If Deana McDonagh has one message for her industrial design students, it is to make the user, including their emotional connections to the products they use, an integral part of the design process. Her approach, called empathic design, has expanded in the last few years to include students with disabilities as part of the design process and eventually as designers themselves.
An Associate Professor of Industrial Design at Illinois, McDonagh created a class a few years ago in which design students worked with students with disabilities toward creating products that better served the needs of people with disabilities. More recently, students with disabilities have joined the class as designers, with some now looking toward careers in industrial design. McDonagh said the experience has been eye-opening, both for her and the students with disabilities.
What we found is that they had never really had any experience of the impact of design and to be part of the process and, this is my interpretation, is that it was very empowering for them, McDonagh said. They realized that their voice has real authority. They are the experts in their life experience. Well, suddenly, we took their life experience and their feelings, which are very visceral and difficult to communicate, and we actually responded to them.
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