What Now? Designing Action Into Experiences

Janet stood facing the huge, metal monster.

Shaking. In sheer freight.

It was just an MRI scan, but fear of the unknown overtook her.

She sat shaking on the side of the machine and then lay down.

A harrowing experience

While she was lying there, still waiting for the procedure to begin, she noticed a small mirror. Someone had placed it below the head support piece.

It was angled so that she could see through the barrel of the massive machine. There on the other side she could see the radiology technician. And, most importantly, make eye contact with him.

“What a small thing.” she remembers. “And yet what a difference it made. I felt less alone. I was connected to another human being at the very moment I needed support.”

But design can help

“Even though I’m not claustrophobic, it calmed me some to be able to see out of the barrel, she recalls. “I saw that the technician was friendly and that the nurse went out of her way to make me laugh.”

Janet Dugan, is a health care architect. And she had just had her first lesson in designing experiences.

Janet now admits, “I firmly believe in the power of design to contribute to the healing process. But that day, in that experience, the thing that really gave me comfort was a tiny mirror about as big as a Band-Aid.”

It’s not a small thing

The lesson of Janet’s experience for people like us is profound.

We don’t have to talk people into getting involved with our mission. We don’t need to rely on messages anymore.

We now have the ability to design experiences that help people act. And make a difference.

We don’t have to add to the ever-increasing torrent of information being dumped on people every day. We can move people to action through experiences.

Experiences move people

We can stop telling people what to believe. We can stop describing the value we add to people’s lives.

Instead, we can now create value.

We can do that by creating experiences that change things. And change people in the process.

But to do that, the experiences we create must follow six guideposts.

Guidepost One: Develop Empathy For Change

Experiences do not have audiences. They have participants. And participants invariably are part of a tribe.

So designing an experience requires a deep understanding of the people who will use it.

But it’s important to make this distinction. We are not creating an experience for an audience. We are designing for a tribe.

Design for a tribe

A tribe is a group of people who are connected by three things.

They are first, and foremost, connected to one another.

Second, they are all connected to an idea. A cause. A purpose.

And third, they are connected to a leader. The leader sets the direction. Then they facilitates ways for the tribe to connect and move forward.

If we believe that our tribe stands for something bigger than ourselves we’re willing to get emotionally involved. And we do it by connecting with others who share our cause and purpose.

A tribe is not an audience

In fact, tribes are very different from audiences.

That’s because tribes are not about stuff and messages. Tribes are all about emotional connection.

Tribes are not determined by demographics or psychographics.

They are defined by a shared worldview.

What’s the tribe’s worldview?

A worldview is a shared belief about how the world works, what’s important, what’s of most value.

An important part of worldview is the belief that something in the world is not right. It needs to be fixed.

This shared view of the world is the thing that connects tribe members together.

And it connects them through a shared cause. A common purpose.

And that purpose revolves around changing what is not right with the world.

Your job is empathy

The bedrock of designing an experience that helps the tribe make change is empathy.

Empathy that comes from understanding tribe members’ shared beliefs and biases. Their worldview.

When you add a person’s passion to a tribe’s shared worldview you create an experience that connects. That’s because it leverages people’s biases instead of fighting them.

And empathy is the opportunity

This gives the designer of experiences a huge opportunity. An opportunity that’s bigger than messaging ever was.

The opportunity is to help people. To create experiences around their passion. Experiences that help them connect to others and together fulfill their common cause. Experiences that change things the tribe would like to change.

And that’s accomplished by enabling the tribe to act. Not by telling them what they should believe or what they should do.

Tribes make change through experiences

Change happens when the experiences you create do two things.

They connect tribe members to each other.

And, at the same time, help them do something to change things that they can’t do by themselves.

Connected together and empowered to act, tribes are the major force behind movements.

Guide Post Two: Create A Safe Space

The goal of an experience is to create a place within which tribe members can connect, tell each other stories, and experience the movement.

Such spaces have included beauty shops in the Southern U.S. during the civil rights movement, Quaker work camps in the 1960s and 1970s, the Seneca Women’s Encampment of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Today, they are often digital places. They usually include apps, interactive platforms and social media sharing.

You can see the variety of these experiences here. You’ll notice that whether they are virtual or physical, they all have one thing in common.

They are safe havens

These are spaces where the rules of engagement and behaviors are different from those of “the world as it is.” Instead, they’re microcosms of what the tribe hopes will become the future. They’re places to go to see “the world as it can be.”

If your hope is for individuals to act differently, it helps to change their surroundings to be more supportive of the new behaviors. Especially when they’re directly opposite to the world as it is.

Experiences create a space where it’s easier for people to embrace new beliefs and perform new behaviors.

That’s what makes them powerful

They emotionally connect people.

They drive people to action.

They build tribes.

And the stories that they generate are monumentally more powerful than messages.

How experiences work

Whether they are online or physical, they are places where people come together around a common belief. A shared passion about something that needs to be changed in the world. (A shared worldview.)

Their reaction to that change emotionally connects them to a purpose. A cause that connects them together as a tribe.

In this context, experiences help the tribe to act. They bring people together to make the change they seek.

Going beyond ourselves

The most powerful tribe experiences allow us to do things together that we can’t do as well individually.

Experiences also enable tribe members to reach out to others who might share their worldview and passion. They do that as tribe members tell stories to themselves and others about their experience.

The principles of powerful experiences

Experiences are not about rules. Or about platforms. Or best practices. They come in many different shapes, sizes and forms.

When you add a person’s passion to a tribe’s shared worldview you can create an experience that connects with them. That’s because it leverages people’s biases instead of fighting them.

This gives those who create experiences a huge opportunity. An opportunity that’s bigger than messaging ever was.

Opportunity knocks

That opportunity is to help people. To create experiences around their passion. Experiences that help them connect to others and together fulfill their common cause. And the change they seek.

It is accomplished by enabling the tribe to act. Through experiences. Not by telling them what they should believe or what they should do.

Guidepost Three: Recognize Tribe Member Agency

Agency is a belief in people’s capacity to influence their own thoughts and behavior, no matter how small.

Agency is the power to act on our own behalf and not be acted upon.

For example, a parent believes that they are able to make the decision to send their daughter to school or not.

Agency gives people the power to act

So the experience we create should give them a sense of agency that’s appropriate for how they live. This is especially true for those who are under-served, or marginalized in society.

That requires us to start with building empathy.

Grab a tool

Tools like user needs assessments are a starting place to understand the person. Or, in this case, the parents’ current situation of agency.

Social network analysis can help us describe the actors in the parents’ network. It helps us characterize their relationships. We can begin to understand the human interactions that stand in the way of providing agency.

Guidepost Four: Make Access Easy

If you design for access you’ll include the tools and services that people use in their day-to-day lives.

Access means making it easy for them to do something, because few barriers stand in the way.

It’s part of their persona

When we write tribe personas we need to understand two important things. First, what access is available to each part of the tribe? And second, what opportunities exist to increase access.

We also need to uncover how issues of access are interrelated.

But nothing, including access, is simple

For example, we might discover that parents can’t predict if they will have enough money to pay for school fees.

That could relate to the interactions of five elements. First, a lack of access to credit. Which may be due to a lack of safe lending institutions. Or it may relate to a lack of service to people in rural areas. Or that they don’t have formal personal identifications. Or, fifth, that tracking payments and repayments is hard to come by.

Guidepost Five: Focus Action

No experience can make social change unless tribe member can take action easily.

Designing for action means four things.

First, understanding our tribe’s worldview and what they seek to change.

Second, having a clear understanding of what actions we want them to take to make the change they seek.

Third, an understanding of what they believe we can do to help them make change.

Fourth, a plan for exactly how the experience will steer people to the desired behavior.

Grab your tools, again

Change matrices can help us narrow down the change we are trying to affect,

Prototyping can show us how tribe members will take action once the experience is out in the world..

Guidepost Six: Design For Sharing

As important as it is, action should not be the only goal for your experience.

Because action, by itself, will not spread the word.

It won’t bring more people into your experience. It won’t increase your tribe.

Only sharing will do that.

One person telling another person what they did. Or what the experience made them feel. Or how the experience empowered them to do something they couldn’t do by themselves.

Sharing a Sit or Squat

One of my favorite examples of this comes from Charmin, the toilet paper people.

They designed a charming little experience platform called Sit Or Squat.

It’s for women with young children. The app helps them find clean bathrooms when they are out in public. Put in an address and a map appears showing the location and a cleanliness rating for each.

But the really cool part is how the Sit or Squat App experience gets shared and passed along.

It relies on input from its potty tribe members to populate the database. People can even post pictures along with their story of their bathroom experience. So Sit Or Squat gets better as participation increases.

The tribe expands the experience

And the experience expands the tribe.

So you should design into the experience a method that makes sharing it with others easy.

One of the most powerful ways to do this is through stories.

Because stories are powerful

They connect with something deep within us.

They help us make sense of the world and our place in it.

The kinds of stories that motivate tribes and drive experience define the cause. They illuminate our ideas and actions and make them memorable.

They engage us

When done well, they transcend mere messaging.

They engage the tribe’s emotions and senses. Powerful stories reflect their hopes, dreams, and desires.

They take them on a journey of discovery and self-reflection.

They involve us

The ultimate is 29 Rooms. It’s an art experience designed specifically for social media sharing.

People are immersed in art to the point that they become part of it.

Pretty amazing.

So take a picture with your phone. And share it with your friends on social media.

Along with your amazing story of the experience.

They’re share worthy

But it takes a very specific kind of story.

Every story that has the power to move people to action makes a strong value statement. A moral.

Part of that moral is a call to action. Implied or explicit.

The most powerful calls to action drive tribe members to a tribe experience. Most often these are interactive platforms that help the tribe do something they want to do.

And the moral is

When a tribe member’s story moves people and then directs them to such a helping platform it begins an action loop. A loop that works like an engine to drive the tribe forward.

It goes something like this:

  • The story connects tribe members to each other and their shared purpose.
  • Their purpose is reflected in the moral of the story.
  • The moral drives them to the experience (a platform.) The experience helps them do something related to their purpose.
  • The platform gives them a unique, emotional experience that they want to share.
  • Tribe members share their experience by telling stories about it.
  • Those stories reflect their shared purpose.

And the cycle begins again.

It’s all about sharing, now

Great marketing and communications is not about messages.

They’re not even about stories read. Or stories seen. Or stories heard.

Great communications is about stories shared.

And stories lived.

Stories lived through thoughtfully designed experiences.

The true power of experiences

It’s about creating experiences for the tribe that generate stories worth sharing.

It’s about someone picking up the story and telling someone else.

It’s about someone acting on the story through an experience. Because it connects with them. And it connects through their worldview, their passion, and a higher purpose.

That’s where the true power of experiences lies.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?