Want to feel older?
April , 2009
I read an article recently about a specialized suit developed by a lab at MIT. This suit makes it harder to grip things, harder to walk without stumbling, and harder to see clearly.
Why on earth would anyone want to wear such a thing, let alone spend time and effort to create it? Well, because when a young designer puts it on, he or she can see and feel for themselves what it’s like to be older. Feeling it for oneself is so much more powerful than simply knowing, for example, the fact that some people have trouble opening jars. Everyone who tried out the suit commented that they had no idea it would be like that.
Most of the time, it’s fairly easy to design things that are for people just like us. The true design challenge comes in when trying to design something for someone quite different from ourselves.
I worked for many years in the automotive industry in Michigan. While there are many very smart, dedicated and hard-working engineers there, the industry as a whole suffers some from being so insular and localized. Those companies do a good job designing for “us” but not always a good job designing for “them”.
Lest we in Silicon Valley get too complacent, there are plenty of attitudes of that sort here too, although perhaps not yet as entrenched.
We all have a tendency to think others are the same as we are. As designers, it’s important to stay aware of differences, and broaden our experience. So keep reading varying points of view, live and work in different industries and different locations, and hey, if that MIT suit ever goes on the road, I for one am going to try it out!
A summary of the article may be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/celjah
(One can see the complete article, but only with an archive account.)