How do we design transformative museum experiences that bridge the gap between empathy and action?
THE CONVERSION POINT
A museum is more than a collection of interesting objects.
A memorial is more than a heap or marble or stone.
Each of these types of institutions exist to serve a greater purpose. Whether it’s the British Museum or a local historical society, these organizations create an experience that is meant to inspire some action on the part of those who visit them.
For many years, museums did not take direct responsibility for the conversion point between experience and action — what visitors did after they left the gift shop was their business. But today, some institutions are thinking differently about this key component of their missions, asking tough questions about how the conversion happens and seeking new tools to make sure that it does.
THE INZOVU CURVE
Earlier this year, we went to work on behalf of an institution with an undoubtable moral mandate for action: the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, final resting place for more than 250,000 people killed in the 1994 genocide. Aegis Trust, the organization that built and operates the memorial, wanted to make sure that visitors were offered not just a strong emotional experience at the memorial site and museum, but opportunities to help stop genocide today and in the future. So we sent a team of user experience designers to Rwanda to figure it out.
With the help of the Rwandan people, they did it. In their work the team made use of an array of resources, from experts on museum design to their own personal observations at the memorial site. But they were most inspired by the young people who visited and worked at the Kigali site. In workshops and curricula, portable posters and personal stories, the next generation of Rwandans are figuring out how to convert the story of one of history’s worst genocides into hopeful action in their own lives.
Carefully observing these young people, the designers developed a model the Kigali museum — and all museums — can use to convert profound emotional experiences into action. They nicknamed it “the Inzovu Curve” after the Kinyarwanda word for “elephant,” because the arc users travel resembles an elephant’s trunk. Visitors to a memorial or museum first descend into a state of (often painful) empathy with the victims of violence whose stories they encounter.
Many institutions simply abandon them there; the Inzovu Curve instead advises them to provide additional experiences that lift visitors into a state of compassionate action. The model also identifies specific moments of reflection and transformation that will help equip all visitors to make a difference in the world.
If I say “Rwanda,” the first thing most of you will say would be “genocide.” Or maybe the animal lovers and adventure travelers among you will say “gorillas” as a distant second.
Rwanda for me is haunting memories and unforgettable images, seared into my consciousness. Twenty years since the genocide. Two months since my trip there for UX for Good. Rwanda is still on my mind. My words can hardly express my thoughts and feelings, but allow me to offer some thoughts about my experience in the Land of a Thousand Hills.
So, how was Rwanda?
Awesome. Awful. Both.
Do these words even mean anything relation to the best and the worst of the human experience?
On one end, the trip of a lifetime and a life-affirming experience for a designer like me. On the other, the mass murder of a million people to the pain and suffering of those who survived. Twenty years have past, but deep scars remain.
Words fail again. I wish I could edit together a documentary video of my memories, but until that’s possible, I offer you a series of snapshots.
For me, Rwanda is:
Seeing the Memorial for the first time. Learning about how decades of hate bubbled over into a bloodbath. 100 days, almost 1 million people killed.
As John Petrie, our client and host, pointed out, it was not 1 million murders, but 1 murder of a human being with a family, with a story, followed by the murder of another human being with her own story, and another, until you get to a million.
A million. That’s half of Manhattan. Slaughtered over three months. Beaten with bats, slashed by machetes.
The blood and brains-encrusted wall of a former church Sunday school building, against which children were bludgeoned to death. A wooden spear used to rape and impale women and girls seeking refuge at the church. The overwhelming feeling and smell of death, even though twenty years have passed. All brutal reminders of mass murder burned forever in my memory.
Leaving the final room of the Kigali Memorial, the Children’s Room. Speechless.
The quiet dignity of the genocide survivors. The humility of heroes.
Attending Rwandan song/dance/percussion performance. And being invited to join in the dancing. The songs were pure energy, pure joy, pure life.
Goat Burrito with Mango Salsa and Habanero hot sauce at Meze Fresh.
Fried sambaza, small whole fish from Lake Kivu with just the right amount of salt and grease, enjoyed al fresco on a balmy evening, washed down with a cold Mütsig beer, accompanied by a panoramic view of Kigali and surrounded by the company of new friends: artists, activists, designers, dreamers.
Meeting Grace Uwamahoro and hearing her story. Grace was 10 years old in 1994, the year of the Genocide. While fleeing from the confusion with her family, Grace walked by a dying woman clutching to a baby. The dying woman implored Grace to take the baby. Grace did, and raised the baby, Vanessa, as her own sister/daughter. Vanessa is now a 20 year-old woman. The best of humanity in the worst of times.
Witnessing for myself a brief snapshot of the story of Rwanda’s rebirth.
First you have to die to be reborn.
“Inzovu” means “elephant” in Kinyarwanda. It’s our design response to what we saw and the stories we heard. It’s a framework and narrative strategy for moving visitors from the memorial from a state of empathy to compassionate action. It’s a way to turn a museum that memorializes genocide into a place that can help prevent genocide? How does it work? How can we test it?
More coming soon. Stay tuned.
What did we do in Rwanda?
Via UX for Good:
This year’s Annual Challenge will take place June 1st – 7th in Kigali, Rwanda and London, UK with Aegis Trust, the organization that established the Kigali Genocide Memorial on behalf of the Rwandan people in 2004.
Like genocide memorials around the world, this site produces powerful feelings in all who visit it. UX designers have a unique capacity to understand the steps that take place between emotion and action. In Kigali, we’ll ask them to apply that skill set on behalf of all humankind.
As part of the Annual Challenge, UX designers from across the globe will visit Kigali for several days of exploration, research and debate. Then the team will reconvene in London, where they’ll design an original way to translate the feelings evoked by genocide memorials into sustainable action. Finally, they’ll share their findings to leaders from Aegis and other advocates for human dignity.
In addition to a presentation to Aegis Trust, the findings will be publicly shared and be used as the starting point for a day-long virtual event in August. As part of that event, UX for Good will work together with experts and volunteers to refine the concepts developed and explore how they could be applied in many different contexts.
Here are personal accounts from the trip by my UX for Good colleagues:
Field recordings of a Rwandan dance and percussion troupe that I saw perform on my UX for Good trip to Kigali, Rwanda.
Recorded 1 June 2014 @ the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel. Does anybody remember the name of the performance troupe?
This week I had a conversation with Andrew Benedict of the Insight Labs about UX for Good in Rwanda this June. I will be taking part in the week-long design challenge as a team captain.
Andrew: This challenge would be a huge undertaking for people from any background. What do you think makes UX design a particularly good fit to take it on?
Lee-Sean: I think of UX design as both applied craft and liberal art, which makes it a particularly good fit for this kind of challenge. UX designers have the ability to craft and make things in their particular area of expertise: web, mobile, etc., but the discipline is fundamentally about people in social and environmental contexts, which is what I meant by “liberal art.” UX design is sort of like rhetoric in a classical liberal arts education. It builds ways to frame our understanding of something with the aim of motivating and persuading people (“users”) around a certain point of view.