Alice Turner is a student with a passion for bringing empathetic design into unexpected places. Recently she created Amplify a concept hearing aid meant to inspire what could be possible. Her designs were celebrated in global design publications and have started important conversations about the future of hearing aid design. Alice was kind enough to share her design story and inspiration with me in the interview below. I found the conversation truly inspiring, and I hope you will too!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you like to do with your time, and what gets you excited?
I am a product design student at Central Saint Martins University and am currently on placement year. I’ll be returning to my studies in October. I get excited when I am deeply engrossed in a project; when I can’t get to sleep at night because I can’t switch off the ideas and considerations I have at every stage. I am deeply passionate about social design. I believe that as creative thinkers, designers have the ability and responsibility to use their skill to create meaningful solutions that improve people’s lives. I believe the most important design tool is empathy.
What excites me? Having a conversation with someone, listening to their struggles and difficulties and then creating something that may not solve the problem, but at least help improve their day. Good design to me is empathetic, thought provoking and meaningful.
Your recent hearing aid design concept sparked a LOT of conversation in the hearing community. What inspired you to start thinking about hearing aids?
The book ‘Design for Disabilities’ by Graham Pullin (it’s an absolutely fantastic read). In it, he explains the shift from glasses becoming eyewear and questions why this transition hasn’t occurred for hearing aids. Why is eyewear seen as a fashion statement and an extension of your personality? But hearing aids are continually made smaller, to hide them away, suggesting being hard of hearing is something to be ashamed of? This interesting, powerful, evocative insight inspired my project.
More broadly, in my desire to create socially inclusive products, designing for disabilities is something I believe is greatly overlooked. In my opinion, there is great innovation in engineering within this space, and of course this is essential. What’s lacking, are the skills designers have to offer. In the book Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman, he explores the differences between engineers and designers. It helped me greater understand my role in designing for disabilities. Engineers are experts in technology. Designers are experts in people.
Whilst my product now needs engineering development in order to push it to be a realized outcome, I wasn’t afraid to tackle a highly technical product such as a hearing aid. The one aim of my concept was to question what hearing aids could be and to spark a conversation, not to create a product ready for manufacture. I hope I have done it justice.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your design process? Where did you start and how did you arrive at the concept you shared with the world?
My design process is similar in every project I undertake, and one I owe to the fantastic tutors at CSM. Research is the most vital part. In a corona-virus impacted world, I had to rethink how I was going to gain the valuable insights I needed to ensure I was best meeting the user’s needs. I gained them through countless online forums and deep market research into the responses from products that exist today. My research is a very exciting, messy process… the wall in my study is covered head to toe with post it notes, articles, scribbles and mood boards!
I then idea generate. This took me significantly longer than any other product I have undertaken, I wanted to ensure the form was appropriate and functional for the user. I ended up with hundreds of sketch pages, many 3d printed sketch models to ensure comfort on the ear, and a huge amount of concept development to refine the design. My projects are hugely inspired by people, both in and out of the design community. My most valuable feedback is from people from disciplines outside of design. My sister is a scientist, for example. Her view always hugely inspires a new perspective on a project, I believe a multi-disciplinary approach to solving a problem is invaluable.
Q: Did the public reaction to your idea surprise you? What have you been hearing from people since publishing your work?
The public reaction has completely shocked me! My Instagram page had little over 100 followers and I never dreamed it would reach as many people as it has. Whilst it is great to have the design shared by various pages, the main benefit has been the feedback I have gained from the hard of hearing community. I have had many positive comments which have truly validated my thinking and exploration, and also lots of feedback of how to further improve the product which I am very excited to incorporate into further concept development.
Q: What’s next? And where do you hope this work takes you in the long term?
I return to university in October to complete my final year of education. I want to continue on my journey into social design and continue to learn and consolidate my skills. I hope to create products that aim to help people in their day to day lives. My dream is to work for a design agency with similar beliefs to my own. I also feel I have just scratched the surface in terms of design interventions within the hard of hearing community, the response has been fantastic from this one project, but I realize there is a whole lot more work to be done.
Thanks to Alice Turner for the passion and inspiration that went into this project and for taking time to share this story with us. You can follow Alice’s work on her instagram here.