Universal Design: Tangible and empathetic?

A group of students are on the grass outside the university building. they have several large cardboard shapes and appear to be arranging them in some kind of format. Universal design - tangible and empatheticStudents rarely get to practice on real clients. This means they are left with an academic understanding of issues such as inclusion and universal design. One way to help architecture students understand diversity in a tangible and empathetic way is to use age as a lens for designs. 

The Department of Architecture at Buffalo challenged students through various exercises related to the extremes of age to empathise with, and ultimately design for, small children and older people. The article explains their process and is titled:  Age-Focused Design – A Pedagogical Approach Integrating Empathy and Embodiment. Several pictures and graphics help with explanations.

From the abstract

Architects seldom design for themselves. Yet in the course of studying architecture one is rarely presented with the opportunity to design for a real client. The abstract nature of this education model prioritizes formal or technical design exploration over the role of the user.

The vague ambition of universality is difficult for students to engage with in an academic context. Approaching universal design through the lens of human age emphasizes the physical, sensorial, and cognitive modes of spatial understanding of the young and old. It offers a focused perspective through which to address difference and diversity in architectural education.

We  discuss how the approach emerged from design seminars and studios taught in the Department of Architecture at the University at Buffalo. The outcomes were tested with exercises that challenged students to research, empathize with, and ultimately design for individuals at the limits of human age.

Designing inclusively with emotional intelligence

Patricia Moore sits on a park bench looking in her handbag. She has a walking cane and is wearing a black hat an blue overcoat. She looks like she is 80 years old but she is 27.Patricia Moore is well-known to those who have followed the fortunes of universal design for some time. Dressed and behaving as an 80 year old woman she experienced the discriminatory treatment older people face every day. Her article with Jörn Bühring asks designers and business leaders to use social and emotional intelligence in their designs. They claim the philosophic challenge is to ask “Why not?” rather than “Why?” 

“Designers don’t speak of limitations, instead they tend to focus on possibilities. The emergence of ’inclusivity’ in design supports the conviction that where there is a ’deficit’, we will present a solution. “Where there is ignorance, we will strive for enlightenment. Where there is a roadblock, we will create a pathway”.

The title of the paper is, Emotional and Social Intelligence as ’Magic Key’ in Innovation:Designer’s call toward inclusivity for all. 

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