Designing for peace: 6 inspiring ideas and thoughts

There is too much hate in the world, particularly towards people from different countries, different nations, different religions – just “different”. Let me tell you what happened to me today. I was in a bus going to Winchester and an old man just seated near me. I was in the back of the bus, and sometimes when stretching we tend to put our feet on the top of the seat in front of the bus. I know it is quite bad, but I didn’t think, I was stretching my leg for a moment and I put my foot on the seat. The man just said something – I couldn’t hear properly, then I said: “Sorry?”. He said: “- Get your filthy feet out of the seat!”. I just moved it very quick and continued looking at him. He said: “-Do you do this in your country?”. Ohhhh – this is where my heart was pumping really fast. I got very angry. How can he say something like that? Why couldn’t he be just polite? Or even say “-Do you do this in your home?”. But no – “your country”. I just said a gentle and sarcastic “I’m sorry”. And I kept staring at him, thinking – How can he be so rude? What should I do?. He then said: “-What are you looking at?”. I said: “-I’m looking at the window.” – and I laughed. There is that saying that a fight only happens when two people really want to fight (as I’ve heard in my childhood, “quando um não quer, dois não brigam”). I didn’t want to fight because that was not going anywhere. The man left and that was it. Then I was thinking. What is making people full of hate? All I could sense and feel was just this: hate. For the whole day I felt a disconnection with everything in this place. When we move to another country we tend to accept and embrace the local culture; sometimes feeling really proud, acting like someone naturally born here. But I am not. I am not British – I am Brazilian. This made me think, due to recent events – Acid Attacks in London, Far Right in America and so many incidents (way worse than my experience) related to racism and xenophobia, what can we do to bring peace and respect back to humanity?

I know it sounds very miss universe talking (world peace cliche), but what are we doing to bring peace after all? What are we doing to slow down this wave of hate? What are we doing to bring respect to each other? I’m not specialist in world peace or social sciences or anthropology, but I do know design. So what can we do as designers to decrease this horrible scenario of hate and change it?

1- Designing games for peace

While looking for references in Design and Peace, I’ve found the Peace Innovation Lab from Stanford University. This is their video below. All they are talking about is behaviour change and how games and game-techniques can help to change people’s behaviour. One aspect mentioned in the video is the classic B=mat, from Fogg’s model of behaviour change that uses motivation, ability and triggers. Thus, games can promote motivation, they can make people learn new abilities and they could function as triggers for people to change their behaviours. Adding to this, games provide real-time feedback, which also helps people to get immediate rewards and improve their behaviours.

There is also the games for change, or in other words, games created to change people’s behaviours, attitudes and perceptions. For example there is a category of games to learn how to manage conflicts, like games that show the how difficult it is to live in war zones and so on. There is also the World Peace board game, which helps players wot work in teams in order to understand political conflicts and make important decisions. Other games also enhance social collaboration, which can be very useful while dealing with conflicts not only in the theme of the game with within the dynamics between players. Perhaps we should be designing more games like these.

2- Using technology for good

This is quite broad but it involves a lot of tech for good and tech for peace. The insight here is that when we interact with systems we create a large amount of data, which can be tracked and can be used to enhance human experience positively. This place here is already doing this type of research. This is quite based on Persuasive Technology, which tends to bring triggers and tools to help to decrease conflict and empower peace makers, for example. With AI no, it is possible that machine learning could predict possible conflicts in the future and avoid them. However I’m not sure how this would work yet, but it might be already happening. From the design perspective I believe that this should be designed based on respect – respect of values, respect of cultural backgrounds, respect of beliefs and human rights. Yet, I still think that technology could be used as a way to explore cooperation and collaboration. That is, peace can’t be done by one individual – it is a collective experience. Thus, if technology could enhance our network and make it stronger, we could make a change. Perhaps communities might emerge through technology empowerment. Some are already there.

3- Designing for empathy

One thing that came in my mind was empathy and virtual reality (VR). That is, VR can teach empathy, since it provides an immersive connection between the user and the environment. In other words, people could live in the “skin” of others and therefore understand their issues. Empathy has always been in the agenda of Design Thinking and all design-related techniques. We need to design for people; thus, it is good to know what they would need, desire, think, feel and so on. In the case of conflict and peace, empathy is crucial. We don’t know what the others are thinking, or if something happened to them before getting into a fight. People don’t know your stories unless you tell them.

4- Positive design

You’ve probably heard about ad blockers. Now imagine if you could have negativity blocker and just read and embrace positive news, interactions and so on. Designing for positivity should be key. Why people are reacting with hate? Perhaps something in the media? Let’s admit, we have been bombarded by so many negative news. People losing jobs, economic crisis, poverty and other things. Can we get something positive out of this? Is there something that we could do? There is this framework for Positive Design, which combines Design for Virtue, Design for Personal Significance and Design for Pleasure. I would say that perhaps the one that would require more work is the virtue side. How can we include moral aspects without imposing them? What a big challenge for designers! Perhaps if I didn’t have any moral or virtue I would have argued with the old man in the bus – who knows? The framework is very good, but I would say that we need to think about the collective as well as the individual.

5- Culture matters

Understanding culture is another thing that we should do as designers. We need to work together to respect values, symbols and rituals from people that have other cultures, values, religions and so on. Cultural differences exist but also do cultural similarities. I know we tend to focus too much on what is different – but what about the things that we share? What are the values that we share?

6- Collective design

Change can come from the individual but it will only have a big impact if it is a collective change, especially in the case of peace. I know that alone I can make some difference. For example, I decided not to argue with the old man in the bus and I will never put my foot on the seat again. But the impact we tend to see in the collective side of things. This is where we should get out of our bubbles and collaborate, cooperate. Tech can help us to do this. Let’s use it.

Conclusion

What can we do? We could use technology to empower communities. And we could all start thinking differently and embrace diversity. We could use tech to help us change our behaviour. But most importantly, we need to WANT this change. I think that even with all those tech around us, we still need to acknowledge that we need to change our behaviour. Perhaps games could help to trigger this “willingness” to change – or perhaps just provocative art could make people think about those issues – or just VR could create empathy and make us change. There is still a lot to do. This is why I say to people that culture is important, values are important – but most importantly, we are HUMANS. So please, be kind, respect others and smile. Look up to the stars and think.

 

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