Designing for society

The relationship between people and technology is at the heart of everything Dr Wouter Eggink is doing. "A good designer is a good listener and has empathy," says the assistant professor of Industrial Design Engineering. "And he has also an eye for the impact of the design on society."

Dr. ir. Wouter Eggink
“A good designer is a good listener and has empathy”

In the TV programme ‘We gaan het maken' (‘We’re gonna make it’), Wouter Eggink had to come up with a solution for a woman without hands and lower legs who is not able to climb stairs. He designed an extension for her prostheses that makes it possible. "Initially, you tend to approach it from a technical perspective, to make something that allows her to climb stairs easily. But for this woman, independence was the key. She wanted to be able to go up the stairs on her own. So, I designed something simple that supports her, rather than something that does the work for her." 

The approach embodies Eggink's vision of design. "I teach our students in a similar way how to make a good design. Look at the needs of the user, or rather: look at the broader context, at the impact of the design on society as a whole."

Enabler of social interaction

All of Eggink's research activities are about the human-technology relationship. This goes beyond the design of a technically well-functioning coffee machine. For example, his graduates develop school furniture that helps children learn better or a pavilion that promotes social contact between neighbourhood residents. "We see technology as an enabler of social interaction. The social and psychological aspects are becoming increasingly important. The industrial designers we train must not only have the necessary technical skills, but must also be good listeners. They work closely with IT scientists as well as philosophers of technology and psychologists. The great thing is that all these disciplines are working together here in Twente."

Product Impact Tool

The designer evokes associations with the user, Eggink realises. That is why the assistant professor was involved with the development of the Product Impact Tool, which helps a designer to think systematically about the impact of his design on people and society. With the Product Impact Tool, students of the University of Antwerp analysed the electric scooter sharing system. The side effect of the system (rent by the minute) was that the scooters were dumped everywhere in the city. The students designed both new attractive places to dump the scooters and an adapted payment system. By giving a discount on the next ride if the scooter is left at a 'good' spot, the inconvenience would be reduced.

It is a good example of how a design for public space can affect human behaviour, says Eggink. “A designer must be aware of the consequences for the environment in a broader sense. Human Centred Design has become Responsible Design.”

DesignLab

The DesignLab of the University of Twente is the place where students and other users can put the concept of 'Responsible Design' into practice. The lab was designed by Eggink, who took into account the various stages of the design process in the layout.  "The process from idea to realisation is reflected in the lines, the lettering and the different spaces that represent all stages of the design process. The design has come out well, also thanks to the DreamTeam with students who show other students the way in the process and keep developing the concept of DesignLab."

Research and Education

"Educating a new generation of designers and engineers is the most direct form of valorisation," Wouter Eggink believes. "Because we deliver young people with the latest insights, we have a direct impact on society. That's what makes education so interesting and relevant." Eggink previously helped design the curriculum of the Creative Technology programme and is now, among other things, coordinator of the Industrial Design Engineering master's track Human Technology Relations. In the master, he teaches the courses 'Design Histories' and 'Create The Future'. In the latter course, he has groups of students make design proposals for society in 25 years' time, based on a specific future scenario.

About Wouter Eggink

Dr. ir. Wouter Eggink (1972) studied Industrial Design Engineering in Delft and gained his PhD at the University of Twente in 2011 with a thesis on the history of unruly design. He is assistant professor of Industrial Design Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering Technology. Eggink is a member of the Design Geschiedenis Nederland foundation, the national platform for design history.

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