• Community Service by Design

    In my early twenties, I lived in a substance-induced haze until a tragic overdose and death of a close friend started to clear my fog. As I processed the loss, I began to feel as though I could be next. That paranoia hung over me for years. During and after that time, I saw many more friends fall to addiction. I felt powerless—unarmed on the front line of an invisible war. After some effort, I was in a better place and I felt compelled to help those who weren’t, but I was at a loss as to how to apply my skills as a designer to this issue I felt so passionate about.

    I moved from New York City to Delaware in early 2014 and started going to my wife’s childhood church, Red Clay Creek Presbyterian. I was inspired by their local community and global activism and felt like I belonged. In what started as a one-off volunteer effort, I offered to facilitate a communication & archetype workshop for the church, having taught similar workshops in my design career. The goal was to focus their vision by choosing an archetype to define the organization’s tone and personality for their communications. That workshop would eventually lead to the decision to create a wellness center to help people suffering with the pain and crisis of mental illness and addiction, giving me the opportunity to share design methods to craft impactful, human-centered services around an issue I related to so deeply. But design has been present throughout the whole process; working to create focus, organization, and an effective foundation even before the services themselves get created.

    Creating a Shared Focus
    In the archetype workshop, we reviewed the results of a survey completed by the congregation and church employees to understand what the organization represents to itself, its members, and the community. Then, we discussed twelve popular archetypes used in modern marketing. We quickly narrowed down to four archetypes, and the room divided into two teams, choosing two to focus on: “the caregiver” and “the outlaw”.

    From there, we were able to discern a tone for communication channels and focus on four key themes:

    • Impactful reintroduction to the neighborhood
    • Developing new worshiping communities
    • Creating a sanctuary for those with mental illness, addiction, etc.
    • Establishing a welcoming campus

    Organizing For AccountabilityOrganizing
    Several weeks after this workshop, the same stakeholders and the church’s vision team met and created subcommittees around each theme, using our two selected archetypes a guide. We allowed interested parties to volunteer for the groups, and chose leaders who had expressed a personal interest to lead these subcommittees.

    Gathering Ideas
    Church leaders reached out to members who shared personal experiences with the types of community members that we wanted to help and openly discussed possible ways we could support others in the future.

    Prioritizing Ideas
    PrioritizingWe gathered again as group and used Post-it notes to discuss and prioritize the ideas that were generated. Every participant was given three points (represented by one Post-it note each) to distribute in two broad categories–internal and external efforts–totaling six points to be distributed by each person. The only stipulation was that voters were not permitted to use all three points on one topic in an effort to prevent any landslides and to reduce emotion-based voting.

    We tallied the votes and ideas that were not assigned any points by the group were shelved for the time being. Moving forward with a focus on general mental illness, we started planning the creation of a wellness center as a place of comfort and light for our community.

    Defining a New Service
    As we bring a service to life, we also need to define the new roles and systems necessary to create it. Here are some of the things that we have sought to define:

    • Criteria for support group leaders
      We are working with Mental Health Associations to generate a list of qualities that people who lead support groups should have before they claim a role as the facilitator in order to vet our potential leaders.
    • A screening procedure
      Potential attendees will likely need to be vetted to first determine if they may need serious medical attention.
    • A scheduling system
      We will need some type of software or analog calendar system to receive interested participants and help leaders establish detailed schedules including times, places, and rooms within our campus to hold group meetings.
    • Visual and physical design affordances
      Many mental states of distress can cause tunnel vision. When designing our outdoor spaces–including way-finding graphics and indoor signage, as well as digital experiences and printed material–we are seeking to keep the participant in mind.

    Using these processes, we have reached consensus that we can agree on, recall, and own, and have built a foundation to move forward in effectively designing human-centered services. Ideas have not been decreed through rank or hierarchy, but have been nurtured and crafted through compromise and a shared understanding. Direction has been be solidified in hours rather than weeks or months, and follow-through to implementation can happen quickly and reliably when working with experienced people who have a personal commitment see it succeed.


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