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Jul 14 2010

Designing what matters

Don’t be fooled by the title, this article is not a grammatical error, but an exploration into the design challenges faced when seeking to engage and initiate a dialogue. We’ve made a Dialogue App and have been on a journey to design a platform to provide, promote and provoke issues that matter most.

Delib was recently involved in the UK government’s “Your Freedom” initiative. The site itself claims to be:

“designed to allow as many people in the UK as possible to put forward their ideas on what laws and regulations we should do away with.”


So how do you design what matters?

1) Designing for all

To create significant dialogues, accessibility isn’t optional, it’s integral. Crowd sourcing important issues depends on people being able to access the platform. Accessibility to the dialogue is limited by a wide range of obstacles; physical impairment, visual impairment, technical limitations eg. browser.

Designs should be 508, W3C, AA compliant, cross-browser compatible, screen-readable, semantically coded, search engine optimised, accessible colours, functional without javascript, optimised for mobile web, for starters.

2) Designing for engagement

The dialogue, in essence, is there to provoke user engagement. However, one challenge has been to provide a system that allows for a quick and simple process to allow users to submit theirs thoughts/ideas/views.

It is important to notice that there are levels of engagement a user may wish to involve themselves in. The Dialogue app takes a three tiered approach; ratings, comments and idea submission.

In order to bring validity to the sentiment, and remove unnecessary spam, the Dialogue app requires authentication from the user prior to the submission of their sentiment. This is a contentious issue, as we want to encourage engagement and eliminate obstacles that stand in the way. Arguably, authentication is an obstacle. However, we made the decision that this is a necessary step for users to make in order to experience a dialogue that is rich in issues that matter. If a user is serious about engaging with the dialogue, then authentication will not prohibit them from doing so.

3) Designing for openness and integrity

Democratic freedom of speech has a significant effect on a dialogue platform. A dialogue needs to be both open and have integrity. This will lead to issues that appear irrelevant to some and extreme to others. Moreover, an open dialogue is also vulnerable to abuse, so moderation is essential. However, moderation contends with freedom of speech, so how is moderation designed without constriction but with responsible control? We decided with the Dialogue app to use post moderation.  This provides the user with an open platform and instant submission of ideas / comments. A pre-moderation system could use server-side moderation that checks an idea / comment before submission. This would need to both be rigorous in identifying offensive or irrelevent ideas / comments whilst at the same time being open to freedom of expression. Moreover, should this system fail the liability relies with administrators of the dialogue. In light of this, we decided to implement post-moderation and employ human moderators as well as using user feedback.

4) Designing for community

A dialogue is all about the community. Talking to walls and throwing ideas into the ether are boring! Engaging with an online and vocal community is fun and effective. Therefore, it’s important for a dialogue platform to be engaging with it’s users and responding to their feedback. With the recent “Your Freedom” project we’ve had a lot of user feedback which has been instrumental in how we move forward in our design and development. We welcome any feedback and are running a dialogue on what improvements to make.

The recent change in UK government has provoked people to engage with a range of key issues. The internet is a great platform to voice and collate these thoughts and sentiment. The Dialogue app is designed to use the internet in a way that facilitates accessible, engaging, open, integral and communal dialogues. It is exciting to see steps forward that the recent coalition has taken in involving the public in policy making and improving society. These are the things that matter and this is how we design what matters.

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