Design Empathy: How Autism Can Inform Better Products For All

April 22nd, 2015

Design strongly influences how people experience and use technology. But can designing products for people with special needs, such as those with autism, help us design better products for all? The radically different sensitivities of autistic people can help designers understand the nuances and diversity of human experience, and help them to build more more accessible, safe, intuitive and enjoyable products.

As we’ve posted before, empathy is critical to design. “What I have always found is that when you design for autism, the general population benefits.” designer A.J. Paron-Wildes is quoted in ‘Design empathy’ builds inclusive spaces for people with autism. Proponents of Universal Design believe in the value of taking an inclusive perspective of what is “normal” for humans. NYC-based producers of kitchen utensils, office supplies and housewares, OXO, explains:

OXO was founded in 1990 on the philosophy of Universal Design, which means the design of products usable by as many people as possible. It is important to note that Universal Design does not mean designing products fully usable by everybody, since there is no product that can truly fulfill the needs of all users. But when all users’ needs are taken into consideration in the initial design process, the result is a product that can be used by the broadest spectrum of users. In the case of OXO, it means designing products for young and old, male and female, left- and right-handed and many with special needs.

Read more about how autism promotes Design Empathy here in The Globe and Mail.