User-centered design and niche-market development: Engaging Students in the design and merchandising
Understanding customer's needs is a prerequisite for effective design and market development in fashion industry. In common fashion curriculum, future fashion designers and merchandisers acquire market research methods focused on the target market's geographical and demographical characteristics as a means to identify customer's needs. However, the conventional market studies overlook customer's unconscious needs since customers often do not recognize what they want or even can expect from apparel product. In order to identify customer's conscious and latent needs, a relatively newer user-centered approach called empathic design employs close observation and systematic analysis of customer's experiences in their own environments (Leonard & Rayport, 1997). This approach's unique properties including close observation and deep empathy for customers' experiences has great potential to provide fashion students opportunities to practice for user-centered design and niche-market development. Thus the purpose of this study is to apply the empathic design approaches, serving as a pedagogical method, into practicing critical thinking process to develop adaptive wear and identify potential niche-market for the customers in special needs.