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SHiFT design camp

SHiFT 2016 - Day 4

15 June 2016

We’re halfway thru Shift (it’s 10pm as I write this), and today’s topic was really what I feel in at the heart of designing for the disabled….Empathy.  The word empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Why do I think this is by the far the most import piece of the puzzle? Well, as important as quantitative data and in-depth research are to any design process with any end user in mind, empathy is the essential ingredient that will transform you design into a life changing experience.

Again, since the theme this year is designing for the disabled, certain team building exercises have been created to instill in us campers the feeling of empathy in our consumers as to what they may or may not experience in their lives. One of these exercises was the build/relay race. Teams were given the task of building a structure that would meet certain dimensional requirements (width/height). The teams were given time and the raw materials to decide how best to arrange the pieces to suit their set requirements. Now, knowing what the camp theme was, we had a feeling that the staff was going to do something to incorporate it into the relay. We thought that each team would be given a single sensory challenge (one team would be blind while another would be mute). So, while padding ourselves on the back, we ran thru a few scenarios and felt confident in our efficiency to assemble the structure quickly and correctly. However, it would seem our pride in our thinking got the best of us. We were correct in deducing that we would be given a team disability, what we didn’t count on was that each team member would be given a different disability. These ranged from blindness, foggy vision, inability to use fingers, having your leg ties to another member’s leg and more. To say that communication would be a challenge was an understatement. Oh, and to add fuel to the fire, now we were told that we still had to rebuild the original structure but, now we had to move it to the far side of the field and down a steep sloped to a designated area. Since I was assigned the blindness disability, I couldn’t see the look on my team's faces, but since I had to rely on my hearing I definitely heard a group sigh. The funny part is that I could feel the curve of my lips as a smile rose across my face. This was going to be a serious hands on empathy exercise.  If you knew me you’d know that I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

The air horn blew and we were off. Since my sight was obscured, writing this part will be interesting but what followed was a weird series of sharp turns that completely threw off my internal compass, sprays of cool misty water that quickly turned into full on hose nozzle blasts of ice water (given the outside temp, I may have slowed my team down just a tat to further water soaked) that smacked with what I suspect were foam noodles from all directions. Finally, I could tell we crossed the field because when we made it to the hill, I almost fell down it. With the help of my teams, we all made it down safe and started to rebuild our structure. There were a few hiccups but our previous communication exercise really helped us navigate this last hurdle. Ok, structure built, goggles off and now time for some of those frozen plastic tube popsicles. (the red ones are the best FYI)

After some free time and tacos for dinner, we headed off back to the same field where we rebuilt our structures. Not for more exercise but for something much more fun, lighting Chinese lanterns into the night sky. I won’t say much but instead, check out this video instead. 


For more information or to contact SHiFT, please go to shiftdesign.us