Joleen Jansen / Arizona State University
2014 IDSA Western District Conference Student Merit Winner
If possessing a strong sense of empathy can create a competitive advantage for a designer, then Joleen Jansen is set to begin her career with the wind very much at her back.
It started early. To fulfill a service requirement at her junior high school in Omaha, Nebraska, Jansen volunteered at a day camp for children with developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy, down syndrome and other genetic disorders. While working at the camp, her natural sense of empathy began to be wrapped in a product design context.
"I can still recall my fascination with products and equipment that had been developed over time at the camp to make tasks easier for the campers and staff," she said. "This made me question if forms that fit functions for extreme users can be carried out and used for a wider audience."
During her tenure at Arizona State University, empathy came to inform her design work almost as a default. Two projects highlight that intertwining.
The first, an adrenaline auto-injector, offers a safe, easy and convenient solution for users who might experience intimidation, discomfort and confusion using existing emergency allergy relief solutions.
She noted, "These devices are often carried by children and administered by untrained people. Surprisingly, it's easy to misuse the device and inject into the thumb of the person administering rather than the thigh of the person having the reaction."
To address misuse of the device like firing the medicine before the user is ready, Jansen designed a locking mechanism inside the device that only unlocks once there is enough pressure between the device and the human leg. Once this lock is released, the side buttons can then be squeezed inward toward one another to release the measured medication. It is this mechanism and design that eliminates the intimidating “swinging and stabbing” motion that is required for all existing products today.
Jansen's solution mirrors the measurements of an iPhone—scaling it at a size most people are willing to carry with them. It is also designed to universally communicate how it should be used whether by a large adult male or a three-year-old child.
Her second project, a multifunctional router tool used for wood-working, started out as very foreign to her. "My first thoughts were: 'What is it? Who uses it? And what for?" because I really had no clue," she offered. "I think it's an important skill to be able to identify a user group outside of one you belong to and then identify with the needs enough to meet new challenges you would otherwise be unaware of."
Identify she did.
"My research partner and I physically deconstructed a plunge router to get a better understanding of the mechanics and technical side of the tool," she said. Conversations with beginner, intermediate and expert users helped them identify improvement opportunities like the bit process, understanding of the instructions, startup torque and direction of movement.
However, it was these same interviews that also helped her see the parts of the tool she should not change because of how well they already meet some needs of the user.
The router design she presented has some features that are already seen on the market today, such as lights to help show the work surface and a dust collection attachment. It also has some features new to the compact router industry, including a completely flat top allowing the user to place the router upside down in a balanced state allowing a user to use both hands to change the bit. Handles then extend horizontally out to either side of this flat top to give the user more control of the torque when the router is in use.
For an empathizer, the new graduate is a pretty noble-minded designer. She offered, "I hope I will someday design something that really helps people in an ethical and healthy way."
Joleen Jansen is currently interning with Bell Automotive Products. To see more of her work, visit: