Work & Show: Boey Wang & Simon Dogger

A section with outstanding work by our members. This time, Design Beyond Vision: a unique collaboration between Simon Dogger, a blind designer, and Boey Wang, a designer who specialises in tactile design.

What makes this project special?

Boey: “Our project Design Beyond Vision stands out for several significant reasons. Firstly, it represents a unique collaboration between a blind designer and a designer who specializes in tactile design. This partnership introduces a non-visual approach to design, which is relatively uncommon in the design field. Our shared vision is to create practical solutions for inclusivity and promote a more inclusive approach to design education.

One crucial aspect that sets us apart is our recognition of the gap between design theory and practice in many design schools. We have observed that some design education programs tend to prioritize individual excellence and competitiveness, sometimes leading to socially unsafe environments. To address this issue, we have developed non-visual but multi-sensory design methods that encourage the next generation of designers to engage with their senses and the world around them.

Photo: Simon and Boey discussing an exhibition plan | Photographer: Boudewijn Bollmann

Furthermore, our project serves visually impaired audiences by exhibiting internationally, challenging the assumption that visually impaired individuals cannot excel in the design field. We are committed to shedding light on the accessibility needs of visually impaired users in cultural contexts, with initiatives such as making events like the Dutch Design Week more inclusive. We collaborate closely with cultural institutions to develop blueprints for inclusive festivals and plan to implement access systems within design education.”

What was the project’s objective, and how does the design contribute to achieving it?

Boey: “Certainly, the objectives of Design Beyond Vision are firmly rooted in the belief that the design industry can greatly benefit from diverse perspectives, and that design education can evolve to embrace inclusivity. The primary goals of our project encompass two key aspects:

Promoting inclusivity in design education

Traditionally, the design field has been predominantly visually oriented, resulting in a lack of diversity and a limited range of perspectives. Many design students are trained to design for those with whom they are already familiar. Our aim is to seamlessly integrate into existing design education by introducing alternative values and encouraging students not only to design for, but also to collaborate with a wide spectrum of individuals. We seek to foster dialogue and the incorporation of all senses, including touch, into the design process. Our methods challenge students to approach design from the vantage point of our emotions and intuition as fundamental survival mechanisms, encouraging them to consider the deeper aspects of human-centered design.

Developing empathy and inclusion

Our approach is deeply rooted in principles of inclusion and empathy. Inclusion transcends the mere act of incorporating people; it involves recognizing the value of the thoughts and ideas of individuals with impairments, who often offer unique insights that non-impaired individuals may not fully grasp. We firmly believe that by exposing future design students to the experiences of those who may not have full vision or complete integration into a community, we can enhance their capacity for empathy and critical thinking. This, in turn, can lead to more equitable, inclusive, and diverse perspectives within the design field.

Design Beyond Vision seeks to bridge the gap between theory and practice in design education, champion multi-sensory design thinking, and nurture empathy among future designers. Our project is dedicated to making the design industry more inclusive and diverse, while challenging established norms within the field.”

Photo: One of the student work materialising the feeling of being trapped without sight | Photography: Boey Wang

Could you share insights into your design process?

Boey: “In the preliminary design phase we concentrated on crafting a distinctive workshop and educational approach. This method draws upon depersonalization research, involving participants donning blindfolds to limit their vision. During this immersive journey, participants explore nature and share meals while staying connected with their fellow group members. The fundamental aim of this approach is to encourage individuals to turn their attention inward, heightening their awareness of multi-sensory experiences, which they subsequently learn to express outwardly.

It is not uncommon for participants to initially grapple with feelings of irritation, fear, and skepticism about the experience, especially when it is a mandatory component of their educational curriculum. However, as they let go of their resistance, something remarkable occurs — the method naturally awakens their empathetic abilities through intuition.

Photo: Blind Walk with students from ArtEZ 

It also broadens their spectrum of thinking and unleashes creativity by breaking free from the confines of visual limitations. It rekindles their inner child’s fearlessness in expressing themselves without hesitation. The process of external communication commences with participants translating their sensory experiences into tangible forms. Depending on the school’s context and objectives, these materials can result in a wide array of outcomes, including presentations, experiments, interfaces, artwork, or even innovative products.

This method underscores the importance of touch, collaboration, understanding, motivation, responsibility, development, and humor. It not only equips students with essential design skills such as validation, interviews, and design research but also integrates the tactile dimension into the design process. Simon takes on a guiding role in shaping concepts and haptic storylines, while I focus on visual communication and product development.”

“Design Beyond Vision seeks to bridge the gap between theory and practice in design education, champion multi-sensory design thinking, and nurture empathy among future designers.”

–  Boey Wang & Simon Dogger 

Additionally, could you shed light on the project’s funding choices and the rationale behind them?

Boey: “Our journey commenced with modest personal investments fueled by our unwavering commitment and shared vision. As we recognized the project’s potential and discovered common ground, we embarked on a deliberate and strategic funding expedition to drive its growth. Notably, Design Beyond Vision serves a diverse range of target audiences, encompassing visually impaired individuals, design students, and cultural institutions.

It is this diversity of audience that shaped our multifaceted funding strategy, seamlessly aligning with our project’s content and objectives. Consequently, we pursued funding tailored to these distinct groups, leveraging the unique aspects of our approach. This multifaceted funding strategy was informed by our project’s content and objectives, ensuring seamless alignment with our mission.”

Were there any unexpected windfalls, challenges, or setbacks during the project’s execution?

Boey: “Our collaboration has been simultaneously captivating and challenging right from the outset. One of the most significant hurdles we encountered was related to communication, stemming from our divergent perspectives. Simon’s visual impairment and my natural tendency to describe things visually created ample opportunities for miscommunication, often requiring considerable time and effort to resolve.

To illustrate the communication challenge, there’s a somewhat amusing story to share. Simon once sent a complete email to me, but upon receiving it, I found seemingly nothing within. Upon closer examination and a confirmation with Simon, it turned out that the text in the email was white, coincidentally matching the background color. Simon, who relies on VoiceOver on his MacBook to read text, was unperturbed by the text color, as it didn’t affect his interaction with the content.

Furthermore, our collaboration encountered challenges in spatial design, especially since Simon needed assistance in visualizing spatial concepts. To surmount this obstacle, we devised a communication method using physical materials and models to convey the scale and layout of spaces. Although it took some time for me to fully grasp Simon’s ideas, this approach proved immensely informative for Simon, deepening his understanding of spatial concepts.”

Reflecting on your career journey thus far, are you content with your professional progress? Do you have any advice you’d like to impart to fellow designers?

Boey: “As we reflect on the road we’ve traveled, we find ourselves at the forefront of inclusive design, driven by our passion for harnessing design’s potential to effect positive change in society. We’ve come to realize that embracing challenges and setbacks, rather than avoiding them, is the catalyst for personal and professional growth. Our journey has underscored the significance of adaptability and the wisdom of shedding insecurities, including those related to finances, design concepts, the pursuit of perfection, and reputation.

Photo: The workshop team up the students by Blind Dates | Photography: Boey Wang

Our advice to fellow designers is rooted in a central challenge we’ve encountered—the fear of failure in tackling design problems. In today’s ever-evolving design landscape, the ability to confront the unknown with unconventional thinking is paramount. While we do not profess to possess all the answers, we encourage designers to approach design inquiries from a standpoint of discomfort and potential failure, rather than fixating solely on aesthetics and comfort.

By humbly acknowledging the inherent discomfort in a design challenge, we open ourselves up to the realm of the unknown. This personal recognition of the fear and anxiety experienced by end-users fosters a deeper connection and resonance, ultimately leading to a more compassionate approach to design.”

Where else can we view your portfolio or work?

Boey: “We are thrilled to announce that we will be showcasing Design Beyond Vision projects during Dutch Design Week 2023, hosted at Klokgebouw. We will unveil an interactive installation that encapsulates the core essence of our research. This installation offers a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in our work and gain profound insights into the design process from a variety of sensory perspectives. 

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to BNO for their invaluable support, which has granted us the opportunity to share our practice and insights with a broader audience. Your interest in our work is deeply appreciated, and we eagerly anticipate the opportunity to delve deeper into our projects during Dutch Design Week.”