The following piece is a note from one our of designers, Kristen, detailing her thoughts following her trip to a national design conference, and what her learnings mean for Family.me and you!
As we continue creating products built with your family in mind, we’re excited to share behind the scenes details on why, and how, we do, what we’re doing to bring families together…
I first attended the Event Apart Conference in 2014 and it was during Eric Meyer’s presentation of “Designing for Crisis” that I understood the utmost importance of responsible design. The talk left a lasting impression on me, as it was the first time I saw someone in a state of panic attempt to use a website. I saw firsthand that seemingly trivial design decisions could have a major impact on a user, especially under stressful circumstances. This was the primary reason I decided to make a return visit to this conference. The following are a few of my takeaways from his most recent talk and what this means for the Family.me design team moving forward.
Design can create stress
Eric walked us through his struggles with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. His daughter, Rebecca, suffered a life threatening seizure and was air lifted to their hospital. During a time of crisis, he was unable to find contact information to help him discover the status of Rebecca’s condition. The hospital website’s poor user experience made the already stressful situation even more so.
Unfortunately Eric lost his daughter shortly thereafter. His story went viral after Facebook released its “Year in Review” feature, celebrating users’ top moments from that year. A photo of Rebecca appeared in his newsfeed adorned with confetti, balloons, and happy dancing figures.
From his perspective, Facebook celebrated something unimaginably painful: his daughter’s death. He expressed his thoughts in a blog entitled Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty.
Facebook designed this feature with a specific user in mind. People in their 20’s or 30’s who had a fun night out with friends, traveled the world, and experienced new and exciting adventures—birthdays, weddings, and baby firsts. However, Eric clearly didn’t fall into this expected target audience.
As designers, our expectations of what our users want, how they feel, and their circumstances aren’t always going to align with reality. When designing for families, it’s important to consider that we will inevitably encounter both joyous events and difficult stages of loss throughout our lives. It’s our responsibility to design accordingly.
Family.me does its best to value and protect all memories that are posted on our site. We are currently shaping our privacy settings so users can confidently control how, where, and with whom they share their experiences. Sometimes revealing a personal story can feel daunting. We want to mitigate this as much as possible and provide a safe haven, with the warmth and familiarity of home, where families can confide in each other.
Design can be offensive
During his presentation, Eric walked us through examples where other companies made incorrect assumptions that ultimately resulted in poor user experiences. Google Photos implemented bots that erroneously auto-tagged people as gorillas.
Obviously this was not Google’s intention when they started auto-tagging photography, but it didn’t make its impact any less offensive or hurtful. Sometimes instances like these are disregarded as an “edge case.”
Edge cases are a common topic of debate at our company, and I am guilty of dismissing a use case or two based on it being an ‘edge case’. But Eric proposed that instead of looking at a situation as an ‘edge case,’ to look at it as a ‘stress case.’ We should identify instances where a user might become stressed while trying to complete an action, and design for that experience using compassion.
Within Family.me designs, one of our goals is to create a secure place where families can privately share their most memorable moments. But just because something is memorable doesn’t mean that everyone wants to remember it. Memories can be finicky and fabricated. They can evoke a wide range of emotions from elation and bliss to depression and despair. If you combine that with the unpredictability of family dynamics, our audience is complicated to say the least. Imagine designing an environment that can accommodate divorces, estranged relatives, adoptions, domestic partnerships, and more unique family dynamics. Initially this challenge seems quite daunting. But if we can accommodate any family tree, rich with its own unique relationships and/or drama, we will have succeeded.
Recently I realized the stress that could be caused by sending a weekly newsletter that highlights recent family memories. My design paired these memories with cheerful cartoon characters. But what if our users aren’t sharing happy memories? In my personal Facebook feed, I’ve seen posts about friends and families battling cancer, loved ones passing away unexpectedly, and people praying for safety from a devastating typhoon. These events may not be everyday occurrences, but they exist and communicating them is important to families. They deserve to be designed for with thoughtful consideration. We have an obligation not only to treat our users with compassion during these stressful and trying times, but to design for them, including worst-case scenarios. As we think these through, it will be easier for us to accommodate the more common cases.
Design with empathy
Earlier this year Facebook expanded on their feedback model. They went from offering only ‘likes’ to a wider range of emotions, known as ‘reactions’.
“We heard from people that they wanted more ways to express themselves on Facebook,” said Facebook product manager Sammi Krug. “When people come to Facebook, they share all kinds of different things, things that make them sad, things that make them happy, thought-provoking, angry. We kept hearing from people that they didn’t have a way to express empathy.”
It’s vital that we allow our users to clearly communicate and express themselves appropriately without compromising their intentions. If we design with empathy, we in turn, enable our own users to show empathy to one another. This core component can strengthen and reinforce a feeling of togetherness.
Eric advocated for companies to be conservative in what they ask of user, but liberal in what they receive. Patients Like Me is a website that collects patient information regarding their symptoms, treatments, and conditions. Although more thorough information is always preferred, their website is very forgiving in regard to the details they are willing to accept. Afterward they aggregate and organize data that they received. They share new insights, hoping to make a positive impact for industry professionals and patients alike.
At Family.me we want to enable our users to remember the little things. We give families the tools to document important locations, dates, and tag people with mutual memories. We are also taking a more liberal approach with our requirements. If someone can’t remember the exact date of an event, we are able to accept partial dates or no dates at all. We have the ability to accommodate something as simple as great-grandma’s secret cookie recipe, to something as complex as grandpa’s autobiography about walking 20 miles to school every day. In the snow. Without shoes. We strive to encourage our users to share every moment with the understanding that no experience is too large or too small.
Design can delight (when appropriate)
Another example referenced in Eric’s presentation was MailChimp’s Voice and Tone library. MailChimp is known for having an upbeat and cheeky tone with their users. But they still acknowledge that there are times when plain language is most appropriate for certain situations. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to assume a user’s circumstance and level of stress, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. At Family.me, we see ourselves as your favorite cool aunt. It’s important for us to think about how we would interact with our loved ones, and to convey that same warmth and kindness to our users.
Design for family
At the end of the day, it’s important to acknowledge the significant impact our designs can have on our users. Our users have families just like ours—composed of real people: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We should embrace both the joy, the sadness and sometimes craziness that can exist within our varying family relationships. We’re focused on designing an experience that can celebrate our accomplishments, cherish our togetherness, and pay respect to loved ones we’ve lost along the way. (And maybe an undo button for the family drama we’d rather forget.)
How is Family.me working for you!? Tell us in the comments.