Luisa Ruge is Colombian-American animal & human centered designer currently based in London. Her passion lies in establishing the field of animal-centered design and encouraging designers to ask questions such as: How can we best use our skills to ethically represent and interpret animals’ needs and desires to inform the design of products and experience of their use? What behaviour changes should we promote in ourselves and others to legitimize animals as users of products and experiences, and ultimately elevate their place in society? These questions drive her current research in designing optimized interactions between mobility assistance dogs and the built environment as part of her PhD in Animal Computer Interaction at the Open University. She is a certified mobility assistance dog trainer and completed two semesters of coursework of an MSc in Canine Science at Bergin University of Canine Studies in California.
Before starting her PhD, Luisa worked as a Principal Business Designer at Polymath Ventures, where she co-lead multidisciplinary teams in the design of start-ups across Latin America. As an independent design consultant, her projects included collaborating with the US State Department and the James Beard Foundation in creating the exhibit strategy for the US Pavilion at ExpoMilan 2015; to establishing the brand strategy for a small appliance start-up. Previously Luisa helped create the design team at Chamberlain, leading projects across multidisciplinary teams, international markets and product lines. As an adjunct faculty member of the Design Department at the Illinois Institute of Technology, she co-taught Research Planning & Execution. In addition, she was Lead Color Finish and Material designer, at Whirlpool Corporation in both their US and Italian offices, and Staff Designer at Steelcase Inc.
A chat with Luisa
Tell us a little bit about you and your journey into behaviour change in relation to improving the lives of animals?
I have more than 15 years’ experience helping companies (from multinationals to start-ups) across the world apply a human centred design approach to developing products, services and experiences. Five years ago, after a lot of reading and reflection, I realized that my goal involved combining my expertise in design with my childhood passion for animals as a means to establish the field of animal centered design in order to improve animals’ wellbeing. To begin the journey, I started by becoming a certified mobility assistance dog trainer. Since then, I have been developing methods and processes that position animals at the centre of the design process in order to identify their needs and design products, services and experiences that best meet these needs; thus improving their experience of use, and in effect their lives. I am currently in the process of obtaining a PhD from the Open University in Animal Computer Interaction, where my research focuses on improving the wellbeing and performance of mobility assistance dogs through the design of products that bridge the gap between the dog’s characteristics as users and the anthropomorphic environments they currently work in. A significant amount of behaviour change has been part of the process of broadening my scope of users from humans to include animals; and I am certain that in my goal of establishing the field of animal cenetered design the need for behaviour change will only increase.
Why does behaviour change matter?
Behaviour change matters because change is certain, and it is only through the purposeful and mindful adaptation of our and others’ behaviour that we can evolve with change.
Most inspiring behaviour change intervention (animal welfare or other) and why?
As part of my role as a design leader in a company who historically had an engineering focus, I was given the opportunity to design and run a series of workshops in which I introduced a design thinking approach to problem solving. By including participatory exercises in the workshops which built on the experiences of employees at home; where their use of creativity is usually less unencumbered then at work, I was able to ignite a change in behaviour that enabled them to tap into that creativity and apply it at work. In time, the company expanded and focused their problem-solving methods to approaches where the first step involved empathizing with the end user and not just solving a technical problem.
What’s your vision for behaviour change for the next five years?
Due to my focus in the field of product and user experience design, when I think of behaviour change in the next five years, I think of this field legitimizing animals as users, learning to adapt their methods and processes to include these users, and being incredibly aware and mindful of the degree of responsibility and respect that designing for another species entails.
How did you become involved with Human Behaviour Change for Animals?
I read about the inaugural HBCA conference and the call for speakers in an email from the Animal & Society Institute; and I thought to myself, “I can talk about human behaviour change in the context of design, and I could also test what an audience of people who work with animals think of the concept of animal-centered design”. So, I decided to take a chance and write a proposal for a 5- minute talk. A few weeks later I was elated to receive an invitation to speak at the conference, so I self-funded my trans-Atlantic trip to the UK and since then have been collaborating with Suzanne and Jo (also, it was through my attendance at the conference that I ended up finding out about the PhD I am currently pursuing).
Why do you like working with HBCA?
Throughout my career I have mostly worked in multi-disciplinary teams, it is where I feel the most creative and comfortable. HBCA means I am part of team of experts that come together around improving animal welfare and thus the animal experience from a variety of perspectives. This provides a place for me to share my expertise, share my thoughts and receive feedback in my current undertaking of establishing animal-centered design; but most importantly, allows me to learn from people who have invaluable experience working with animals.
Top tip for organisations getting started with behaviour change?
Know that each person, or animal has their own universe (context, products, other humans or animals) interacting around them; be curious to understand not only your universe but those of others before asking for change.
- Human Centered Design/Design Thinking/Design
- Trend research and user insights
- Animal Centered Design (Animal Computer Interaction)
- Strategy and concept development
Connect with Luisa: www.luisaruge.com
Twitter: @Animal Centered