Empathy for the Most Vulnerable: Reducing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed

By Michael Elwell and Deana McDonagh.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There has been a significant decrease in deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) since 1992. This may be the direct result of public awareness programs promoting supine sleep position (e.g. Back to Sleep Campaign). However, over 2000 infants in the United States still die of SIDS each year. While several risk factors for SIDS have been identified, the root cause(s) remains unknown. SIDS can happen to any infant regardless of race, gender, and socio-economic status.

Studies have shown that infants who sleep on their backs in a safe crib are far less likely to die of SIDS and Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB). Sleeping on their back lowers the arousal threshold, increasing the chance of survival if oxygen deprivation occurs. The crib offers a safer sleeping environment than co-sleeping, as the weight of a parent or the soft material of a pillow can easily suffocate an infant.

This paper discusses and illustrates critical states in the designing process of a crib that reduces the risk of SIDS and ASSB. The process utilizes empathic design research strategies to determine the authentic human needs of the target user.

Keywords: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed, Empathic Design Research Strategies Authentic Human Behavior, Design Process

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.99-116. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.769MB).

Michael Elwell

Graduate Student, School of Art and Design, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/Urbana, Urbana, IL, USA

Michael Elwell graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from the University of Notre Dame in 2005. He was then employed at Coachmen Recreational Vehicles, Radio Flyer, and the design firm Process4. He is currently pursuing his Master of Fine Arts in Industrial Design degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A former IDSA Merit Award winner, Michael has also won third place in the International Housewares Association Student Design Competition for his product “Magnificare,” a prescription pill container opener and label magnifier. The product is now licensed to Jokari, Inc. as “Medi-Grip,” and won Best in Category at the 2010 Housewares Design Awards and was named an Honoree in the 2009 Design Defined product design recognition.

Dr. Deana McDonagh

Associate Professor, School of Art and Design, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/Urbana, Urbana, IL, USA

Deana McDonagh, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Industrial Design within the School of Art + Design and a faculty member of the Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, the Institute of Aviation and Human Factors and the Academy of Entrepreneurial Leadership. She has focused on developing Empathic Design Research strategies to support new product development by responding to users’ emotional needs beyond the functional (supra-functional). She joined the University of Illinois in 2004 from the Department of Design and Technology at Loughborough University (UK). She is the Co-Editor of the Design Journal, Fellow of the Design Research Society and the World Demographic Association. Recent University of Illinois Campus Research Grants have included “Trans-generational Learning: Communication through visual stimuli”, “Disability + Relevant Design” and “Visual Data Capture”.


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