Content Design London

CDL research series: SafeLives, introduction

25 February 2020

By Sarah Richards

Content Design Research

Warning: this post talks about domestic abuse. National Domestic Abuse helpline: 0808 2000 247 (or 999 if you are in danger).

We are researching an end-to-end content design project for the charity SafeLives.

Meeting hidden user needs

Last year I spoke all over the world about the close connection between accessibility and usability. It’s only when we have both that everyone gets the inclusive web we all deserve.

This year, I’m focusing on the areas of poverty and abuse, and the ‘hidden’ needs that users have. They’re hidden because users are not actively searching the web for answers to a need they have. They don’t know what they don’t know.

So, how can we reach them and get them the help we know is available to them?

Reflective and disruptive journeys

Most content journeys we talk about are ones where the user has a question that they’re trying to find an answer to or a real-world task they’re attempting to complete.

I call these ‘reflective’ journeys. They’re ones where the user knows what they want to do and we, as content designers, do our best to get them the information they need quickly and then get out of the way. We can use all our usual tools to map their journeys, identify pain points and find the right language to use.

Journeys for hidden needs are different. If someone doesn’t know what they don’t know, how can we make sure we’re using language that will reach them? How can we map a journey that they don’t know they will go on?

I call these ‘disruptive’ journeys. They’re ones where we have to find the right way to get in front of users and present information to them in a way that, once they see it, will make sense and be immediately relevant.

Working with SafeLives

SafeLives is a charity that is working to end domestic abuse. Perhaps surprisingly, domestic abuse is an area where there are hidden needs.

We’re looking at emotional, mental and financial coercion and control because this is all abuse.

For those of you who have never been in that situation and don’t know anyone who has, you might wonder how anyone could not know they are being abused and not be actively looking for advice and help.

This type of abuse covers things like partners being controlling by:

  • wanting to know what someone is doing all the time and needing to be in constant contact,
  • demanding or setting passwords to email and social media,
  • preventing or discouraging visits to friends and family,
  • insisting on making decisions on everyday things like clothing and meals,
  • taking sole charge of household finances and personal spending.

It’s the type of abuse that people might attempt to excuse as ‘attentive’ rather than possessive.

Because of this, the person being controlled might not actually be aware that their relationship is abusive. It’s also something that can build slowly over time.

One of the Safe Lives team has a good benchmark: if someone you love makes you feel scared, that’s a warning sign. And, as someone pointed out in a recent journey mapping session if you were going on a first date, and someone turned up and punched you as you opened the door, you wouldn’t go out with them. When things change over time, abuse can be harder to recognise.

Abusers can be charming, amusing and an integral part of your family or friendship circle.

If you’re worried about your own relationship, please get help. The National Domestic Abuse helpline is open 24 hours a day: 0808 2000 247.

Meeting hidden needs – creating a disruptive journey

We always start every project with a journey map. To produce any content at all, we need to understand:

  • where our audience is coming from,
  • what language they are using,
  • what preconceptions, beliefs and mental models they have,
  • where they are getting information from,

In this particular situation, that presents us with some challenges.

Challenge 1 – language

People that we know we need to reach don’t identify with the word ‘abuse’ or the term ‘domestic violence’. SafeLives told us some younger people use the term ‘toxic’ instead of ‘abuse’.

We also understand that if the partners don’t live with each other, they are unlikely to think of it as ‘domestic’.

And if you think someone’s behaviour is odd, or it makes you uncomfortable, you are not necessarily going to leap straight to the term ‘abuse’.We also can’t assume the gender of the abuser nor the type of relationship they have.

So that’s where we are starting this. When mapping a reflective user journey, we can research the language users are using and reflect it back to them. On this disruptive journey, we need to somehow get in the way. We need to get hold of people who aren’t using the language that we would use to describe their situation.

We’ll keep you updated on our progress.

The team

The team working on this have generously given their time for free. Team include: Clare Reucroft, Andrew Tilbury, Ben Luby (from the Content Design Academy), Mark Hurrell (designer) and Sarah R.


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