An Exercise in Social Responsibility, Empathy and Innovation
Dale L. Murray, Assistant Professor of Industrial Design University of Cincinnati
The attacks of September 11 have created a resurgence of American patriotism and resolve. It has also spurred many of us in the design profession to re-examine our role in society and the world. In searching for a topic for an advanced product design studio, we wanted to examine the role of the designer as a socially responsible contributor to the human condition.
In the many areas of conflict and natural disasters around the world, the plight of refugees in many different situations is the source of much human suffering. The basic human needs of people in these dire conditions often go unmet. Can the skills of the industrial designer be utilized in developing design solutions, which may alleviate some of this misery? In designing products and systems to address some of these basic needs, can we grow in our ability to empathize with people whose experience is far removed from our own? Might we also gain a new sense of the potential our profession holds in making a difference for all human beings?
Considering all of the above, faculty and students determined that the problem statement for the advanced product studio would be: To propose and develop design solutions to address survival challenges and improve the quality of life for refugees and disaster victims around the world. The solutions should be designed so they can realistically be distributed by world relief organizations like the International Red Cross and should be adaptable to work within most cultures, climates and disaster situations.
Procter and Gamble, whose designers and technical experts served as mentors and critics, sponsored this special studio. The expertise of Procter and Gamble was utilized in applying known technologies to the problems we identified in the areas of general health and family care, water purification, delivery systems, materials, and manufacturing. Designers and engineers attended weekly critiques and provided advice and direction throughout the sevenweek duration of the exercise.
Vince Costello, the Director of International Services for the American Red Cross, agreed to act as consultant and critic for this project. Mr. Costello has spent time in the refugee camps in Macedonia and Kosovo, helping to direct relief efforts. At the beginning of the course, he gave a presentation on the conditions in the camps and the problems facing refugees and those trying to help them. He also attended weekly critiques and participated in brainstorming processes.
All of the participants, the sponsors (P&G corporate design), the client (the Red Cross), the faculty and the students were very pleased with the results of this studio. This abstract is a proposal to present those results, to expand upon the educational model that it represents, and to highlight and discuss the skills learned that are a valuable addition to those learned in our more traditional studio classes.