How to Design For Delight and Connection During the Pandemic

Introducing “Responsible Design for Digital Communities”

By Sarah Drinkwater, Director, Omidyar Network

this period of physical distancing, we have had to depend on technology more than ever before. The products and platforms we use have become lifelines to working, ordering food safely, finding important information, connecting with friends, socializing, learning and more. Even in parts of the world where the worst impacts of the pandemic are behind them, it’s likely more of us will continue working from home and staying closer to our neighborhoods than we were before.

Designers, developers, founders and community organizers never designed for these moments. Who could imagine they’d have to?

Take enterprise products. They were designed to be used at work. Slack wasn’t conceived as a place to keep up with friends; nobody predicted Zoom would host quizzes, happy hours, and birthday parties. Zoom’s user base jumped from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in just a few short months, and, when “Zoombombing” became a phenomenon, it became clear they hadn’t considered all the ways people could use and abuse their platform.

Designing responsible tech means building with safety and privacy at its core, and anticipating risk as best we can. But, in this era when we need community most, and mutual aid networks are run through messaging platforms, karaoke is hosted on Google Meet, and people are rallying around shared causes in brilliant, unexpected ways online, we also need to design for delight and connection.

Today, Mozilla Foundation released “Responsible Design for Digital Communities”, a new playbook that brings together emergent best practices, workflows, and tools for community building that we are proud to have supported.

Mozilla Fellow Caroline Sinders, an artist and researcher for, amongst others, IBM Watson, Buzzfeed and Wikimedia, crafted this new tool during the pandemic after dozens of interviews with educators, activists, and artists.

Responsible Design for Digital Communities features a checklist of issues that designers and developers should consider from consensual privacy to moderation capabilities and strategies, such as intentionality and ritual, to make events more joyful and inclusive.

“Digital interfaces are the bridges to our communities right now,” said Sinders. “This toolkit and website brings together emergent best practices, workflows, and tools that communities, educators, mutual aid groups, designers, artists and activists are using for community building. This project highlights how design needs to change to best suit people in this moment.”

It’s increasingly clear that so much of the change the technology industry needs will be driven by those who work within tech — actively working to design and build better practices, processes, and products. To lead the charge from the inside out, tech workers especially need practical tools to help embed responsibility into existing processes. Alongside education, new models and narratives to look up to, organizing mechanisms that redistribute power and space to connect with like minds, we believe this toolkit will support technologists in rebuilding a safe, fair, and compassionate Internet.

Omidyar Network is a social change venture that reimagines critical systems, and the ideas that govern them, to build more inclusive and equitable societies.