The end of our semester is nearing and I have gotten to know most of my classmates.
Some interesting classmates to say the least. David Mahmarian is one of them. I remember speaking with David for the first time and my first impressions of him was, he is open and honest about himself and genuinely passionate about design. (On a side note: He has run many marathons in Minnesota and has given me insights on my training)
When we had to introduce ourselves to our instructors in each of our classes, David’s story never changed. He came to the SVA IXD program with one thing in mind. David has a younger brother, who is severely autistic. He came to the program to explore how technology could help enable communication. After doing research and interviews, he realized this is a much bigger problem. There is a communication gap between the autistic world and ours. David’s solution is still brewing, but his exploration towards the solution has never stopped.
David hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also lived in Chicago and Miami. He worked as an UX designer at SapientNitro’s Chicago and Miami offices and founded the IxDA Miami chapter.
Hi David. Thanks for taking the time. This is my first interview profile, so bear with me.
Elushika (E): In most of our classes, your projects are focused on autism or speech. What have these explorations taught you?
David (D): Coming into this program, my goal was to make everything I do about autism, whether it is a coding project or conducting user research. I have used each exploration as a chance to increase my understanding of autism and to talk to experts who work in the field. I conducted interviews with families and caretakers of children with autism. I have also connected with organizations such as Opening Gaits Riding Society in Calgary and Tech Kids Unlimited at the NYU Ability Lab. The two organisations are very different, yet they are both finding innovative ways to work with autistic people. Opening Gaits Riding Society uses therapeutic horse riding as a way to open communication for nonverbal people, and Tech Kids Unlimited teaches technology to kids on the spectrum.
E: What roadblocks have you encountered?
D: My biggest roadblock so far has been coming to a deeper realization as to how complex autism is, especially when it comes to communication. There are people who have been researching autism for decades and still don’t have answers. The research has shown that there is not one type of autism and that the needs can vary greatly based on the individual. The fact that what works for one person may not work for anyone else makes finding a solution a very difficult task.
E: What are your next steps?
D: This will remain my biggest challenge over the next couple of years. I think the key is going to be finding one specific area where I can make a difference. Even if I just create one thing that works well for a small group of people, I would consider it a success.
E: In our innovation class; Your problem was about better communication with the autistic world. During our last pitch presentation, you said ”I don’t have a solution, I’m still exploring.” I understand that autism is a large subject and you can’t have a solution by December, but for our upcoming final, what do you think your solution would be?
D: I’m going to have to choose one thing to focus on and just experiment. This will surely not be the solution, but I am confident that the knowledge and insights gained can be used as an opportunity to further my understanding.
E: How do you visualize yourself in 2 years? Do you think you will have a solution when you graduate?
D: I’m not sure where the research will lead me over the rest of my time here. I trust the process and believe, through my research, where I could potentially make an impact will become known. I may end up shifting from autism communication to another area of need, regardless, I think the key is to remain open, curious and most importantly to always be empathetic.
David inspires me in each class. He has a selfless goal in mind, which he approaches with empathy and openness. I look forward to see how he work towards that goal and I wish him best of luck.