The voice-activated mobile application
Designed to prevent domestic violence
This post was originally written in 2016. I haven’t edited the copy yet, but wanted to push it out for you. I also shared a photo story of the visual process I went through in terms of designing this prototype. I dug up this old post to accompany the Instagram post to provide a more comprehensive understanding of my process.
I did not have an opportunity to continue learning about this topic because of other work that took over. If you are interested in picking up where I left off, please reach out. I can clone the entire custom WordPress installation and send it over to you. Any project I work on like this is always open-sourced for courageous leaders like you to lead us into the emerging future.
For the last few years, I have been thinking through projects that might push the design field forward as a bridge between social impact and startup culture. The project we review in this post is an ongoing project that I started in December of 2014. Inception was approximately December 4th, 2014.
This process taught me that we are unable to solve social problems that we see in our everyday lives. It’s an interesting thought, but if we are not redesigning our systems and processes to prevent the problems, then the things that allowed the problems to manifest themselves today will still be enabling the same problems to manifest throughout our lives.
I am going through this project in public for a few reasons. Primarily, I want to show others that it is possible to build things that matter.
I thought to myself, “What is one of the biggest problems in society that is unsolved?” I thought of many of the common social problems we think of today like homelessness, hunger, income disparity, etc. Now, not that any of those problems do not require urgent solutions, but I wanted to find something that is so big and so untouched. I also wanted to work on something that was directly connected to my life and the people closest to me.
That’s when I thought of domestic violence. Unfortunately, I have personal experience with this issue through various loved ones, previous significant others, and thinking about the many who I do not even know about…just thinking about the people who are currently in a situation right now that they can’t get out of…literally, right now as I type these words someone has been the victim of domestic violence. According to my research, every six seconds another person is the victim of domestic abuse.
I knew this was it.
In the following case study, I refer to this project as a “design challenge”. I kindly ask that you understand this is not my way of dismissing this issue as something that just has another label. It’s just how I approach projects. My empathy for the unfortunately high number of human beings suffering from this problem continues to carve out a place in my life and in my heart and in my mind. One of the purposes of working through this project is to make sure this issue stays at the front of my mind and takes up space in my life. It is the least I can do.
Perhaps this is a good place to start. How often do you hear about domestic violence? How often do you have any type of experience with the problem? How often do you publicly advocate for those who have experienced domestic violence or continue to experience the problem right now, today?
How might we prevent domestic violence?
Domestic violence is not something that we can “fix” after the fact. Often times, we see solutions being built to solve social problems after we already suffer the existence and impact of the social problem. This is a band-aid on a broken body part. If we want to bring some type of resolution to a social problem, perhaps a good place to start is changing the conversation around the problem. That would mean a conversation has to be taking place already, and I can attest to the fact that there is no conversation happening about domestic violence – at least not in my life. That is definitely a problem.
Researching the problem space
As I would approach any design challenge, I started my research. I wanted to understand what the process looks like. I started from the outcome – a person who suffered an attack only moments ago – what was the process that he or she went through look like? Why is this person suffering from a physical attack? Why does the person have these bruises and wounds?
Well, if a person has an injury that was inflicted by another person then I bridge the connection between “why did this happen” and “who caused the injury”. That brought me to the idea that we have a person who inflicted an injury onto another person. Then I asked myself, “Did this person put themselves in a position to be injured by their attacker?” This type of thinking seems to be the first reaction when we hear about this type of issue. If I were to continue on this path it likely would have led to a place where I tried to develop a solution that was out of touch with what the potential customer would need.
Empathy Mapping Canvas
I refocused my attention with an empathy mapping exercise. By using the empathy mapping canvas I was able to pull insights about my customer’s problem that I wasn’t able to see.
Through the empathy mapping canvas I was able to come up with an idea that might have an opportunity at preventing this issue from becoming an unsolvable problem. The empathy mapping canvas – actually, the process of thinking through the empathy mapping canvas – allowed me to think about the specific events leading up to when the abusive event takes place, and the constraints we have to work within. An example of a constraint would be: the potential solution can’t come from the victim because it would put him or her at risk of increased abuse by the abuser. If two people were in private, and one of those people is going to or is in the middle of abusing the other, how might we prevent that activity from happening?
What if there was a voice-activated location sharing application that could be downloaded onto a smartphone? If a person found themselves alone in a suspicious or threatening situation, they could say a specific phrase that would activate the application on their phone and automatically signal a predefined list of contacts. The signal would tell my contacts where I am, how to get to me, and that I was in urgent need of their assistance.
I decided to call the list of contacts my “wolfpack”. I decided to call the unique phrase that would activate the application my “howl”. Upon downloading the application, a person would invite their friends, family, loved ones to be in their “wolfpack”.
I could envision the value proposition in my mind, “The app that prevents domestic violence.” I wanted to sketch the full idea out on paper so I could show it to a friend or two for some feedback.
Voice-Activated & Location-Sharing
When I first sketched out this solution it was before the technology was readily available for our smartphones. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that is OK. I knew what the technology limitations were of 2014 and by using my imagination I was able to think beyond what was definitely possible into what might be possible.
After talking through the above screens with a few friends, I was recommended to bring the sketches onto the web. Typically, the next step in the process is to design a single page website that clearly defines the product’s value proposition and displays “how it works”. By including an email signup form that asks visitors to “Sign up for beta” or “Be the first to have access” is a good way of gauging whether or not their is a public interest for using the product.
Keep in mind, this was December of 2014, and the design has evolved. At the time, I hadn’t actually developed an application at this point. Turning my pencil sketches into a higher fidelity design would (ideally) create the perception in the mind of a visitor that the app did exist.
The pencil sketch above includes the actual screens a user would be presented with as they went through using the application. The following screenshot shows the mobile screens that were most important to understanding, and eventually using, getting the value from the application.
The image below is meant to set the stage upon arriving to the site. It’s an introduction to the concept. Here’s the hero image and email sign up form:
Next step, is driving traffic to the above page to see if anyone would drop in their email address. I didn’t think people would be searching the words “app to prevent domestic violence”, and I didn’t think the victim would be the first person to come in contact with the app. I would need to identify a channel that might be able to introduce the application to a potential victim. Through my research and personal relationships I knew that friends and family were often aware when one of their loved ones was involved in an abusive relationship. By marketing the application as a gift or something that would be suggested by a friend I was able to cast a wider net.