HBO’s biopic movie Temple Grandin stars Claire Danes as the title character, who suffers from autism and becomes an innovator and activist. As shown in the movie, Temple (as a small child) would fixate on objects for long periods of time and did not speak until she was four. Temple loved to spin and roll around on the ground, but she hated being hugged by anyone, including her mother (portrayed lovingly by Julie Ormond). Fans of Clare Danes will easily recognize her from the movie poster. Yet, she gives a layered performance, showing some of Temple Grandlin’s quirks, energy, passion, and (yes) flaws.
Clare Danes embodies the role of Temple Grandin. As an actress, Danes must have relished the chance to play a determined person, who is “different, not less.” Some scenes are very physical, while other scenes are supplemented with special effects to show Temple dreaming, calculating, thinking, and more. These special effects only enhance the already wonderful performance of Calre Danes. For me, this role is the firs time that I have thought of Clare Danes as an actress, not a pretty face. Clare Danes nailed her performance as Temple Grandin.
What Designers Can Learn From Temple Grandin
As a designer, you can learn many things fromTemple Grandin–as an artist, an innovator, and thinker. Like you, she sees the world differently. Here are some lessons designers can learn.
Empathize with Your Users, Even if They are Cows. Temple Grandin is known for her groundbreaking working in cattle handling. In a couple of early scenes, the movie shows how Temple’s autism helped her to see the world like the cows on her animal’s farm. She wrote her Master’s Thesis on how cows (as prey animals) would moo to warn the other cattle in their herd. Grandin developed a humane system to help guide cattle through stockyards and slaughterhouses. According to Grandlin, “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”
Different, Not Less. Designers often talk about the importance of building accessibility into their sites. For Temple Grandin, it is really a matter of respect. In an early scene, Temple’s mother talks with a high school science teacher about her daughter. During this heated discussion, she says her daughter is “different, not less.” As young woman, Grandin would design devices for the humane treatment of cows in stockyards and slaughterhouses. As Grandin puts it, “They (cows) deserve our respect. Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”
Designers Need to Do Their Research. Grandin constantly did research for her design projects. She developed a squeeze machine in college, as it helped to calm her down when she got anxious. An early scene in the movie spotlights the methodology used to prove to her college that her squeeze machine had therapeutic benefits for most people, not just Grandin’s form of autism. Grandin used a control group and made an A minus on the study.
When Grandin did her Master Thesis on “Cattle Agitation” (which is fancy way of saying “mooing”), she studied cattle in stockyards, slaughterhouses, and auctions. She would draw up blueprints for a bathing maching with special curved walls, grooved ramps, and steps. Grandin’s thesis was published in an Arizone magazine specifically for ranchers before it was formally accepted by her advisor. According to the movie, roughly 50% of livestock go through devices that Grandin designed.
“No” is a “Restained Yes”. Temple Grandin faced many obstacles, beyond her own abilities. In one instance, Grandin gets stopped by a cattle rancher, who refuses to let her continue doing her research. Instead of giving up, Grandin quickly figures out that a press pass gets her past the gatekeeper of the cattle ranch. So, Grandin goes and gets a press pass and continues her research. As a designer, you will have to overcome gatekeepers and other political obstacles. Draw inspiration from Temple’s resourcefulness. No is a “restrained Yes.”
Big Designers are Extreme Visual Thinkers. Temple Grandin had a photographic memory, which she called her second language. Ironically, the movie shows Temple recited a French (her second language) using her visual memory. Grandin would do more than just draw the pictures. The pictures were a visual respresentation of her actual thoughts. When she went through blueprints, she would go through the entire system (every rivet, angle, and system). For Grandin, her sketches were not just abstract representations, they were concrete systems that had not been implemented. Her sketches were real.
Temple Grandin (the movie) is a great for anyone. It is especially good for designers because it about an autistic designer, activist, and innovator. You can learn alot from watching it. Accessibility, user research, sketching, office politics, visual thinking, and creativity are explored in this biopic. Big Designers will be inspired.
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