I saw that I value life and the warmth of spirits more than material things. This is a thought that I may have had before about myself, but never this explicit. Also, I learned that I enjoy my time more when I am outside doing some activity (usually physical, like running or some sport) rather than spending time indoors. Actually, in class last Monday my probes package was given to two of my classmates; they designed something related to my interest in sports and the outdoors. These classmates of mine are merchandising students, so they designed a store for me, which I think was fitting. I appreciated their attention to detail, and the questions they asked me were personal. This made me feel like they really cared about relating to their target market. In this instance, I did actually feel as though these students were eager to design, which made me feel less alone in my enthusiasm. That same day, my learning community was also given a probes package to analyze. I felt as though we had fun creating the design, as well as evaluating the subject’s personality. Predicting their exact daily life proved difficult for me, as I am very detail-oriented. However, viewing the subject’s life in a bigger picture did help me get out of my “box.” I appreciate that this class pushes each of us to our boundaries, and encourages us to step outside of our comfort zone. I love growing as a person, and as I mentioned earlier, developing more and more of myself. During the post-presentation interview with our subject, they expressed their content with the design. It was very nice to be able to ask them questions, because before we only had their probes package. As a whole, I think that this design was a good example of teamwork and use of empathy related skills. From personal experience, group projects are only successful when a good sense of teamwork is achieved. As we came to class on Wednesday ready for the design slam, I made sure to remember this. That day, my group was given information about an older male individual with issues that naturally pair with aging. The main issue was arthritis, and how this affects this man’s daily life. My group produced a multitude of possible solutions, and conducted research on each one. Overall, I thought this design slam was successful, but we (the group) should aim to improve designing with a time limit. The design slam provided a preview for our final project in that we designed specifically for someone keeping their limitations/challenges in mind. For my final project, I chose to empathize with a person near and dear to my heart: my Mom. Although she is a strong independent woman, I know that she faces her own challenges. I plan to attempt to understand her priorities, as well as her interests so as to better put myself in her position. Her everyday challenges are what I will focus on for the design, because I’d love to figure out a way to improve her life experience. Most likely, the design will be something in apparel, as I am an apparel design major. Although I usually focus on designing clothing, I am greatly interested in the design of other things that solve problems empathically. In the article “How Probes Inform and Influence the Design Process,” I learned that any problem needing to be solved (especially empathic) needs to have a method. This article communicated main points to the readers by making them bold, then including details below. Pictures were included to better help the readers understand each situation described. I enjoyed section 3.4, in which the writers looked “into participants’ lives.” I learned that interviewing the client is a simple way to greatly help the design process. In interviews, the personal thoughts and ideas of people are revealed, creating a smooth flow from assumptions to clarity. In addition, I also liked section 4, “lessons learnt” because it is nice to see an example of designers who metamorphosed in their creative process. These examples can be applied to other designers’ processes, and provide a chance to empathize with those designers as well as their clients.  As we empathize, it is important to remember that each person experiences life uniquely with their own thoughts, experiences and challenges. The most important goal for me as a designer is to widen my empathic horizon. I am not perfect, but a comforting fact is this: no one else is perfect either. Because of this basic fact, I know that I can relate to others by realizing my own flaws. Selflessness and humility will be our saving grace in the empathic design process.

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