Designer Dreams

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I woke happy this morning remembering dreams of my favorite NYC destination, The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

It’s a designer’s paradise. What’s not to like. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design.

The collections are exhibited in a historic Fifth Avenue mansion. Just fabulous

In my dreams, I revisited The Senses: Design Beyond Vision exhibition. A stunning and provocative exhibit featuring inclusive, interactive installations created in collaboration with contemporary designers. The exhibition was designed to be sensory awakening and highlighted the importance of inclusive design.

Designed to spark curiosity and wonder in every visitor, “The Senses” highlighted the link between design and sensory experience. The projects on view activated touch, sound, smell, taste, sight and physical experience. Bird songs were digitally animated into bursts of color and motion. A light installation changed from cool to warm in response to visitors’ movements.

My favorite was a collection of unique scents merged with materials, textures and words to build new memories and associations. It was truly dream worthy.

The exhibit expanded my reality, for the sensory impaired, form is as valuable as function. This designer mantra reframe actually benefits all.

History proves the power of this reframe. Designers transformed the look, image and very perception of eye glasses in the 1960s. Medical assistive devices were reframed to instruments of self-expression. Design transformed an object that once stigmatized the wearer as different.

The emotional impact of this design transformation amazes me. Imagine going from feeling ashamed to feeling empowered because someone designed a better way. Sometimes aesthetics are just as important as function.

The Senses Exhibition showcased designs for “the extremes”: visual, cognitive, and hearing impaired users. All users deserve products and services that delivery equal respect to aesthetics and quality. Designing for extremes produces beneficial design for all.

Where did this designing for the mainstream concept originate? It’s a story so entrenched in our society, the average or “normal” person. The idea actually dates back to the 1800s, when mathematician Adolphe Quetelet attempted to find the numerical averages for a host of body measurements: limbs, stature, weight, ages of marriage and even death.

This attempt to calculate how an ideal human looks and acts ended being the “average user”in design.

Today we know this story a myth. If there’s no normal we are just diverse people changing from one moment to the next. What happens if you design for the extreme user? Imagine audiobooks and the remote control were originally designed for people with disabilities, but everyone loves them.

Inclusive design isn’t a dream. Lets make it a reality and design a better world for all.

Who doesn’t want to change the channel without leaving the couch?

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