Archive for January, 2011

Inaugural UX|XU Experience Recap (Global Lives Project)

UX for Good is the brainchild of Jeff Leitner and Jason Ulaszek of Manifest Digital. It is a conference that brings interaction and visual designers from all over the country to solve social problems for the non-profit sector from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. I was privileged with the opportunity to be the volunteer team coordinator for the Global Lives challenge.

Our team consisted of 8 interaction designers and 1 visual designer. In addition, experts came in and out of our room to listen and offer their perspective throughout the session. These included a poet, journalist, designer, defense contractor, the client, and others. We were joined by various media representatives that photographed and filmed our process. A live blogger stayed with us for most of day and tweeted some of the more memorable quotes that came out of our discussion.

Jeff and Jason led the kickoff. UX designers are uniquely qualified to solve social problems because they have one eye on technology and one eye on user needs. That empathy for the client and end user is portable. “I’m tired of optimizing a shopping cart. Maybe there’s a bigger picture. And I want to give back, right?”

Our Process

After a round of introductions, the team dove into the case: Help Global Lives create empathy in a shrinking world. The Global Lives web site says that their mission is “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.” We watched some of the raw video footage and project founder David Evan Harris’ Ted Talk.

The discussion that ensued created more questions than answers. How do you define empathy? What are the access points to empathy? Who has the patience to watch 24 hours of footage? Is this an art project that seeks empathy as a byproduct or an objective that uses film as a tool? Who is the target audience?

At the end of Friday, our key insights were: 1. The empathy that a producer might develop by following a day in the life of another isn’t transmitted to the audience in the current format. 2. The process of making is more likely to create empathy than the process of watching. 3. There are too many messages, objectives and stakeholders in the case and on the website. 4. Those that are already empathetic are the most likely to consume this type of media; the current format probably isn’t reaching the audience that needs it the most.

Saturday morning, we made a schedule and to-do list. Our client, David, arrived early and after introductions, we took him to another room so that two could interview him while the rest of us took notes on the skype feed. We put up post-its of what we learned from the interview, grouped these by category, then created insight post-its that summarized what we heard.

Exhibitions are the organization’s core competency. They reach few and at a high cost but David feels it is the most effective use of the media. A documentary film is in the works that would have broader reach if shown on PBS. Global Lives has secured a small amount of funding to develop their web presence which could have broad reach but potentially limited impact. While some school teachers use Global Lives media, there hasn’t been a significant push in that direction. Constituents have different views of how to extend project reach.

We tried to define a problem statement and got close, but needed to move on. We tried to think of frameworks to define a strategy. Several ideas were on the table, but none were fully thought out. Time was quickly running out and we needed to go into production mode. We divided up deck pages and fed content to our visual designer for compilation. With five minutes to spare, our presentation introduced the challenge, walked through our insights, and made suggestions in the areas of improving digital presence, increasing interaction, broadening the audience, and forming corporate partnerships.

Personal Reflection

I enjoyed working with this group of talented designers. It took a lot longer to understand the scope of the problem than I expected. I wanted to keep the team on track without imposing too much structure on creativity, a strategy which resulted in a last minute scramble and an unfair burden on our visual designer.

I felt that quite often, 7 or 8 of the 9 agreed on a direction and wanted to move on, but that we were held back by one or two holdouts. To get the best ideas out, there must be room for dissent. To work against a deadline, sometimes, we have to move on. How do we move in the direction of the majority without making anyone feel alienated? I tried to summarize what seemed to be group consensus items and asked for collective confirmation. As time dwindled, consensus became easier to achieve.

In such a large group of talented people, pockets of deep expertise can limit individual perspectives. Framing the problem took longer than making actionable suggestions because of the diversity of perspectives. On the other hand, we could not have comprehensively understood the real problem without that diversity. Harnessing and directing talent is difficult but rewarding.


January IxDA Chicago Meeting Recap

Event Description

Natural disasters are disruptive: physically, socially and psychologically. Governments and NGOs devote significant resources to provide basic needs such as food and shelter but little to facilitate social development and psychological recovery. In underdeveloped nations, the results can be devastating. The poor are further marginalized and psychological scars can have deep, long-lasting implications.

At this meeting, we explored in multidisciplinary teams the survivor experience and search for ways to improve the delivery of social and psychological aid services in the 6 month to 3 year time frame after a disaster. We weren’t here to redesign government preparedness or the NGO model, but to supplement their work with considerations for a more humane response that helps the affected move from victim to survivor status. I presented an overview of the situation in Chile and divided IxDA members into four small teams. Each team tackled a different issue.

This was a great opportunity to contribute to a social response project while networking with others outside of our respective disciplines.

Meeting Agenda

6:00 Arrive, mix and mingle
6:30 IxDA welcome and introduction
6:35 Presentation: design context
6:45 Improv (warmup) exercises
7:00 Brainstorming sessions
7:30 Presentation of results
7:50 Debrief
8:00 Meeting adjourned

Design Context

About every 25 years, an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or greater hits Chile. Since the 1960 Valdivia quake, building codes have improved, but has preparedness?

While improvements to buildings and infrastructure minimized the loss of life, the 2010 quake still severely damaged 500,000 buildings and displaced over 2 million people. Hospitals in the immediate vicinity were crippled. Civic activities were cancelled. The school year was put on hold.

Heroic Stage: In the immediate aftermath, victims experienced intense emotions and behaved altruistically. While the media sensationalized riots and lawlessness, it was far more common to see people helping each other. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) set up tents to provide temporary shelter.

Honeymoon Stage: Over the next few months, these are replaced by slightly more permanent quick build shelters. Things seemed to improve as promises of aid provided hope that lives and neighborhoods would be rebuilt.

Disillusionment Stage: When aid proves insufficient, cramped, temporary shelters become more permanent. Hopes for recovery diminish.

Reconstruction Stage: Real reconstruction begins when people rely on existing community resources rather than foreign aid.

These post-disaster stages map to Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. Maslow believed that a person needed to fulfill lower level needs before moving onto higher level needs. Ultimately, people seek self-actualization but few attain that level of fulfillment. In the first week after a disaster, people seek physiological fulfillment: first aid, food and shelter; then safety to secure their immediate environment. These map back to the Heroic Stage. While governments and NGOs often address physiological and safety needs, they rarely address the socioeconomic and psychological needs that allow a person to move up the pyramid.

How can the Chilean community economically address love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs in the 6 month to 3 year timeframe?

Improv Exercises

Byron led the group through 3 improv exercises that helped reinforce the rules of brainstorming: renaming things in the room, passing a metaphor ball, and collectively saying the alphabet without simultaneity.

1. Defer judgment
There are no bad ideas at this point. There will be plenty of time to judge ideas later.

2. Encourage wild ideas
It’s the wild ideas that often provide the breakthroughs. It is always easy to bring ideas down to earth later!

3. Build on the ideas of others
Think in terms of ‘and’ rather than ‘but.’ If you dislike someone’s idea, challenge yourself to build on it and make it better.

4. Stay focused on topic
You get better output if everyone is disciplined.

5. Be visual
Try to engage the left and the right side of the brain.

6. One conversation at a time
Allow ideas to be heard and built upon.

7. Go for quantity
Set an outrageous goal for number of ideas and surpass it! Remember there is no need to make a lengthy case for your idea since no one is judging. Ideas should flow quickly.

Design Briefs

Four teams were given one of two possible design briefs:

1. Children

Challenge: Considering the social and psychological touch points for children, how can we design a an experience that: a) establishes a psychological sense of safety and support, b) encourages acceptance/dialogue of what has happened, and c) facilitates positive meaning making?

Situation: Over half of those affected in the 2010 quake are children. Parents and guardians are injured or killed, disrupting family routines. School is cancelled until temporary schools are built or children can be assigned to other schools. Social networks are fractured as children no longer see the familiar faces that they rely on to talk through their problems. Relocations and temporary classrooms create new stressors. Friends move to other schools. Children act out. Teachers must reconcile inconsistent curriculum between school districts. Some teachers whose homes were destroyed choose to relocate. Adults are too stressed from logistical, social, and financial burdens to attend to children’s emotional needs.

Children often lose verbal skills after a traumatic event. Once a sense of safety is established through environment and routines, primary activities such as drawing, clay modeling, and acting are access points to empathy.

Positive meaning making refers to the process of accepting what has happened and looking forward rather than dwelling on the past. Moving from victim to survivor status requires processing. Part of that is memorialization. Most of it is working towards a future that’s brighter. Creating opportunities for children to participate in the community and the rebuilding process is a positive step.

This quote from an elementary school teacher (after a different disaster) provides a good summary of the post-traumatic recovery process in children across cultures:

Post-Katrina, I worked with kindergarten and fifth grade students. Art turned out to be one of the most beneficial aids in addressing and even diagnosing PTSD in children. Crayons, markers, paints, finger paints, and even creating clay sculptures of jewelry all helped. In some cases, the jewelry was sold and proceeds went to developing a playground. Since so many schools lost their play equipment, just having outdoor play equipment (or not having it) impacted the children and their behaviors tremendously.

Acting/drama/singing was another tool that proved useful. At first, it was serious stuff dealing with the storm. Later, acting became their outlet to relieve stress and help others understand their personal views and emotions.

Free writing and topical writing helped children address issues they were facing (such as living in FEMA trailers) or dig deeper into issues that were important to them.

Children like to feel like they are a part of the recovery process and are making a difference. We did things like toy and clothes drives for students who lost everything. In some cases the kids who lost a lot of “stuff” still wanted to share what they had with friends who lost more.

Any sense of normalcy is also helpful. They liked special treatment and privileges, visits from dignitaries and media, but one thing that almost all of the children said they really liked about school was that it was predictable, familiar, and had a sense of normalcy. Some students said that their favorite times were those spent at school because they could forget about living in a FEMA trailer (with eight other people) and about what had happened.

2. Community Rebuilding / Social Learning

Challenge: Considering the technology limitations of developing nations, create an information platform and system of incentives to: a) communicate and demonstrate a commitment to rebuilding the neighborhood, b) pool resources and exchange local goods and services, and c) support a sense of community.

Situation: After the earthquake, the Chilean government and NGOs stepped in to provide tents, then more intermediate-term shelters while reconstruction was to take place. Case history tells us that funds are limited and reconstruction of civic spaces and infrastructure will take place, but those directly affected will likely be stuck in these shacks until they themselves raise the funds to rebuild, leaving the middle class with a new, lower standard of living.

Community resources exist in the form of experienced labor, contractors, salvaged materials, and pooled donations from NGOs but there is no effective way of communicating individual, family or small group needs and resources and matching them with other needs and resources in the broader community. In addition, the disaster has created opportunities for fraud: not all builders will honor their contracts or use appropriate materials.

In Santiago, the internet is widely available. However, many of the affected regions are more rural and rely on radio and television for information. Regular cell phones are ubiquitous and smart phone adoption is rapidly growing but currently limited.

This quote from an interview of a Katrina survivor summarizes the feelings that people have (across cultures) in the aftermath of a disaster:

When we returned, there was NOTHING normal. Mornings were spent waiting in line (usually two hours) for our daily rations of MREs and ice. Many spent the days standing in lines, trying to figure out how to get money, compensation, weed through the red tape, and to have SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE tell them it would be ok. Afternoons were spent trying to clean, repair, and get back to normal. There was no tv when we got home. The lines were knocked down. There was no internet or land lines. The air was still very still, thick with mosquitoes and nothing else. We had electricity and plumbing, though many still did not.

Schools started to reopen, but teachers were not back yet. I decided to take a job teaching (though uncertified).
Money was tight. Everyone had to pay out of pocket for evacuation, no one knew when we would be compensated, how we were all going to get everything fixed, and if life would ever be normal.

There was, however, a good in all of this. EVERYONE was friendly to each other. It was amazing. Strangers were helpful, friendly, people CARED. It was like this disaster brought us all together as a community in an US AGAINST THE WORLD mentality. The donations started pouring in, and things started looking more promising.


Two sparks (embodied personas) walked around to each of the teams to mix up the conversation. One was a local community leader that asked teams to consider the cultural context for which they were designing. The other was a CFO of an NGO that wants cost-effective solutions.

Feedback on the sparks: While useful, this could have been information included within the case itself. Given the 30 minute brainstorming-to-suggestions format, the teams were probably not quite at a stage where new insight was going to help.


The four teams came back with some great suggestions and avenues for further investigation.

Team A (Children)

Objective: create a safe place for children to come to every day to help them cope with feelings of transience

1. Community garden that is run and managed by children
2. Bakery to teach children vocational skills / make them feel useful
3. Bike delivery service for things from the garden and bakery / bike repair service

Other ideas to help children regain verbal skills: storytelling wall/journal, improv troupe (as a distraction), pet therapy, older children mentoring younger ones

Team B (Community Rebuilding / Social Learning)

Objective: Create a central hub for a low-tech information exchange

Find a central location (perhaps an existing church) to serve as a community hub. This hub could connect to other hubs to aggregate information. Set up a bulletin/white board that collects information on name, skills, and needs, with a slot if you want to fill that need. The bulletin board could have a column where people could leave feedback on whether that person fulfilled their obligation. It’s sort of a low-tech Angie’s list. For example, if one person goes to help rebuild a house, they might then need someone to watch the kids. Maybe someone is good at cooking for large groups. There could be that exchange. Maybe the central hubs could be equipped with computers that have internet access to facilitate a service clearinghouse with other hubs and to organize more complex multiple-party exchanges.

Team C (Children)

Objective: Allow children to express themselves through activities, routine, and empowerment.

Organize kids and schedule events for them to help in the reconstruction. Maybe they can paint murals. Maybe they can recycle material from disaster for use in reconstruction. That would serve as a metaphor that memorializes what happened and serves as a building block for the future. By contributing to the rebuilding, they can see the progress in their own communities in parallel with government efforts. In order to get things on a schedule, a community center or church could serve as an organizational hub.

Team D (Community Rebuilding / Social Learning)

Objective: Create a mobile community hub of trailers with seating and a stage where people can exchange information.

The mobile model can be duplicated and moved throughout the week to serve a broader community base. One trailer would have internet access, one would have first aid services, one would have administrative services to help complete paperwork and organize community efforts. In addition, there would be vocational training to help those with limited skills to develop skills to help others. Maybe there’s a concert here each week or some event so that people want to show up.

In terms of incentives, set up a microfinance system where you get small amounts for certain achievements and future loans (for next steps) are conditioned on performance. Given that people may not have computer access, the internet station would provide access to other towns to match needs with resources. Before the internet stations get set up, perhaps someone could make the rounds through various towns to aggregate the information and coordinate a collective relief effort. A major obstacle to this is building trust. How do you know that others will perform their end of the exchange? That’s where the microloans come in: to provide monetary incentives to perform.

The New Calculus of Competition

In his latest HBR blog entry, Umair Haque criticizes the volume of “Lowest Common Denominator” (LCD) design that confuses cost-efficiency for innovation. With approximately 20,000 new products on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show one has to wonder who would want all of these gadgets. When “new and improved” means finding a country that has a lower cost of labor or worse, a lower cost ingredient (e.g. high fructose corn syrup), companies fail to create lasting competitive advantage because this LCD design is easily copied.

Instead of lowering the denominator, companies should work to increase the numerator by making products that are more meaningful, significant and enduring. Haque suggests this line of inquiry to create lasting value:

  1. Does your latest, greatest snoozer of a product (service, business, experience) actually make people happier? (Really? Can you prove it?)
  2. Does it make people lastingly happier? (Really? For how long? Or is it just a supersize meal in disguise — happy today, with a hidden downside looming tomorrow?)
  3. Does it make people lastingly happier, in a sustainable way? (As in, does it ignite happiness without literally costing the world? To go a step further, does it even benefit nature and the future?)
  4. Does it make people lastingly happier, in a sustainable way, while being of enduring benefit to society? (Read: all the above, plus a healthy dose of what economists term “social usefulness”, or residual value, that accrues and multiplies, over time, to towns, cities, communities, countries, polities.)

Haiti: Latency in PTSD

In Haiti, Time reporter Jeffrey Kluger writes about latency in emotional response. Haitian-born psychologist, Marie Guerda Nicholas says that most people function remarkably well in the midst of a crisis. It’s only when the shaking or flooding stops that PTSD begins to appear. The psychological impact doesn’t occur until several months later. “When things get quiet, you start to feel the impact and the sadness of the images you witnessed.” That often takes the brain by surprise. The brain processes fear in a lasting way and once lessons about danger are learned, they’re very hard to unlearn.

The teams of psychologists being sent to Haiti (as is true of other cases I have read) are only there to perform psychological triage. They are there to assess basic needs, not to dispense actual aid. While treatment is readily available and effective in the developed world, Haitians have to rely on “lakou,” the extended web of friends and neighborhood that forms a critical part of Haitian culture.

Perhaps an effective method of dispensing aid involves training and catalyzing leaders of local communities to recognize and treat the local constituency. Simplified versions of cognitive therapy (reframing the experience as something terrible but survivable) and behavioral therapy (gradual exposure to the memories and images the person is trying to avoid in order to strip them of their power) could be implemented through psychological response kits.

Largest Population Decline in the Last Decade for a US City

1. New Orleans

Population: 354,850
Population Change 2000-2009: -128,813
Population Percent Change 2000-2009: -26.63%
Home Vacancy: 21.5%

New Orleans is unique in that its presence on this list is not due to industrial decline, but from natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of the city, caused by some estimates more than $80 billion in damage, and displaced tens of thousands of residents. The period of widespread homelessness, severe crime, and slow recovery has left the city as a shadow of its former self. While people are trickling back into the city, many will likely never return, and the city has lost more than a quarter of its population in just 10 years.

In post-quake Chile, supporting the emotional recovery of children

The following is UNICEF’s effort to support the emotional recovery of children. While the caravan seems haphazard, the information distribution across radio and television stations may be an effective means of providing psychological aid after a disaster, or at least to invite those in need to get free help provided by the 3,000 child care professionals being trained.

SANTIAGO, Chile, 21 May 2010 – Nearly three months after Chile’s devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake, a UNICEF-commissioned study has found that 93 per cent of children in the quake-affected region show signs of emotional stress. Most remember the quake in detail and many still fear another earthquake or tsunami. As Chile continues its reconstruction process, UNICEF is working to restore normalcy – and a bit of laughter – to these children’s lives.

Camilo Vega, 11, who lives in the city of Curanipe in the earthquake-affected Maule region, is among the many Chilean children showing signs of stress. “I’m worried about another tsunami so that I can save myself, my mom and my brothers and cousins,” he said. After the devastating earthquake of February 2010, UNICEF helped produce public service announcements focusing on the emotional recovery of children in Chile.

He is not alone. The recent study – entitled ‘La voz de los niños, niñas y adolescentes,’ or ‘The voice of children’ – illustrated the perceptions and experiences of children 12 to 15 years of age in the two regions most affected by the earthquake. Like Camilo, the vast majority of children who were surveyed demonstrated concerns related to the earthquake. Death and destruction had the biggest impact on children. But according to the study, some 40 per cent of children worried most about people who had lost their homes or all their belongings in the quake. Another 10 per cent worried most about future natural disasters. The study also showed that the majority of children are concerned with the impact of the disaster on neighbouring cities, not just their own hometowns.

In response to the needs of the many children affected psychologically by the quake, UNICEF is providing some unique support services. One such effort, a public communication campaign known as the ‘Caravan of Happiness’, aims to bring fun back into the lives of children under stress. The traveling caravan features a series of activities, including cinema, musical numbers and ‘laugh-therapy’ sessions. The project’s mobile support team will travel to about 50 affected cities, targeting some 30,000 girls and boys.

In Nihue, a town in Chile’s Biobío region, the caravan has made headway in re-building smiles. For José Hernández and Pablo Contreras, both eight years old, the clowns were the best part. “The clown decided to play soccer, while he rode his unicycle!” the boys recalled, laughing. “This type of activity is of great help to raise the spirits of the children,” said Eduardo Valenzuela, a local community leader. He added that it also helps parents, “who see their children having a good time.”

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, UNICEF and its partners worked with the Chilean Government to help meet the basic needs of children and families. UNICEF was a focal-point agency for water and sanitation, as well as child protection; it also helped to coordinate the delivery of essential items such as food and hygiene supplies. Now, as those needs evolve into longer-term issues, UNICEF is launching a public education campaign that has reached millions of Chileans. Across the affected region, UNICEF radio and television public-service announcements are encouraging families to help “rebuild children’s lives.” Many of the announcements use characters from popular children’s programmes. The campaign, which calls for support for children under stress, is being broadcast on 39 television channels and 26 local and national radio stations. UNICEF will also help train 3,000 child-care professionals and educators to work with children experiencing post-disaster stress.

Six Month Update on 2010 Chile Earthquake

Six months after the 2010 earthquake in Chile, many are still displaced and getting accustomed to their new lives. This UNICEF video provides a view into the rebuilding process towards the end of the post-disaster Honeymoon stage where people are still hopeful for a government response in rebuilding.