I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of compassion lately, and about how it relates to my work as a designer. It’s a tricky concept. When you look for definitions of the word compassion, ideas like pity and suffering come up quite a bit. While they might fit some situations, they’re not quite what I’m thinking of. They seem a bit desperate and hopeless. Ideas like empathy and commonality have more appeal. Concepts that embrace our shared humanity, in all its imperfection. Our abilities and inabilities, and how both can be respected in equal measure.
To paraphrase my go-to dictionary app, Terminology, compassion is:
the humane quality of understanding the challenges of others and wanting to do something about it
So if that’s compassion, what would Compassionate Design encompass? To me, it would combine the ideas of universal/inclusive design and user experience design to create work that is user centered, accessible and positive for the widest possible audience. It’s design that is tolerant of user error. It’s design that rewards the best of our human qualities, like curiosity, generosity and sociability, but is forgiving of some of our lesser qualities as well.
I see this as design that gives back more than it takes. Design that makes a difficult task easier, and gets you to smile while you’re doing it. Design that requires you to depend less on what you know, and more on what you can see, feel and intuit. It’s design that uses scarce resources wisely, whether those be physical, like oil and plastic, or mental, like close attention.
I like this concept of Compassionate Design. It calls on designers to be attentive to the needs of their users. To make their lives simpler instead of more complicated. It asks designers to understand their users at a deep level, to feel what they are feeling, and to want to do something to make things better. Sign me up.
Image by Flickr user staflo
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