Empathy, Capitalism, and Design

Throughout reading “Design of Everyday Things”, I’ve come across many different ways to start thinking about design. Most importantly, I’ve really been able to understand how thoughtful design has the power to change the world and set the standard high for other design, with the intention of constantly improving in conjunction with the evolution of technology and research. 

For me to feel like I am fulfilling my purposes not only as a designer, but as a human, I need to be able to stand behind whatever I am doing, and know that my role does not leave a negative scar on the world. Even better, I want to use my design skills to do things that make people happy or improve their quality of life. That is why I am so excited to spend this semester focusing on researching individuals with disabilities and utilizing design methods in order to create something that will positively impact the lives of people in my community. However, with this comes the challenge of not only having the utmost empathy for the users, but also making sure that their best interest is in mind 100% of the time during the design process.  

Don Norman talks about the political significance of design, and how capitalism has had its effects on the evolution of design. If it doesn’t sell, it’s not worth the time of many people, and surely this is important to some respect. However, I think what is the key part is not exploiting the process or the users in order for monetary gain, but to utilize consumerism in the respect that creating content and products that will withstand time creates less waste and less exploitation. This is a topic that hits very close to home, and something that I keep in mind at all times. 

I think the biggest moral obligation with regards to design and consumerism, especially with regards to the research that I am doing for those with disabilities, is to not exploit the disabilities for personal gain without actually serving this group of people and truly listening to their needs. As someone without disabilities, there is line of awareness that has to be drawn to ensure that I am not offensive in my research methods, as well as in the production of my application. In a capitalist system where things are meant to fail to encourage people to constantly buy, I not only think that this is a corrupt method of thinking, but I think that it is especially inappropriate when designing for users who suffer from disabilities. Exploitation in the production of any product or service is never right, but to target a group of individuals based on issues that they face every day, it is extremely important to consider their best interest every step of the way throughout the process, and after with the maintenance of the application. 

Whether I continue my career in design in this type of field or elsewhere, it is part of my moral duty to make sure that the reasons that I am involved in my project are solid and worth pursuing, for my own personal conscience. It is important to constanly evolve the product as much as possible so that brand-loyal users will continue to utilize the product, but for the reason being that it truly improves the quality of their life. Don Norman interestingly puts “A design that people do not purchase is a failed design, no matter how great the design team might consider it.” I think that this is slightly harsh, but I understand what he is saying. If designing will be my career, something has to sustain it, but in order for me to live with it, I want to be sure that I am doing it for the right reasons. The world of design will always be changing, and the spectrums of disabilities will always need attending to, so I am excited to start this design journey in a topic that requires utmost empathy and compassion for the users I am working to serve.  

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