http://vimeo.com/94624122 Editor's ink: Adam is one of our teaching fellows at the d.school. He has been conducting design work in Detroit as part of a larger project. This short-term immersion is one of the methods he used during his empathy work.
Whether you're jumping into a new design project or visiting a new city, there are always many different ways of generating empathy and understanding. Immersions are a deeply powerful tool if you can create an experience that gives you a gripping and alternative perspective of how people live.
This video was created during a morning I spent exploring what life in Detroit was like. I read books and articles before visiting Detroit, and I viewed a number of YouTube videos. But no media or conversation prepared me for the emotional impact I experienced living like someone else for a period.
To create a genuine, immersive experience I took credit cards and ID's out of my wallet and set out from my house to see if I could navigate my way to signing up for food stamps. I committed to using my phone only for documentation and, instead, relied only on my street smarts to push me forward.
The feelings of shame, confusion, discouragement, and discomfort I felt offered me a really personal sense of what it might be like to have to navigate social services. As you can see in the video, I finished the morning so exhausted and drained that all I could do was eat a sandwich and fall asleep. I was able to try out this life for a couple of hours before returning home to my own world. But the experience opened my eyes to how difficult it would be if there was no escape from it - or how much harder it would have been if I had been toting around a couple of children and needed to be back home in time to go to work.
Have you jumped into someone else's life for your design work? If so, let me know what your experience was in the comments or ping me on Twitter at @couchrock.
This piece has been updated.