Objects of empathy : understanding anorexia through design
Anorexia nervosa is surrounded by stigma and misinformation. Research shows strong support networks provide long-term support that improves the chances of recovery and reduces the odds of relapsing. However, love is not enough; knowledge is essential. As a graphic designer, I am well-versed in using images and text to communicate information clearly and persuade audiences to act. I undertook the MFA in design to extend my reach as a designer and communicator by bolstering my research, product development, and 3D design skills, and I used all three to develop a series of provocative objects intended to facilitate more and better communication between those experiencing anorexia and their partners, family, friends, and healthcare providers. My discursive design interventions—a table runner, two plates, and a cutlery set—use familiar utensils from mealtime rituals to explain how food intake relates to cognitive shifts in the brain of someone with anorexia and to highlight myths about anorexia that often deter people from identifying, communicating about, and seeking treatment for anorexia. These designs are intended to help cultivate empathy, understanding, and open conversation among partners, children, parents, friends, and even health providers who may not know how best to support people with anorexia in their journey toward recovery. The provocative and, at times, wryly humorous objects I designed are meant to give non-anorexic people an entry point for talking about the internal and external conflicts that people with anorexia face at the dinner table in hopes that talking about these challenges will help facilitate better mealtime experiences both for people with anorexia and those who support them.