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5 ways to Design for Kindness

Searching for Syria

Words by Zoha Zoya, R/GA London’s Head of Experience Design

Zoha Zoya, R/GA London’s Head of Experience Design

We’ve always lived with stories. They help us relive the past and imagine our future. Stories have the power to connect people in new ways, too. Especially when they’re delivered with purpose. Some innovative companies are using data to create stories that build new emotional connections with information. And potentially inspire us to do something positive with it.

Take a look at Google. They used their search data to help people understand the ongoing Syrian Crisis. When Searching for Syria launched in 2017, it answered the top five questions the world was asking. The experience combined imagery, film, 360º photospheres, data visualisations and comparisons – all woven together into a compelling short-form narrative. Over two million people visited the site. And nearly 10% took direct action by joining, donating or sharing. 

Searching for Syria

On the other hand, data stories can become dangerous tools that manipulate people’s thoughts and beliefs. The Oxford Internet Institute has shown that propaganda and social media exploitation have grown by a frightening 150% across the globe. Their research suggests that fake news and toxic stories touch us all, whether we’re aware of them or not.

As a result, a new generation of Kind Keepers are demanding that organisations become more transparent. This generation grew up in the digital era and they’re making their message loud, clear and part of the lives they lead. A 2018 brand purpose study by Accenture showed that 42% of people walk away from a brand if they’re disappointed by its actions. One in five never come back.

As designers and writers creating new experiences, how can we help brands not only define their purpose – but live it through their actions every day? How can we make sure we’re putting people first and helping society move towards a more human future? 

The key to tomorrow is kindness – and integrating it into our creative process. If we work hard to follow some core principles, we can keep a human perspective at the centre of our design. Here are 5 ways to start making a change…

1. Go beyond empathy to compassion

What’s the difference between compassion and empathy? Most of us conflate the two. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes: it’s a feeling that lives within. But compassion is the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes and then act on what you feel: it’s an external desire to help. Empathy is the cause, compassion is the effect.

Quick ways to action it

·  Don’t just create personas: put yourself in the user’s shoes with some role-playing. Become a method actor for the day and act out your user’s habits. It might feel silly at first but it will take you a big step closer to real, everyday needs.

·       Look at behavioural psychology: why do people behave the way they do? How can you use language to trigger new emotional patterns – and turn those into actions with a positive outcome?

2. Make a map for the future

The world is moving faster and faster. What we design today might not work for anyone five years from now. If we use data to map out future trends, we can see where culture and technology might be heading next. And more importantly, how it might change our behaviours. Both will help us paint a picture of an ideal future state. Then, it’s easier to work backwards and define the steps we need to take to get there. 

RGA Zoha Zoya article

Quick ways to action it

·       Sketch out a storyboard that projects five years into the future. What will people be doing, how much will their lives change? Start with the changes that will realistically happen first, the ones you could start tackling today. 

·       Imagine how people might talk about their world half a decade from now. What new terms could they use? Coin some new words of your own and experiment with new terminologies: they might take you somewhere surprising.

3. Build everything on your purpose 

Brand purpose is a hot narrative in its own right. But it’s particularly important when it comes to storytelling that provokes action. A brand story isn’t just about entertainment. If a story has a strong purpose too, then it knows the positive effect it wants to have on the world – and can be 100% open about it. We have to be honest and true to our purpose, with every action we take. 

Quick ways to action it

·       Find the gaps. If your purpose can fix small problems in someone’s life, you’ll show them first-hand how your brand aligns with their values. The key here is context and cultural relevance: look for the personal gaps that matter to them.

·       Your tone of voice is a powerful tool when it comes to expressing your purpose. Make sure you’re showing your reasons to believe in the things you say. And even more importantly, in the things you’re doing to back it all up. 

4. Prompt but don’t preach

We have a massive responsibility to think about the new habits we’re promoting. You might think you’re encouraging positive actions but what if it feels like you’re imposing them? Try to inspire change but make it clear why you’re asking for it. And how it makes life better for people using your product. Don’t preach from an ivory tower: get down to ground level and see things from a more personal POV. 

Quick ways to action it

·       Start with a small positive behaviour change that makes it easy for people to get started. Then encourage more commitment over time. Adopting a new habit doesn’t happen overnight and we always have to respect this.  

·       What small nudges will help users change? How can they be articulated, for example, in a running app? “Hit the road to stay in shape” is preachy. “It’s a beautiful day, let’s hit the road” adds context in a human way.   

5. Observe, reflect and learn

Measuring our impact is vital. KPIs tell us how we’re doing and how we can get better. But how can we start to quantify kindness? How can we see the effect of purpose-driven stories, how they relate to people in the real world and how they create new connections in culture? We have to introduce smarter tools to measure our reach and impact, on individuals and in society at large. 

Quick ways to action it

·       Start looking at kindness as an ROI and aim for it as a clear target. If we start to gauge success through the lens of kindness, we stand a real chance of creating a halo effect in our own industry and beyond. 

·       There are automated tools out there that will measure your brand language, from general readability right down to gender bias. This is a great place to start: the more we’re in sync with our audiences, the kinder we become.  

“…there has been a realisation that design has an ability to respond to and encourage certain behaviours. The challenge is to get more conscious about what we do with it.” 

– Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer, Design Council

To take a genuinely human approach to design, we have to understand people on a human level. Otherwise, how can we possibly hope to improve their experience in ways that are meaningful for them? Kindness, overwhelmingly, is what people are responding to in an increasingly unkind digital world. 

Perhaps most importantly of all: kindness doesn’t just apply to the people we’re designing for. It’s paramount for the teams we collaborate with, too. And all the stakeholders we need to listen to as they come on this journey with us. It’s never easy but maybe, with a few of these principles in place, it can become a new habit we put in place for ourselves. If you put kindness into the process, you’ll find kindness giving back to you in the results.

Words: Zoha Zoya, R/GA London’s Head of Experience Design

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