In this hands-on course, students can use their design talents to make an immediate impact on someone’s life. Through ArtCenter’s partnership with Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center, students work with patients and providers to identify and solve pressing health and wellness challenges for people living with disabilities. Students utilize 3D prototyping to build, test and deliver a working prototype that by the end of the course could be used or implemented to improve a patient’s quality of life.
ArtCenter: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
Jeffrey Higashi: Few companies have learned how to build a profitable business around serving people with disabilities. The challenges and needs are often too specific to create a mass-produced product, and this is one reason we’re not seeing clever, well-designed innovations in this arena. This is an industry that needs and begs for attention, so I stripped out the demands of business to focus directly on designing a solution for a group of people or even one person. At the end of the day, many of the world's greatest products were designed for one or a few.
“One of the best parts of this class was having the hands-on experience with the people we were designing for. Typically, we design for potential uses, whereas this was tangible — we focused on solutions for real challenges.”James GildeaProduct Design
AC: How did students collaborate with patients and providers at Rancho Los Amigos?
JH: Many of the patients have suffered a spinal cord injury or a stroke and are in wheelchairs. So that’s what we decided to focus on. We met with patients to hear about their challenges and students took a class at Rancho Los Amigos on how to use a wheelchair. Then we brainstormed about what we might be able to do.
AC: What are some of the products that came from the class?
JH: One woman said she lost a lot of her independence when she had children because she couldn’t push a stroller while in her wheelchair. As a solution, a student created a baby stroller that connects to a wheelchair. Another patient who suffered a stroke couldn’t ride her bike on the beach because of balance issues and her body’s ability to regulate heat. A student built a collapsible tricycle with a canopy that fits in a car, so she can continue to do what she loves. Another student focused on the aesthetic of wheelchairs, which are designed to be functional, and created Eames-style modular designs.
AC: How are students able to create a finished product in such a short amount of time?
JH: Typically, we develop products for mass production or with a long lead time, displacing the sense of gratification and instant feedback on our efforts. The goal with this class is to focus on solutions for the “few” and deliver something in 14 weeks. In partnering with Rancho Los Amigos, students work with occupational therapists, physicians and other professionals who can guide the design process so that we don't propose or build ill-informed solutions.
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
JH: Whether interviewing a surgeon, spending a day with a paraplegic or talking with caregivers, we focus our efforts on understanding with an empathetic approach. My hope is that once students realize the impact they can make, they’ll want to use their talents in a rewarding way. I want them to continue to focus on underserved populations and change the dialogue from, “It's not sensible from a business perspective" to “How do we make this work?”