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Category Archives: UX For Good

Studio: You are MY sunshine

Even on the dreariest days, in a town where droplets falling from the sky is never a thing you are prepared for, the umbrella service is here, brought to you by Laura Galos, Lindsay Josal, and me, Crystal.

You are my sunshine…

sunshine_intro

The Result…

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Posted in Classes, Creativity, Motivation, Portfolio, Reflection, Uncategorized, UX For Good | Leave a comment

Ux for Good: Hidden Patterns In Rwanda’s Reconciliation

This post is my fourth post 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.

Writing throughout the challenge posed to be a bigger challenge than I thought; given the time spent traveling and doing actual work.  But I plan on continuing these posts as this project progresses.

 

 

“Simplicity is reached on the other side of complexity.”

My former manager Frank Lyman often uses this metaphor to describe a pattern he’s observed when people work through complex problems. After reciting the pull quote, he often states something to the effect of:

“Imagine a bell curve.  At the left side of the curve is a blissful state of unaware.  As you move from left to right, the level of complexity (and often anxiety) goes up and up and up.  Just before the pinnacle of this curve, we often find ourselves in the most chaotic state. Everything is conflicted, none of the parts make any sense, and it’s really unclear as to where everything is going. Then you realize what needs to be done and you arrive at a state of simplicity; a state that could only have been achieved by going through the complexity.”

 

I’d like to think that the point at the top of the curve is a moment of ephiphany.  Sometimes it’s your own doing, but more often than not it comes from a rigorous process or a casual observer; who simply notices the right thread to start pulling on. Not to say that our team in Rwanda wouldn’t have discovered the “right path” if left to work through it – but we would have lost a significant amount of time (needed to do good research) if left to our own devices. Three days on the ground in a place that takes 12 hours to access leaves little time for error.

The three days of research conducted in Rwanda fell into this pattern, but with the steepest logical and emotional upswing toward complexity I’ve ever experienced. Our entry into the curve started with the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM), crafted in partnership by local Rwandans and Aegis Trust, was built to commemorate victims of the 1994 genocide; giving Rwandans a place to bury and remember their loved ones and document their history. The center itself is a museum that sits next to a series of mass graves, where over 250,000 are buried.

 

Walking past the graves, it’s extremely hard to comprehend the number of people that lie within arms reach.  Each one, a person, with a family, a story.  Each person with hopes and aspriations just like any one of us. But no longer. One of the Aegis employees tried to give us a sense of scale.

He said, “picture a stadium.  A large one – say the Dallas Cowboys stadium – holds 50,000 at best?  Now multiply that amount of people until you get to around 250,000.  That is how many rest here.”

 

So I stood there thinking about the sheer mass of 250,000 people – and how they managed to fit all of them into a space that really isn’t much larger than a 1 acre backyard.  “How big are these graves if they hold that many people?”, I asked.

“Most of the bodies aren’t completely whole..  We know they are different people because of the size, shapes and placement of the bones, but each coffin is filled by the bones of multiple different people. We don’t have most of the names either, because there are no written records – and anyone who would have been alive to note a missing person was also wiped out.”

 

As hard as it is to summarize the feelings you have while standing there – it’s even harder to capture them in a manner that can be conveyed to others. You feel sick – yet emotionally detached.  You know what you are hearing is awful…  Yet you are unable to truly understand it. It wasn’t until our first Contextual Inquiry that the feeling really sank in, and the team moved up the curve of complexity.

 

Prior to going into the museum, I had the chance to do an interview with a survivor. He must have noticed my “absence of self” expression that lingered for about an hour as I sat on a bench just outside the main entrance.  A face I noticed on almost every one of my fellow designers during the first day of research. The man sat down and began to talk to me about the memorial gardens and the city of Kigali. After some brief back and fourth, he gave me an entirely different perspective on what this place meant to him.

“This place is home to me.  It has the bones of my mother and my father… I’m still looking for the bones of my brothers, my sisters, my cousins, aunts and uncles… Someone out there knows where they are, but they just aren’t saying anything… But my parents rest here. Here, they are no longer in the bush.”

 

As a design researcher, you are rarely caught off guard during an interview.  Your job as a facilitator is to feel out potential avenues of exploration in real time – responding to the participant’s statements, actions, and reactions – such that you might uncover their perspective in a particular context. The interviews that we did over the course of 3 days in Kigali were exceptionally difficult – not necessarily because of responses like the one above, but because of the way a person’s demeanor would change throughout the interview. Each person we talked to would drift away at some moment while they were telling us stories, or politely answering our questions.

Their eyes would shift in such a way that you would swear they were watching something horrible happen just over your shoulder.  They didn’t frown.  They didn’t smile.  They just watched. Watched something you could feel but never come to understanding yourself. Watched something they have probably replayed over and over for the past 20 years since the genocide, and all the while, attempting to do their part to make us feel as comfortable as possible. This was heart wrenching.

These experiences moved the team further up the complexity curve.  In addition to not having a direction to start aiming our research, we were now emotionally invested with the people who were kind enough to share their stories.

 

While some members of the team spoke with locals and visitors, others moved through the museum portion of the memorial.  The museum itself is 4 – 5 stages of audio and visual walkthrough of the historical markers that led to the genocide, personal accounts of the 100 day event, a brief overview of the international response, subsequent actions of recovery, and finally remembrance and dedication to lost loved ones.

While the memorial seeks to serve as a point of education for the Rwandan people, the customer journey has quite the opposite effect. Many visitors, both local and foreign, described their emotional state as “broken” upon leaving the exhibit.

 

“What did I expect?  I just totally got smacked. [crying] I just got hit…. I watched readings, I watched tapes [of the genocide] but it was so distant. They were not useful… I could not understand [until I came here]. I came for someone who lost about 34 members of their family.  I couldn’t understand how 34 people can be killed.. It was people cutting and hacking.. It was your next door neighbors, people you grew up with, people you lived with…”

 

Our own design team even struggled to come to terms with the profound sense of loss that immediately follows a visit to the KGM. At some point during our second day of research, while gathered to plan our few remaining hours on the ground, we reached the pinnacle of complexity.

In recapping the days activites, doing a mental inventory of the research opportunities we had left, and feeling the pressure of the ticking clock, one of our team members opened up with frustration. He said, “How are we supposed to research this if we can’t get over it ourselves.”  We are supposed to document as much of this experience as we can, yet we are paralyzed by the immense amount of pain and loss.

 

What happened next was our moment of epiphany.  Jeff from insight labs connected the dots we were unable to see.

“Maybe this is the point..  If you all are so conflicted as a result of being here, that you can’t get anything done, how do we expect someone who isn’t going to be here for this many days to be able to reconcile the feelings into some form of sustainable action?”

 

The design brief suddenly made sense – “The problem we’re trying to solve isn’t just genocide and isn’t just museums.  Rather, it’s the gap between the way we remember the genocides of the past and how we act to prevent the genocides of the future.”

We’d been so focused on the types of actions someone can do to identify and prevent future atrocities that we missed the real problem. Experiences like the KGM leave you so broken that you are unable to act in any capacity, much less one that requires empathy and some form of critical thinking.

Aegis Trust partially recognized this deficiency when they created a traveling education exhibit, based off of the original narrative in KGM. On our 3rd day of research, the team drove out into rural Rwanda to see this exhibit and speak to the community educators. The tone and narrative of the education exhibit was almost the opposite of its predecessor at KGM. While it told the same initial story, this exhibit ended with stories of people working together as a means to emulate model behavior.

 

“Have you seen the exhibit at KGM? Yes?  Then you can see the difference.  At KGM, you get to the end and just go ‘poof’; but with this one [educational exhibit] that happens very quickly.  Users go through the hard part, but then also the uplifting part; realizing some of the possibilities that are there.”

- Morley Hanson, Aegis Trust

 

The groups of school children who arrived from nearby villages left with renewed compassion toward their fellow countrymen and a motivation to correct wrongdoing in their own lives.  The traveling exhibit not only transferred the values of critical thinking and empathy, but it was able to contextualize examples of supportive behavior that rural villagers could emulate every day.

After seeing this, it became obvious to the design team that one key to generating action was to provide examples that locals and visitors could see in their daily lives.  We would need actions that ranged from easily achievable to aspirational. This would provide “humanitourists” the ability to gain confidence that they can affect change and the realization that there is more that can be done.

 

Our final 24 hours of research in Kigali was focused on interviewing visitors of the museum and observing education workshops conducted by Aegis Trust.  One of our first participants, a youth leader on his 4th return to Rwanda, gave us another clue into the recipe for creating sustained action. He described an interaction with his grandmother upon returning from his first visit to Africa.

She asked him, “Did you get that Africa out of your system?”
“No..  In fact, it’s just starting… A missionary had started a school here and they needed someone to run it.  So I came, moved my family, and ended up having my son here.”
 
 

The youth leader had just described his trigger for action. A pattern we noticed in multiple people during our final day of interviews.

Upon hearing moments of “triggered action” from dissimilar participants, the design team began to wonder if it would be possible to manufacture trigger moments within the memorial?  Or at the very least, be in a position to provide resources for action when “primed” individuals reach a moment of potential action after returning home.

The youth leader continued to describe another key to his continued involvement.

“I have a friend here named Erik [his name has been changed to protect his identity].  His entire family was killed in the genocide.  He was called to be a witness against the guy who killed his entire family. So he went and said – this is what happened – but he forgave him. He said, ‘he’s done something horrible to me, but if I do something horrible to him, I’m no better.’”

 

The youth leader was describing a second pattern for sustained action. Motivation that was sustained by a connection with a real person.

“I no longer run the school here in Kigali, but I do bring groups of students to Rwanda.  This is my 4th time back.  We talk about this trip as being a series of contrasts – ups and downs.  We are here this morning, reviewing the history, and then we are going to drive out to a school to see kids that are so full of hope and life.  I think that Rwanda is a story of growing redemption and hope.  If we just have one side of it, we are missing the full picture.”

The youth leader had hit upon another pattern we discovered in multiple western groups who were touring Rwanda.  Each group had modeled a tour that included multiple moments of “ups and downs”.  They had independently discovered that balancing turmoil with hope created opportunities for connection within each of their participants.

 

There seems to be an underground culture of “humanitourism” taking place in Rwanda.

While it’s fair to say that people who make it to Rwanda to visit the genocide memorial are already predisposed to some type of action.  Rwanda itself isn’t a very large tourist destination.  Most visitors have to go out of their way to enter the country to see the gorillas or to go to the genocide memorial.  Very few happen to stop by as part of a day-trip to other sites within Rwanda or it’s bordering countries.

The design team began to wonder if we could amplify this concept of humanitourism.  Is there a market for people who are looking to be inspired by the acts of kindness and reconciliation that are taking place in this small African country?  If so, would we be able to model a series of experiences that activate people to participate?

These were just some of the questions we had upon finishing our research in Kigali.  In my next post, I’ll talk about how we took these data points and synthesized them into design recommendations for Aegis Trust and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

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UX for Good: Meeting the team

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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UX for Good: Immersion

This post is my second 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.

At AC4D, we are the evangelicals of ambiguity.  Time and time again I’ve pushed people out the doors of the school with a single mission – go and explore the world around you.  Immerse yourself into the cultures and problems to which we remain largely blind. Not by choice, but generally by habit.  It’s our nature to become so comfortable in our routines that we don’t even realize what they are. I am no exception to this.

These moments of “motivation” are often met with disbelief & fear from the people we are forcing them upon.  “What do you mean I have to go out and talk to people?  Right Now?  I just learned how to do this?”
We try and provide words of encouragement, but you can see the fear in their eyes.
They are participating in a process that is forcing them out of their comfort zone without any clear understanding of the outcome. They are required to blindly trust us.

I attempt to remain aware of this problem in my own life; occasionally making adjustments in my patterns as a means to discover the unexpected. Like many of the design researchers I know, I think to myself  “You understand aspects of the world that others do not”, “you are so informed”.

But my first 20 min in Rwanda as part of the UX for Good design challenge generated a realization that my “informed state” has largely been one of false enlightenment.

What I thought were the boundaries that defined my perspective – those that I attempted to subvert in the name of “immersing myself in problems & cultures”, were not even close to the boundaries I’ve come to identify as a result of traveling here.
Our initial decent into Kigali was in the evening, just as the sun started to set & the area moved into twilight.  As we passed over the roof tops of small towns and villages, I couldn’t help but think they looked the same as the villages we saw while taking off in Brussels. Small clusters of white walls and red clay roofs that travel along the roads that connect them.

From 8,000 feet in the air, everything looks the same.

But as we approached the ground, an extremely unexpected difference in these clusters of homes stirred a panic that I have not felt in a long time.

There were no lights.

No visible lights in the street.  No visible lights on the homes. Or so few that I could actually count the number of them between each village we passed. For anyone reading, this detail might seem like an expected observation.  It does fall within the western narrative I’ve heard from friends and family before coming here; That Africa as a tarp ridden collection of unsafe villages. A narrative that is never explicitly stated, but always inferred. One of thousands of sweeping generalizations that I’m guilty of as much as the next person – and just as afraid to admit.
For me, the concept of limited electricity wasn’t what gave birth to paralyzing fear. If my computer dies, it’s not the end of the world.  If I have trouble charging my phone, it’s not really a big deal. These are the first world problems that I’ve grown largely accustom to solving on a daily basis.

Rather, this small detail pushed me into a state of awareness, and sheer panic, that only comes with the realization that you are completely out of your element. That you are entering into a state of un-retractable ambiguity.

My irrational internal monologue went something like this:

  • You are alone.
  • You have just been dropped into a culture in which the behavioral norms and customs are completely unknown. You are exposed.
  • You don’t speak the language.
  • You have no local currency; as the Rwandan Franc wasn’t offered at any of the exchanges so far.
  • You are an American – so the association with your government’s foreign policy decisions are just one of many lenses in which you expect to be judged (In Rwanda, this history is particularly unkind – Read about the US & UN response to the genocide if you are unfamiliar with what I’m referring to).
  • You are the first to arrive in your team. A group of people you have never met.
  • Your transport may or may not be waiting for you. (I arrived early. So for 20 min I stood by myself outside in the dark)
  • It’s 7pm at night and you have no choice but to press on.  There is nowhere else to go.

I just crossed a boundary I was unaware of and I was letting my capacity for irrational narratives take charge.
 As a designer, the goal is to cross these boundaries.  To be immersed into a particular context, gain some form of empathy, and use that to create momentum towards solving a problem. 
Ambiguity is the hallmark of a good design project. In lacking an understanding of the end state, we are awarded the opportunity to craft it.

But until this point, my experience with these “moments of unknown” have been supported by elements of familiarity. The invisible support structures I’ve unconsciously relied upon were suddenly gone.  I have no team of trusted designers. I am not retiring to the safety of my home after a few hours of contextual research. I am not the facilitator who can choose to end the interview if things take a turn for the negative.

All I have is trust; to trust in the process I preach & the people that I meet.

I am now one of the growing number of student’s I’ve kicked out the door with a call to action to “embrace the unknown”, and I can once again empathize with the fear associated in doing this.

As I embark on this project, I hope the unexpected remains constant. I hope to exercise my capacity as a creative thinker in ways I have yet to imagine, and to maintain this state of ambiguity for as long as possible.

However uncomfortable, this process creates moments of reflection, clarity, and opportunity that provide me with the motivation to keep doing it.

 

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UX for Good: Introduction

The wall of missing loved ones – Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

Hello!

My name is Matt Franks.  I’m a faculty member at the Austin Center for Design.

This post marks the beginning of a series that I hope to maintain over the next few weeks on my participation in this year’s UX for Good challenge – Kigali & London.

What is UX for Good?

“UX for Good is an effort to push design as far as it can go: past forms, interactions and experiences to complex human systems, and beyond attractive, effective and elegant to deeply impactful. UX for Good is out to set the edge, so non-practitioners can see the full potential of design and practitioners can do the most meaningful work of their careers.

Each year, a handful of top user experience designers from around the world are brought together to conceptualize and develop novel interventions that help solve complex, social challenges.”

UX for good aligns to the mission of AC4D in that it attempts to make meaningful change by focusing on problems worth solving. This year’s challenge focuses on a particularly wicked problem: Converting the profound feelings elicited by genocide memorials into meaningful and sustainable action.

As part of this challenge, I will be visiting Kigali, Rwanda for several days of exploration, research, and debate around the topic of Genocide. Kigali is home to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center.

This memorial is built on the site of mass grave, housing the remains of 250,000 Rwandans who were killed over three months in 1994.

Jason Ulaszek of Manifest Digital and Jeff Leitner of Insight Labs, the founders of UX for Good, give great context into this years challenge:

“Like all such memorials, it is intended as an antidote to genocide itself – teaching us and moving us to ensure we will never again be detached and complicit.

But, for the most part, we remain unchanged. Virtually every visitor to a genocide memorial or holocaust museum can attest to overwhelming feelings of sympathy, sadness and outrage. Schoolchildren and world leaders alike leave speechless. But most visitors can also attest that they did nothing substantively differently as a result.”

For those of you who are interested in the complete design brief, you can find it here.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend my career surrounded by individuals who I would regard as more capable than myself in so many ways. I’m genuinely excited to be working on a problem whose solution is in no way obvious, and with a team of talented individuals from around the world.

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