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UX for Good: Meeting the team

Saturday, May 31st, 2014 | Posted by Matt Franks

A group in Kigali marches toward the memorial

This post is my third in a series on the UX for Good design challenge. Check out the first post: UX for Good Introduction to get a better understanding of what the UX for Good design challenge is about.

 

Today I watched part of the team visit the grounds of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

It dawned on me that we externally worked through an issue that many observers & participants of the design process also have to work through: Just because you are studying X problem, doesn’t mean that your end output will be directly attributable to this problem.

 

I.e. – just because our design focus is “creating action that stops genocide”, doesn’t mean our design solution will be directly attributable to stopping a genocide.

 

Yesterday I asked a man at the memorial the following question, “What is this place to you?”

His response, “In one way, it is a home.  The bones of my mother and father are here… But in another way, it is hope.  Hope that the people who come here will be moved to see the hatred and intolerance that generated this – and take it upon themselves to say something when they see it happen in the future.”

He’s not stating he hopes people stop mass killings (not that it needs to be stated).  Rather, it would seem he observed a different problem altogether; that hatred and intolerance between individuals set the stage for the event to happen.

This is different than the problem that most of us perceive.

When you visit KGM, and other holocaust memorials, you will see a single statement at both of them – “Never again”.  Someone in our group made the observation, “this statement feels hollow… what makes this feel so hollow?”

We’ve had this decree since the Holocaust. Yet somehow there have been multiple instances of massive atrocities since then.  It might feel hollow because our awareness of these atrocities conflicts with our belief in the statement – in effect, exposing the facade.

When I reframe this concept within the context of our mission statement – I can’t help but ask a question.

 

“Never again”…  Never again what?

 

One answer might be that we find a way to generate a swifter response to future instances of foreseeable atrocity.

If there is mass killing on any scale, we should make a concerted effort to mitigate it as soon as possible.  But this is an obvious statement that everyone already largely agrees upon. And yet, history has demonstrated this isn’t enough.

 

What if killing isn’t the problem “we” should be trying to solve?  I.e. if the killing has started, “we” are already too late.

 

An alternative answer is that we find ways to design counter measures to the subtle forbearers that set the stage for an atrocity to flourish.

Design concepts in this problem space are difficult to craft.  More often than not, our “business minded” culture doesn’t permit taking action unless it is directly attributable to the end result.

I.e. If you can’t show that doing X will stop a pending atrocity, no one will take any action.

The result, as history has continued to show us, largely inaction.

This is the same type of thinking the plagues the companies I worked with every day as a consultant @frog design.  Business leaders want imperial evidence that making a move will result in all of the return.

“Guessing the future” doesn’t work like this. 

 

Edison knew this during the development of the light bulb. When asked about all of his failure, he responded, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Edison would not have lasted in our world of quarterly returns.

Changing the future requires rigor, iteration, and sometimes a hopelessly optimistic attitude about reaching the end state.

I have hope. 

As a designer and systems thinker, my value to a team often lies in reframing a given situation.

Consider the following: if the subtle forbearers to a major atrocity are largely cultural undertones that have potential to evolve given the right circumstances, they inherently happen over time. Thus, they may have a higher chance of being noticed by someone who intimately participates in the culture in which they exist.

Designers often make reference to a potential solution as abiding by specific design principles.  They are a way of saying, we can create any product, system, or service; but if it is to be successful, it must do the following.. Design principles are the result of research, reflection, reframing and rigorous iteration. They guide us in crafting meaningful solutions that are not always directly attributable to the initial perceived problem.

 

It may be that the design principles for this particular problem read as follows (Note: this is purely a hypothesis that will change):

  • In-order to be successful, the person must be able to identify the undertones that led to a particular atrocity (any given person who visits an existing memorial).
  • In-order to be successful, the person must then be able to reframe these undertones within the context of their own culture; identifying similar patterns of action or behavior that act as a single block in an overarching foundation.
  • In-order to be successful, the person must then be able to generate concepts that have a purpose to achieve a more ideal outcome; and be able to execute upon these over time.

 

The solution we could then create would reframe the action we hope to generate as:

  • - a “thing” that is contextual (a person can apply it to their own cultural circumstance)
  • - a “thing” that is sustainable (the visibility of their action generates more action)
  • - a “thing” that may or may not be an external creation by the person doing the reframing – but solicits action towards the achievement of a positive outcome (Focus on crafting / executing small steps to the ideal state).

Tomorrow, we officially start research.  We will ingest the perspective of visitors, survivors, and hopefully perpetrators over the next 3 days.

These raw data points will be combined with our own understanding of the world around us, allowing the team to generate design principles that guide our creative thinking.

I hope to have another post sometime in the next three days.

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