Today, the relationship between design and social good is old hat. There are ever-increasing numbers of social impact design agencies, conferences and even college degrees.
But we – GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek – helped launch that movement, when we kicked off UX for Good, the first to marry user experience design and social problem-solving. At the time, it was somewhat heretical; the first piece written about us suggested we were “bullshit” and suggested we stick to solving more conventional problems.
The first challenge was staged in Chicago, where we convened 50 designers from around the country to tackle problems like homelessness, urban violence and mental health. Later challenges took us to New Orleans, where we addressed musicians’ quality of life; Vancouver, where we took on mindfulness education; and Rwanda, where we took on the effectiveness of genocide museums.
The initiative was honored by the user experience industry and has inspired several similar initiatives in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Genocide museums – like those in Rwanda, Germany and Washington, DC – are extraordinarily important institutions, ensuring that the atrocities they chronicle are never forgotten. But the museums are not terribly effective at enlisting volunteers in preventing future atrocities.
That’s because the institutions follow a proven, predictable path: introduce visitors to horrific events through facts, artifacts and stories, which leave them smarter but shaken. We discovered a new path: by re-introducing hope and humanity within the museum experience, the institution allows visitors to recover their emotional balance and imagine themselves joining the fight.
The research was part of our UX for Good initiative, in which GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek invite a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join us in resolving a complex social challenge. The initiative produced the Inzovu Curve, a model that has guided modifications in Rwanda and helped designers map the emotional impact of institutions around the world.
Virtually everyone agrees that children would benefit from mindfulness training – learning how to be calm, attentive and aware of their thoughts and feelings. But virtually nobody knows how to squeeze mindfulness training into already jam-packed school curricula.
That was at the center of a challenge posed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who in 2004 told a crowd in Vancouver, Canada that the time had come to “educate the hearts and not just the minds of children.” A year later, followers launched the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, which has been trying ever since to integrate mindfulness and public education.
We took up the challenge through our initiative UX for Good, which GreenHouse developed with Jason Ulaszek to enlist top user experience designers from around the world in solving social challenges. Interestingly, the answer we found was unrelated to school curricula and related instead to classroom management. Teachers had independently discovered that they could use mindfulness techniques to more effectively manage disruption and disciplinary issues, leading to quieter, happier classrooms. They were more than happy to share these insights with their colleagues.
This insight led to the Center’s development of Heart-Mind Online, a resource launched to facilitate the sharing of mindfulness resources among teachers and parents.
We have also deployed UX for Good to tackle challenges facing genocide memorials and the livelihood of professional musicians in New Orleans, for which the initiative won the user experience design industry’s top award.
In only its second year, our UX for Good initiative won the user experience design industry’s People’s Choice Award for our work with The GRAMMY Foundation and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation to improve economic conditions for the city’s professional musicians.
UX for Good – the brainchild of GreenHouse and Jason Ulaszek – enlists a dozen top user experience designers from around the world to join in resolving a complex social challenge. In addition to our efforts in New Orleans, we have worked in Vancouver at the behest of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education and in Rwanda with the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Our work in New Orleans also fulfilled our commitment as members of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Creativity in big corporations will die without the right social norms to sustain it. With design executives from Starbucks, Herman Miller, Johnson & Johnson, and the BBC, we isolated those norms and the structures that keep them healthy and alive.
Together, we identified four models by which corporations successfully nurture and protect creativity. One, for example, requires the corporation to leverage the natural cycle of reinvention and maximization.
From our report: “There are times when the people who are itching to develop a new product or plan must sit back and come up with tactics to harvest the benefits of what has already been built. Similarly, the folks responsible for the next earnings statement or report to the board need to remember that creative types always need some level of stimulus if they are to exercise their brilliance and bring about the next spring.
“Conversation between the maximizers and the reinventors is be made possible by a common understanding of the organization’s place in the natural cycle.”
The Clinton Global Initiative broke important, new ground in social impact: holding corporations and social sector organizations accountable for their commitments to do good. As members of CGI, we made and fulfilled our own commitment to improve economic conditions for professional musicians in New Orleans.
“We commit to take action to improve the standard of living and bolster the social safety net for musicians working in New Orleans,” our pledge read. “Through this commitment, we will develop new, more effective models for directing financial resources and providing social services to musicians.”
We fulfilled the commitment through UX for Good, an initiative GreenHouse started with Jason Ulaszek to enlist the world’s top user experience designers in solving social challenges. The project in New Orleans was awarded the experience design industry’s top honor.
Today, more people than ever before want to be social innovators. More than mere do-gooders, aspiring social innovators have the ambition to develop new solutions to problems that have bedeviled human beings for generations or millennia.
They’ve got the right attitude, but where should they start? With our friends from New York design consultancy Foossa, we’ve developed the answer.
In our Start Social Innovation workshop, we’ve blended the best of design thinking with our original social innovation methodology, Innovation Dynamics, to help everyone find their own best way to change the world. Whether the goal is to reinvent an old institution or develop the next great political movement, we provide the tools to target social norms that must be transformed and help participants get to work right away.
“Innovation is what these dynamics encourage,” wrote one evangelist of our methods, “but my experience with using them in various settings has also been a practice in the construction of hope, the understanding of justice, and clearer pathways to impact. ‘Innovation’ has become a catch phrase that everyone is using but few people understand. If you are genuine in your desire to innovate, this is step one.”
Our collaboration with Foossa will also lead to a kit anyone can use to initiate social innovation with their own team.