My compassion and interest in other cultures began when I was young. In first grade, I was immersed within an education system that appreciated kids with hearing impairments, had autism, or other developmental disorders. My innocent mind knew these kids had a sensory difference but were just like any other 7 or 8 year old. As I have learned within the last couple of years of studying disabilities, deafness has its own culture as opposed to the physicality of being deaf. The deaf culture was something I inadvertently immersed myself in when I was younger. I enjoyed having the ability to talk in another language, and although I was not physically deaf, I could communicate with those that were Deaf (big ‘D’). This experience began my enthusiasm for different cultures. I had never left the country but wanted to experience living around people of other parts of the world and other regions of the United States. Moving from Chicago to Philadelphia began my cultural excursion. I noticed differences in the way people moved, talked, and appreciated different facets of daily life. I was further immersed in the different cultures when I left the country for the first time studying abroad in Milan, Italy. I spent four months learning and traveling in seven different countries – fourteen cities. Experiences can create more understanding than learning out of a book. Literature reviews give insight into how cultures are preconceived. However, obtaining information through experience provides a wholesome understanding of how cultures interact. As a designer creating interaction between people and the physical world, it is essential to understanding how to design for different cultures, abilities, and locations.
Concentrating on creating a global portfolio has enabled me to gain diverse knowledge about people, locations, and lifestyles. Distinct attributes of different cultures around the world have become even more apparent with the globalization of our world’s economy. Technology and transportation have made it very easy to do business with countries abroad. Many companies have partners living in countries on the other side of the world. Others are creating for people living in different ecological and cultural contexts than themselves. These people of other cultures have very different governmental policies, access to resources, priorities, personalities, economies, and much more. As I grow my professional practice, I hope to travel directly to the people whom I am designing products for. This year, I created a start-up company, designing smart glasses for deaf and hard of hearing that allow them to communicate better. Our goals is to start to reach people within lower incomes and do not have access to assistive technology or other therapeutic techniques. Currently, starting my entrepreneurial adventure, a main component to accomplish the mission I created for the company is directly involving our constituents. From the start, I have been gathering knowledge and information about the end-user by contacting them and getting their feedback on existing competitors as well as the product produced by Olive Device. Including the users early on in the process will allow us to create lasting relationships with our customers and a product that fits to their daily life. Some of the aspects of this plan are that we plan to visit school districts and listen to their feedback while training them on understanding and using our products. My plan puts the designers, or creators, directly in the culture and environment of the people we are creating for and sets up a more consistent system for sustainable development.
My dream is for oLIVE Devices to grow and expand into other assistive medical products that can help people around the world. This includes those in developing areas of Africa, Southwest Asia, or South America. For this reason, I have made sure to broaden my research to different regions of the world. My portfolio includes a research project concentrating on areas of sub-Saharan Africa in which I designed a new water well solution. One of my case studies looked at the country of Burma to understand how designers are fixing social problems by developing devices that assist in the production of agricultural products. This firm showed us that by interacting with and understanding a need within a community other aspects of a country can help larger, country wide, concerns such as economics and, or, the availability of resources. What I feel is my most important research is my findings on Mexico and other countries concerning health inequalities. I will be able to use this new knowledge moving forward to contribute to the work industrial designers are doing to create medical solutions that will improve the availability of health care devices within North America.
The evolution of my research began with two interests: Social Impact Design, Design for Disabilities, and more broadly moving toward, Universal Design. My main research began with economical background. Global divergence, the separation of impoverished and economically powerful countries, aaaaaaaaaaaaand how the state of our global economy came to be is a very good way to understand the trends and predict where the economy is going. Globalization is playing an enormous role in business. My economic divergence research included historical research on the fall and rise of countries such a China and Japan in manufacturing, recommended solutions for countries growing out of poverty, which I will discuss, more in-depth, and the industrial revolution within the United States, in Europe, and around the world. This research incorporates understanding where the strengths lie in different countries. It is important, as an industrial designer and CEO, to understand the divergence during the industrial revolution. I will need to determine where my company will get our parts and assemblies manufactured.
The industrial revolution helped countries such as China and Japan to gain headway in manufacturing. In certain industries, China has surpassed manufacturing quality, some in Italy, and others in the United States. China is beginning to surpass the United States for goods produced overall. The United States may have lower costs and efficient products in one industry over another. For example, in complex technology the United States may prevail when weighing the positives and negatives compared to China who is more efficient and inexpensive in soft goods compared to the United States. Knowing about the history, competitive advantage, and current state of the country also brings in ethical issues when determining where to get parts manufactured. Deciding where to manufacture products often depend on factors such as who the customer base is and what their priories are, keeping jobs in the home country, or making sure there are facility and labor codes that are up to par with our expectations. My courses in engineering and design have taught me what factors to consider and how to weigh options when getting to this point in the design process. Especially within the medical devices industry, making sure factories do not have contaminants that could harm patients is very important; the company needs to assure that the factory maintains sterile environments. Managing the supply chain of products is something I have to consider as a CEO and designer. I have to decide what materials are proper for the function and appearance of our products as well as weigh the differences in price, reliability, lead time, and shipping. Knowledge of economic research regarding industrial production as well as agricultural production helps me to understand how to design products that users need.
My research on Burma looked into their economic history and current economic state to understand where the burden was on their economy. The design firm that I researched – Proximity Designs - was designing products that assisted their agricultural production. This industry is leading their economic success. The firm consists of business professionals, engineers, designers and other disciplines that immersed themselves in the fields of Burma.
As designers, we have to become experts on people and cultures that we know little to nothing about; this is why design is an inherently interdisciplinary industry. Sub-categories exist within culture, ability, and location. These are all considerations that industrial designers must learn while designing products. Text books teach us generalized human factors, but the real human factors that affect the way someone uses and treats a product depend on cultural and psychological factors. These factors change from culture to culture and person to person. Updated concepts, discussions, conferences and implementation of Universal Design structure strategies to create products that can fit to most people. Inclusive design takes this concept and utilizes technology to personalize their experience.
Improper designs could result in poor response to the market need and poor adaptability to the physical terrain, cultures, and beliefs of those we are creating designs. A culture may not be accepting of a certain material, component, or process. The process could be dangerous to a specific environment, or the government may have different regulations. Although as a student I did not have the opportunity to immerse myself within the cultures I was designing for, I used my resources to create as thorough of literature reviews as possible. My project on rural sub-Saharan Africa looked at factors that contributed to the water crisis in these areas including their corrupt governments, economy, location, availability of resources, and cultural beliefs of how to treat women and children. From this review, I developed concepts leading to a water well pump and system designed as a community teeter-totter that I called Teeterwater. The final design incorporated tactics on how to provide a sustainable solution that the community would be able to understand and maintain. We suggested providing infographic representation that visually showed them how to put the piping together and fix common faults. Teeterwater also prevented common, difficult repairs, by eliminating hardware and creating a modular system. This was my first work designing for a very different cultural context. I found it challenging, yet invigorating and meaningful. This is what made me fall for designing for those less served.
This project was done simultaneously to my economic research where I acquired knowledge on strategies for developing countries to improve their economic standing. These included “Health and Nutrition for Adults to Work and Children to Grow to their Potential”, , “Credit and Basic Insurance for Working Capital and Defense against Risk”, “Access to Functioning Markets for Income and Opportunities to Acquire Assets”, “Access to Ensure Sustainable Development”, and “Community Empowerment to Ensure Effective Participation in the Wider World”. With our current product at Olive Devices, once it expands globally, we will be able to help their strategy to help “Basic Education to Build the Foundations for Self-Reliance” as well as benefit “Personal [and community] Empowerment to Gain Freedom from Exploitation and Torment” by providing a means for people to communicate and learn, creating relationships and self-confidence. With our future products, I plan to contribute to better health and nutrition as well as providing sustainable development. Products are a small contribution to these substantial components. However, each action performed each life that is affected, and those changes sustained, we accomplish another step towards improving the economic inequality within countries and around the world.
At this point in obtaining new knowledge, I have found a correlation of health and wellness to have a direct effect on the burden of inequality. My interest in disability design tied in to understanding what was available, economically, for patients to improve their quality of life. To learn more about the connection of health and inequality I researched inequalities that led to inaccessible health resources. I compared this information to what professional industrial designers are creating for impoverished people in large and small communities around the world. Some of these were design firms in Europe and North America serving communities in Africa and Southwest Asia, others were internal – in Mexico, a community, many disabled, create assistive devices for each other. PROJIMO, the group in a rural community in Mexico, was comprised of designers, engineers, artisans, and occupational therapy specialists. This contributed to my extensive literature review on Mexico that I mentioned above. Their industry of manufacturing medical devices is rapidly growing and this research was great insight to help myself move forward as a designer aspiring to create medical devices and serve ‘the other 90%’ that do not have easy access to proper healthcare or facilities.
It has been very interesting to reflect back on how my interests have evolved and my dreams are coming full circle. I am at the time in my life where I am able to shape my future and I have learned through my research, that designers can have a substantial effect on the creation of assistive and medical devices, especially for those in other cultures, because we have the mindset to understand human interaction in different contexts. As many societies, especially the United States, care about the visual aesthetic and social consideration for such devices, designers play a key role in the innately interdisciplinary field. Two publications that caught my interest in this field were Graham Pullin’s book Design Meets Disability, and a video exhibiting Bespoke Innovation’s 3D printed Prosthetics. The research for my senior project has led me to understand that people with disabilities account for a higher percentage of the unemployed. Working with clients and occupational therapists put this into further perspective. We designed devices that allowed our client to accomplish simple everyday tasks that made accessibility substantially greater. Understanding how not having one ability affects how you live your daily life and how another action is affected is difficult to put into perspective. Many disabilities can be prevented with proper diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease. Therefore, by designing products, services, and systems that improve health, wellness, and accessibility, we will be able to serve people around the world, improve economies, and decrease inequality.