Though very muscled and with an attractive torso, Brando, clamped in his leg braces, was struggling to tear himself off the ground by a metal bar of a walking frame. For his first time Hollywood endeavour, The Men, he was immersed in the real world of the Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital in California, experiencing the real life of paraplegic survivor veterans from World War II.
Marlon Brando applied The Method, an acting technique in which actors mobilise conscious thought to activate subconscious behaviour. During the preparation, he sought inner motivation that justified the actions and thoughts of those veterans.
Konstantin Stanislavsky first established the Method as The System.
An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so he must be willing to accept all experiences that life can offer.
Try to experience the lives of others.
The above quote by Marlon Brando applies to designers equally. Designers must interpret life to improve the lives of their beneficiaries. And to do so, they must accept all life experiences these beneficiaries offer.
Although it is impossible to understand the life of others to the fullest, the least we need to do is try the hardest. Marlon Brando wasn’t a soldier in World War II; he hadn’t seen the battlefields nor lived the experiences of a companion dying beside him in the muddy trenches. But at least he did all he could to understand their state of being.
And that is what we need to do as designers, trying to understand the life of others. When we do not suffer from poverty, we will not understand the experience as a whole, which makes it hard to understand how poverty affects children in their school assignments.
If we want to understand this, we come to some distance with interviewing and organising focus groups, but we can easily delve deeper when living life for some time.
Transcend the superficiality of observing.
Marlon Brando became one of the people with paraplegia. He engaged in their pranks and pillow fights and lived amongst them for about a month. He slept in a 32-bed ward and was treated as all other patients.
Observing and interviewing are techniques to inform us to an important extent of the experiences of others. But whenever we want to solve real-world problems, we should try to transcend the superficiality of observations. Whenever you have experienced something, the knowledge and understanding of what it really means is much deeper.
When Brando wanted to come to understand how these veterans were suffering from depression and an impaired self-concept, he needed to understand what their lives really looked like in the Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital.
As designers, we have to make all the possible efforts to understand the lives of those we are working with. Reducing the distance, both physically and mentally, will help us to do right.