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User Empathy

All design, to some extent, involves relativism. A breast cancer screening center in a typical hospital complex might use a typical clinic design to maximizes patient privacy and treatment efficiency. Unlike other clinics, these practices perform stressful and painful examinations of more than half the adult population. A designer who empathizes with users in this setting might employ a different design: curved walls, subdued lighting, medium tonal colors, waterfalls, generous robes, coffee and peaceful quietude (i.e. not forced to listen to someone else's music). Such a clinic exists, and the experience of that clinic is radically different.

Notice we make no call to prescriptive design policy - instead we believe it's valuable, perhaps essential, to understand relativism when you set out to empathize with your users. An opinionated point of view is good, but that needs to come from the culture and humans who will occupy the design.

Mid-Century Designers

Because ZeroDiff is about low-volume production, a better analogy for these designs originate in architecture. Sure, Dieter Rams produces glorious products, but these are mass market objects offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. A large corporation will produce dozens or more objects per year, only a handful end up at mass-scale, and even then there are hits and misses.

The great Mid-Century designers like Richard Neutra, Mary Colter, and Eliot Noyes would spend considerable time with the site and the client in order to understand how they might occupy a space. Richard Neutra worked directly with end users for all his projects no matter how small.

I am an eyewitness to the ways in which people relate to themselves and to each other, and my work is a way of scooping and ladling that experience.

Richard Neutra

This quote is beautiful because he generously allows the design to originate from the end users rather than a design "school of thought." One could argue that certain design thoughts represent a timelessness that stands apart from the end users, but even Bauhaus, as taught by Bruno Taut, embraced Humane Functionalism.