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Creating Empathy

Posted June 6, 2011 in Classes & Presentations

 

Last time I blogged, I wrote about the Kendall “Big D” design class that will be attending NeoCon in Chicago June 12–16. NeoCon is North America's largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors. There will be more than 40,000 architecture and design professionals in attendance, and 700+ showrooms packed in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

Our class has been meeting in Grand Rapids on Friday mornings to prepare for our NeoCon experience, and at the class a week ago, students were given an assignment: Observe and study users’ behaviors and experience in order to identify patterns, issues and unmet user needs. The reason? To create an understanding of the user and the user’s needs (empathy for the user). The exercise was a dry run for the same assignment at NeoCon when students visit their assigned showroom.

Each group chose a different downtown venue to explore: The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Schuler Books, Big O’s Restaurant, and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

It was fascinating to hear the observations of a group of college students visiting atypical locations, such as the Children’s Museum and the hotel. These two groups were quick to notice that they were not the usual patrons of these two establishments; one geared toward youngsters and the other toward travellers. Students noticed that both locations they had little interaction with the employees, and both sites needed additional way finding signage and marketing materials in a more visible area.

The other two groups went to locations where college students would be more likely to gather: Schuler Books and Big O’s restaurant.  Although both locations had delicious-smelling food interestingly, both groups also had the same observations: entrances were difficult to find and exterior signage was definitely needed.

Of course the students had a number of other observations in their exercise, and were allowed to work in teams. But at the Merchandise Mart, each student will be working alone, each observing a different showroom. In addition to keeping a “Field Notebook” students will be attending a number of lectures from leaders in the field of design. I’m looking forward to hearing—and sharing—what these experts have to say. 

- Pamela Patton

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