Hendrix is fascinated by a discipline called "embodied cognition," the idea that a great deal of our mental experience arises from our bodies as much or more than from our brains. For example, some research suggests that people with Botox treatments do not empathize as readily because their brows can't furrow in concern, or that artificial sweeteners cause confusion because sweetness is a signal to start metabolizing, but the body has nothing caloric to metabolize.
"As a designer, one of your strongest tools is empathy," he said. "Once you understand the situation people are in, you can start to find the opportunities to improve it. I think that's in contrast to what a lot of people think design is about, some kind of personal expression or vision and making that beautiful object. There are certainly places for that in the design profession, and there are moments in every project that require an execution of beauty. But the real need for us is to be empathetic with the people we're designing for. Everything else will follow from that. And anybody can do that, anybody can be empathetic."
Michael Hendrix will speak on "Innovation Culture" May 21 at 7 p.m. on The Public Library's Fourth Floor. Sponsored by AIGA Chattanooga, the event is open to public. $20 for nonmembers, cash or card at the door.