Telefonica Alpha was working with the Royal College of Art and set us this brief as our first project as part of the Masters course. They wanted us to explore how might we help people improve and balance the agency they have (or could have) upon their lives so they can be healthier and happier? As an area of focus, my team selected Identity and Relationships - Who are we to ourselves and to each other? Our aim was to expand, inspire and provoke the thinking of Telefonica Alpha.
We had the option of 6 different themes. We shared our reasons for selecting Identity to narrow our focus.
How we considered identity
We started off by sharing the things and thoughts that we associated with our identity. This proved useful both as a team-bondings exercise and a way of clustering the different categories that we could start to explore.
How we considered happiness
*Based on James Marcia’s theory on developmental psychology & Kath Woodward Questioning identity: Gender, Class, Nation (2000)
At the time of working on this, the Trump Administration was trying to redefine a narrower definition of gender as being only male or female and unchangeable once determined at birth. Around 650,000 people in the United Kingdom do not identify as either male or female. With increasing awareness of gender fluidity and increasing number of non-binary people coming out we questioned the conventional concept of gender.
People we interviewed:
A Facebook organiser of LGBT Allied group (two-spirit), LGBT youth collective manager, members of RCA Queer Society (transgender, gender queer), president of Beaumont Society (transgender), a director of Mosaic LGTB Youth Centre, and people who identified as cisgender.
While carrying out these interviews, we made a few mistakes and learnt a lot...
- We phrased things incorrectly e.g. explore instead of discover (explore implying promiscuity) and at times questions were asked that went a little too deep. Team members became hesitant about running further interviews incase we upset anyone.
- The topic is sensitive and for each person means something different. While some interviewees expressed frustration at having to explain their gender identity, others took it as their personal mission to see that people understood and were accepting.
- Stories were shared during the interviews and while they were accepted and empathised with, really comprehending the reasoning behind decisions was trickier if you hadn't been through it personally.
- We asked people who identified as cisgender where they would go to learn more about gender and many didn't feel comfortable attending LGBTQ+ meetups to learn more, incase they offended anyone with their presence, questions or misinformation.
We found differing definitions of Non Binary and different ideas of what it means. The spectrum of gender is growing and constantly adapting. The education system is failing to keep up. We found increasing form of media representing gender non conformers (magazines, theatre, dance, online forums etc) yet we still looked for a safe space that we could ask questions, hear personal accounts and admit when something was unfamiliar to us.
The sources we found to be most insightful to us were:
Gov.uk LGBT Action Plan 2018: Improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Twitter and Instagram influencers (e.g. Queer Letters), Ali Hanon - Gender as a performance, National Geograhic - Gender Revolution, Beyond the binary, Judith Butler, Is Gender Fluid?
These were perhaps the most sensitive interviews I've done before. As a team we had differing levels of comfort with how far the questioning went. Going forward I'd facilitate these interviews with 'supporting objects' that acknowledges that the interviewee is in control and allows them to indicate; terminology they prefer, which questions they were comfortable with answering, when they wish to move on and if they want to end the interview.
We found creating this difficult as every persons story was different, and each account was so personal it almost felt like we were doing injustice by condensing and collating it into one journey.
From this research we synthesised it into the user journey above.
The turning point
While a teammate was explaining our project to a friend she got this response...
...we saw this as our opportunity.
After a lot of discussion we decided to pivot our direction. Instead of focussing our design on something to directly improve the happiness of those who don't conform to gender norms, we based our design on improving more general social perceptions to increase agency.
We broke out our opportunities into 4 keys stages and ideated as many ideas as we could.
We then moved ideas into an Importance - Difficulty matrix, expanded a few and voted on our solution.
Click for more details.
What is it?
Non Dinary, is an educational dining experience focused on the notion of gender as a construct. The experience is a metaphoric meal introducing how sex, gender identity and gender expression both differ and relate, what it means for gender non-conformers and the complexities it can bring. By approaching the conversation in an unconventional and lighthearted way over a meal, Non Dinary gives our customers a safe space to learn and ask questions so they leave with the terminology, understanding and confidence that’s lacking in common knowledge.
Why over food?
Nothing brings people together like food. Preliminary research indicated that interactive experiences are one of the most effective and memorable ways to learn. The sharing of food has always been part of the human story. “To break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter.
How it works
A future goal is to get gender non-conforming friendly restaurants who have collaborated with us marked with our logo on navigation apps and recommendation websites such as Google Maps or Tripadvisor. We foresee the Non Dinary method being booked as an educational tool in additional settings such as workplace LGBTQ+ societies, human resources inclusivity campaigns, or even in schools.
"It is a great eye catching conversational tool and a different exploratory way of approaching the topic. It removed the pressure and is accessible to everyone."
- Stylist and creative content director at Phuild Project.
"Congratulations on a very professional piece of work. I enjoyed reading the poster and watching your video. It was a pleasure to talk to you and I am delighted that I was of some help in your excellent work."
- President of the Beaumont Society.
Lessons learnt and reflections
- Due to the sensitivity, complexity and changing nature of the topic, we placed a lot of time on the discover and define stages. By setting fixed deadlines for each stage, we could have progressed to develop and deliver faster.
- When selecting the ideas both for and from the Importance - Difficulty Matrix, we didn't get the opinion of those we interviewed. This would have validated the crucial decision we made at this time.
- The sometimes difficult nature of working in a team of 7 from different nationalities and backgrounds.
- We made the conscious decision to propose a solution which was not fully aligned with the client's present offerings because we saw potential with our solution and potential ethical data issues with some of our other ideas even though they may have been more aligned. Had we not been in a university setting and free to explore, I would have questioned this decision more.
With special thanks to
All the people we interviewed - each shared with us warmth, pain, and taught us something about their life.
Our tutor Clive Grinyer, Royal College of Art.
This project was done in collaboration with Elizabeth Fairleigh, Francesco Cagnola, Kun Qian, Luwen Zhang, Saumya Singhal and Yue Yuu.