Designing for others

During an initial discussion of general questions and concerns, a classmate expressed his anxiety of making art with our members because, unlike most students who are artists, he is a designer. While he was reassured that his design abilities would translate into the experience, his expression continued to plague me. It was the catalyst of my own anxieties as a designer. Designers create under specific criterion as dictated by the client, so, ideally, they are effective communicators working with people from all fields and temperaments. If I am able to effectively communicate ideas and concepts through design projects, why is conversation more challenging?

Conversation truly is an art, requiring equal parts of talking and listening. While I claim to be a good listener, I admit talking is more difficult. When meeting new people, I’m often perceived as shy due to my introverted nature. As I begin to speak, I fear that my conversations will only amount to small talk, or seem plain insignificant. Luckily, my Elderberry partner is accepting of my sparse conversation. She too is a quiet person, so we enjoy peoplewatching and eavesdropping. We often share moments of non-verbal conversation, like when we make eye contact and laugh about something we’ve overheard. I think the openness of the space and projects allows for interesting conversations ranging from dating to classes. While we enjoy listening to the conversations around us, I wonder if she would like me to be more talkative.

Oddly, the greatest challenge, however, is accepting that my partner has dementia because she doesn’t show outward signs of struggle. She is just as aware of our surroundings as I am, responding in a smile or quiet laugh. Furthermore, she is confident in her creative ability and efficient process, always having time to spare for watercolor painting. She seems to want more challenging projects. Working one-on-one enables me to revise our projects to better suit her needs. In particular, she enjoys painting patterns using a variety of colors. I wonder if our final project will entail watercolors, perhaps on a larger scale.

I had anticipated my experience as an assistant art teacher would translate to working with adults with memory loss, but my experience, thus far, has proved to be completely unique. While my initial anxieties have eased, I wonder what more I can do to create a space and projects more catered to her. I find myself asking, “How can I apply myself as a designer, and individual, to best help my partner?”

~Tery Hung, Art & Design and English Literature student

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