Designing for Action, Not Reaction: UX for Good and The Kigali Genocide Memorial

by Patrick Faller

posted on 09-05-2017

Designer Jason Ulaszek has had a long career in the corporate and agency world, but his passion and interest began shifting towards more social impact work as he realized ‘design for change’ thinking was lacking. Together with business partner Jeff Leitner, he founded UX for Good, a not-for-profit organization that runs design challenges to solve social problems.

In 2014, UX for Good was approached by the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. The museum, launched in 2004 by Aegis Trust, seeks to educate visitors about the horrors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi in the hopes of inspiring change. The Memorial was facing a critical problem, and UX for Good set out to use design to solve it. “It was a grand master service design challenge,” Ulaszek said.

Designing a System to Inspire Action

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, nearly one million people were killed. In 2014, the Kigali Genocide Memorial served as an educational tool to teach visitors about the mass atrocity. What organizers really wanted to achieve, however, was to inspire visitors to take action and do their part to promote peace in the hopes of stopping further crimes against humanity.

“If you visited in 2014, you left the tour experience absolutely broken. You needed to go sit on a bench to recompose yourself, it was really one of the most powerfully emotional experiences I’ve ever had,” said Ulaszek.

“So our challenge became, how can we harness this emotional energy that occurs in the experience during the visit, and how can we design a system that can help to capture, convert, and turn that into some greater type of humanitarian action. Organizers weren’t looking to have more memorials and museums, they were looking to amplify the impact of the one they had,” he said.

UX Research and Redesign

After taking on the memorial experience as a design challenge, UX for Good’s design team conducted over 500 hours of research both remotely and on the ground in Rwanda, speaking with staff members, visitors, the community, and the government.

“A big insight came out; the structure with how they were telling the story created a great deal of empathy. But if you read any of the neuroscience associated with empathy, researchers are concluding that too much can to lead to one of two outcomes: a burnout or a shutdown. Because of the raw emotional power of the story, the visitor experience at the Memorial wasn’t striking a balance between empathy and compassion throughout the experience. The experience lacked moments to reflect, to share stories of hope, and visitors were leaving defeated,” said Ulaszek.

UX for Good created a framework to redesign the visitor experience of the museum: recommending a strategy and specific ways the museum could inspire deeper and more sustainable action by visitors. The recommendation was to integrate more information about reconciliation, rebirth, and continued peacebuilding efforts to create a better emotional balance.

“The model, the big idea that came out of our design challenge, is called the Inzovu Curve. It’s an emotional conversion model. It looks at the distinction between empathy and compassion, moving a visitor on a journey from awareness through to action while helping instill moments of reflection and hope.

“The Kigali Genocide Memorial team began implementing the framework to help guide decision-making, encapsulate new stories, and address elements of the physical environment in order to welcome visitors at the beginning of their journey before they entered the memorial grounds to set the tone and stage for what they were about to see. They built the beginnings of an engagement space, they built a reception area. All of it is about building up back to an emotional balance for people who were visiting, and creating an opportunity to help spark a greater sense of action” said Ulaszek.

Digital Transformation

While the UX for Good team outlined a strategy with the Inzovu Curve, the team of designers also recommended a digital strategy for the Kigali Genocide Memorial. In 2014, the museum had almost no way to scale engagement with visitors beyond their visit.

“They didn’t have a website, or at least what they had was a broken experience. Visiting the memorial is free, but donations were an afterthought and lacked a true process and experience that guided visitors to act. Since our initial project in 2014, we’ve helped guide them in foundational areas, such as helping establish ways to capture visitor information through a CRM tool and integrate a visitor booking form within their website. Some really basic things many organizations take for granted in creating a capability to connect with their visitors, customers, etc. Sometimes it’s simply about starting to get the basics down,” said Ulaszek.

“Recently, we’ve been focusing on the post-visit engagement strategy. We’ve started to help them continue to engage with people that have visited, in the ways that individuals have connected to and not just about fundraising. This is continuing to help broaden their view of ‘action’ which is tremendous to see.”

The genocide memorial has turned into a long-term project for UX for Good, and Ulaszek says it spawned a career change for him. He left his previous UX design job to found Inzovu, an international design agency focused on helping fix social systems by using design. Much of his work has been focused on digital transformation and innovation inside of social impact organizations.

“Our goal is to help organizations become more self-sustainable. Everything we do, how we do it, all the way down to how our organization operates, is centered around this one principle. By helping organizations become more self-sustainable, we help them build up their own innate skills and abilities that are required for them to have a greater impact in the world. That’s what transformation means to us,” he said.

A Lesson for UX Designers

Ulaszek says his work with UX for Good and now Inzovu has taught him and the other designers he’s worked with to take a multi-level approach to user experience to do the most good.

“UX is a mindset. Design thinking and processes allow us to try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Don’t get locked into the notion that digital is always the answer. Sometimes for organizations, it’s about reshuffling, rethinking, reframing. That could be a solution in itself.”

UX Designers are putting their skills to work to change the world, every day. Earlier this summer, we talked to Micah Bennett about her work designing a better system to help LGBTQI refugees get to safety. In her words, “UX designers can be the greatest advocates for users,” and are needed now more than ever. To learn more about how you can use your design skills to make the world a better place, get in touch with UX for Good, and for more on the Kigali Genocide Memorial visit its website here.

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