May 19, 2020

Now on Video from In/Visible Talks 2020: Jenara Nerenberg on “Design, Empathy & Neurodiversity”

Journalist and Author Jenara Nerenberg called on us to reexamine what is “normal” and do something to shift the paradigm.

Jenara Nerenberg opened her main stage talk at In/Visible Talks 2020 with a question: “Who knows someone with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, dyslexia….” Naturally, every hand in the room went up.

“Neurodiversity”, a term coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, refers to an understanding that brain differences are normal, and should be acknowledged and celebrated instead of ignored—or worse, maligned. Jenara invited us to consider how we might design better—and with more empathy—for people who are neurodiverse.

It starts with recognizing our own biases. To help us understand the impact of designing to a bias, Jenara talked about how much of medical research has been conducted with men only. As a direct result, when we are taught how to recognize symptoms of a heart attack, the symptoms specific to women’s bodies are overlooked.

In her talk—and in her book, Divergent Mind—Jenara shared some of her own story to make her points. One of the most powerful moments of the conference was when she introduced a sensory tool she uses to help her, a full body sock. It might look “trippy and cool”, she acknowledged as she climbed in to model it, but she hoped we could come to appreciate how calming it was for her.

Awareness will enable us to design with more empathy for everything from clothing, to couches, to lighting. We might be more intentional with our use of colors. (Tip: deep blues and magenta are very calming to the nervous system.) And as we assemble future teams, we can consider how different perspectives will be represented.

Learn more about neurodiversity and how you can make a difference through your design work by watching the video of Jenara’s 2020 talk below or on Vimeo here.