Episode 16: Can Homeschoolers Go To University?

Listen to Zoe about how empathy helped in a project to create a toy for visually impaired toddlers.

Empathy in Design

Zoe: So for one of my projects, I had to make something that measures out a paper. Which is kind of interesting. But my second one, which I really enjoyed, was, I had to make a toy out of wood, for two year old, blind or visually impaired children. 

Emma: Wow, what was that like? 

Zoe: It was so interesting. I love kids, so I really liked researching and making a toy that was like very textural, and that kids could use,

Emma: What kind of research did you need to do for this toy?

Zoe: So this one was basically focused on empathy. So I had to try to get into this child’s shoes. I researched about visually impaired children and their daily life because I wanted to make something that they could use and apply to their life. 

So I research things like what do toddlers usually do right? Like, normal toddlers. And then what do visually impaired toddlers do? And like, how do they experience life, how’s life different for them, right? So I ended up making these blocks with shapes on them. And the shapes were coordinated with a colour and they also did a survey on ‘What shape do you associate with which color?’ They did that to a lot of people. Then I associated the colours of the shapes and even though they couldn’t see the shapes, I wanted them to still associate it with a colour. 

These blocks could stick together with Velcro, so they could use them for patterns and use them just to sort, which is really beneficial for toddlers. But then I also wanted them to have that colour aspect, so that they could transfer it into clothes. I wanted the child to also use buttons, for example, like a triangle was yellow. And if the child has a triangle button sewn onto their clothes, they could know it’s a yellow top. Because right now, people are just using Braille and safety pins, which aren’t so safe for toddlers. 

And they can’t really read Braille, although they will learn to, but I feel like toddlers are now finding their independence from their parents. Therefore, they like to try to choose their own clothes and try to do their own things. And they’re very limited if they are visually impaired or blind. So I wanted to make that connection with my toy.

Emma: How did this project change your perspective on making things available to people with special needs?

Zoe: I thought it was a really, really great way to have this brief so that we were more aware and we would empathize with more people. And I found that this was like a very niche kind of project to work on. I’ve been sort of aware because my friend, she works with a lot of special needs kids and her sister is special needs, as well as our neighbor who has a special needs kid, and our friend’s daughter is blind. And she’s four year old. So I’ve kind of been aware, but I haven’t tried to design anything or really research into it.

Emma: Did you talk about this project with your friend whose daughter was visually impaired?

Zoe: I met her afterwards. It was kind of interesting, because I was like, Oh my gosh, here is a child that could have, if I made my product, she could use it. She could choose her own clothing.

Emma: How did that make you feel?

Zoe: It was really special. I was like wow, we’re creating products that people will use in the future. And I think that’s part of the reason I really wanted to go into product design. I really like working with people and I thought this will draw me closer to people I can empathize with and really know my audience.


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