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Trauma and Design: Community call round-up

HRCD community members find ourselves encountering trauma at some point in our design careers—in people served through designs, in the settings we worked in, and in ourselves. This is our first community call on the topic.

Published onSep 05, 2020
Trauma and Design: Community call round-up

The Human Rights Centred Design (HRCD) community has been meeting for monthly calls around specific topics, and various members of the community expressed interest around two questions in particular: (1) As designers who work with traumatised communities, how do we design better around traumatising subjects/tools, and (2) how do we ourselves, as designers, manage being traumatised by what we work with?

Throughout the HRCD community meetings this year, trauma and mental health have emerged over and over as a reality of working at the intersection of design and human rights. Many in the HRCD community have found themselves needing to navigate some aspect of trauma at some point in their design career—in people they sought to serve through their design, in the settings they worked in, and in themselves. As conversations began to distill around mental health, we realized all of us had different examples, cases, experiences and needs around trauma.

As the prevalence of trauma in design became more apparent in the HRCD group, we realized this was a topic that shouldn’t just be part of other conversations, but explored directly and in-depth. Seven members of the community with capacity and a connection to trauma and design formed a working group.

We spent three months meeting as a working group on a weekly basis and reached out to the HRCD community to ask what they wanted out of community meetings oriented around trauma and design.

On the 12th and 20th of August, our working group members facilitated two sessions aiming to set the groundwork for building collective knowledge and a space for further discussions on trauma and design in the HRCD community.

In these sessions we covered:

  • Basic terminology around trauma and mental health (found in our Trauma and Design resource here) along with anecdotal comments and examples from the facilitators—it’s common to see words related to trauma used casually and without clear definition; we wanted to set up a common vocabulary so that community members could develop mutual understanding around sensitive topics more quickly

  • Responses and ‘signals’ of triggering or a traumatic responses

  • Regulation activities to manage traumatic responses

  • Vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and moral injury—defining, recognizing, and relating to how they’re experienced by journalists, doctors, and human rights workers

  • Design case studies, exploring design methodologies, resources, and tools from work done by our facilitators

  • Breakout discussions with participants examining their own work through the lens of two questions: “How might use of the (product) impact user health (physical or mental)?” and “Who will and won't have access to this product, and how will that impact their well-being?” inspired by Susan Fowler’s framing for evaluating whether to take on work for a product.

For our next call, we hope to explore different contexts where challenges with trauma manifest, and continue to bolster the groundwork for hosting conversations and building design resources in the HRCD community.

Join us for our next call September 17th at 8am PT / 11am ET /3pm UTC, as we approach case studies with practitioners who support and design for people who encounter disturbing content through documentation of human rights violations.

For further readings from this introductory call, check out the following.

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