supporting sex workers: definition decks

This is part four in a series detailing updates to our research which is grounded in the goal of supporting the safety and agency of sex workers. 

Design Team: Brittany Sgaliardich, Leah Divito

 

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Photo by Danielle Blunt, via Decrim NY.

Sex workers are owed space on the internet.

With the introduction of FOSTA-SESTA, the law is challenging the first amendment of sex workers, educators, and activists, restricting their ability to speak freely. As digital communities are stripped away, so too are the safety, livelihood, and support systems, of those who once formed them.

at a glance

In our studio class this week, our design team tested the validity of one of our concepts a digital platform for female-identifying sex workers to connect with each other and discover resources, without censorship or stigma. The goal of this product is to create a communal space where women can share knowledge and build community on their terms. 

process

While my partner was in Milan for IxDA this week(!), I developed pitch decks, published a landing page, and received feedback from various subject matter experts. The process looked something like this.

  • Identify core product features and existing references. I determined that this platform should allow users to 1) share stories, exchange information, engage in q+a (e.g. Reddit); 2) seek information and search for resources (e.g. Aunt Bertha); 3) Sell or exchange products (e.g. Facebook Marketplace)
  • Identify and contact SMEs. I reached out to privacy technologists and individuals who’ve worked on platforms that achieve any of the identified product features above.
  • Create pitch decks. I drafted wireframe versions of two pitch decks which can be found here and here
  • Test pitches. I tested our pitches with SMEs as a means to critique our thought processes and identify gaps in knowledge. 
  • Create a landing page and ad campaign. I published a landing page that helped to more concisely articulate product mission while measuring potential interest. 

 


uncovering blind spots 

Some of the insights gathered this week. 

referencing what works

As an exercise in building out our concept, I examined how platforms with similar functionality, like Reddit, Aunt Bertha, and The Dancer’s Resource, operate. Finding inspiration from these companies served as a breeding ground for ideas. I began to try and identify all potential users, how value differs for each audience, and what business or revenue model would support that. I believe we must ultimately return to human-centric research in order to strike the balance between the monetary value and human value offered through our products.

the cutting room floor

Narrowing down to one idea this week was challenging for me. It felt like deciding between designing for the highest degree of feasibility versus the greatest impact, and I didn’t feel firm on a decision. I came to the realization that although we must identify the product needs to be addressed, we must also acknowledge that some might be out of scope for the time being. This does not mean the idea needs to be left behind. For features that are harder to evaluate (due to legal constraints), we can explore what questions or ideas can be abstracted and tested. 

the relationship between technology and privacy

Alternatively, privacy and anonymity will be huge components in platform adoption and product feasibility. In chatting with technologists, different considerations and product features rose to the surface. Some of the technology introduced include: 

Encrypted communication via Signal 

    • User chat with end-end encryption

Expiring posts

    • Certain posts have option to expire 
    • Users have no username but are rather assigned a session name or digital identifier

Self-vetting via invite-only access 

    • Users login on an invite-only basis
    • Start with a small grassroots userbase who are able to create a basis for reputation
    • Opportunity for an outsider portal and insider portal (e.g. What.cd)

The degree to which users will want to participate in this platform will shape the way we design for privacy. 

an inclusive first impression

The goal of a platform like this is to make space for people whose stories and experiences are pushed aside, unseen and underrecognized. Women of color and trans women face even greater risks. If a landing page is a first impression, I want to ensure it feels accessible to all women who participate in this work, prioritizing those who are least served. I plan to keep iterating on our landing page and test it with users as we move forward in this process.


ultimately 

This week was challenging for me. My instincts led me wishing to return to user interviews and concept development. I would have liked to spend the week refining ideas in a way that felt more informed by empathy and human behavior. All that said, I recognize the value in telling the story in this way as a method for refining our idea. This process brought new questions to light and shaped our platform in unexpected ways. The process itself is by no means linear and pivoting between approaches is a skill I hope to continue sharpening.

Next week, we will create service blueprints, prototype, and test with users.