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?”
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.
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.