The design process can be approached in a multitude of ways, and while there is no one way to begin to think about how to design, there are great ways to start thinking about it. Don Norman, author of “Design of Everyday Things”, lays out ways that designers can begin the process, and the first is to think about who is the intended user.
This semester, my group and I are going to be focusing our design efforts on working with individuals suffering from physical disabilities in order to improve the quality of their lives. This is a challenging task, especially for designers who are new to this type of process (and do not have physical disabilities), but I am confident that by having empathy for our users, and really getting to know the individuals we are studying, that we will not only come up with new ideas that will improve their lives, but also those of able-bodied humans as well.
Don Norman talks about designing in unique situations, and how those ideas can improve the quality of life for everyone. Last week, I wrote about the issues of the design of can openers, but what I did not know was that further in my reading I would come across why the design standard of household kitchen objects are what they are. Sam Farber built his company OXO, which produces well-known, high-quality kitchen appliance products, based on research inspired by his wife who had arthritis. He designed with the intent of making tools that were usually hard for his wife to use, easier to use, and as a result, his kitchen peeler was not only designed for those who may suffer from arthritis, but also for the ease of everyone. While the peelers are more expensive (as many OXO products are), they have a solid reputation for being good quality and what Norman calls “inclusive or universal design.” The bar was set higher not only for those who may suffer from disabilities, but for products everywhere, because of the quality of their design.
What is important when designing for special interest groups, or specifically disabilities, is to keep in mind that no one wants to be singled out. It will be interesting to continue our research to find out not only what will serve our audience the best, but how our ideas can improve the lives of everyone. And not only to serve functionally, but also aesthetically, because aesthetics can also improve the functionality of design.