Changing the Conversation on Sexual Assault Prevention
bthere approached us over two years ago with a pretty serious ask. Can we create an app that truly helps reduce sexual assault on college campuses?
It was a very sensitive time for the subject, closely following the highly publicized Standford Rape Case back in the summer of 2016.
Fortunately, this kind of work is what the Handsome team lives for. Being able to truly partner with a client to work through a problem and come to a solution together almost always delivers better results than coming to the table with a list of requirements.
Compelled by this unique challenge, the Handsome design research team began immediately learning everything we could about the problem space.
Looking at applications that had previously attempted to address this problem we quickly found that most solutions were centered around the idea of a response: Press this panic button when you feel unsafe, and we will alert your friends, family, and the police.
Though this action has its merit, early research proved that most people who had adopted these response apps and wearables were people who had already been sexually assaulted or were close to a victim.
For the majority of people, the idea of inviting your friends and family to download an app that would keep you safe from sexual predators was not something they were actively seeking out or felt comfortable promoting.
Building a Compelling Reason to Download
We knew immediately we weren’t going to create another app explicitly geared toward sexual assault prevention. In order to be truly successful in this space, the ideology and intention of the app needed to be much more nuanced.
With this in mind, we dove into the bulk of our research.
By taking a closer look at common environmental circumstances surrounding sexual assaults on campus, we discovered our first crucial insight.
The successful mitigation of sexual assault depends largely on a group of friends’ proximity to one another during a night out.
We knew that eradicating the college drinking culture was not a viable solution, so we quickly focused on solving for encouraged communication and safety in numbers.
The research team came up with a provocation: How can we create a compelling app that builds context for groups of friends when they go out and drink?
We comprised a series of research activities to follow several groups of friends on a night out.
From the dorm room pre-game to last call, we took observations- finding breakdowns that could become opportunities.
Chat + Map
It became apparent to us that knowing where your close friends are and being able to communicate with them was going to be the core of the app. When we looked at competitive apps on the market, they favored either location or chat in isolation, there wasn’t one that married the two in a successful way.
There were messaging apps that allowed you to manually send a static view of your current location, and location sharing apps like Find My Friends with limited messaging functionality.
Providing both types of context on equal playing fields allows users to get a quick glimpse of both their physical location and the context of the conversation without having to manually take action.
The Phone Battery
Through our research we also uncovered that dead batteries were a common occurrence throughout the night and often lead to individuals disconnecting from the group.
While observing participants, we noticed a lack of regard for their phone battery throughout the night–it wasn’t uncommon for them to switch between multiple apps, quickly draining their battery. They rarely considered the potential for them to be separated from the group, inebriated and with no form of communication.
We made the decision at that point that we didn’t want bthere to be an app that you were glued to all night. Being able to open and close the app quickly and still be able to understand everyone’s status was paramount.
In addition, designing a battery friendly map feature that runs in the background was going to be a challenge.
Fortunately, our technology team was able to successfully construct a map framework that greatly reduces battery drainage without compromising performance.
Because of this, bthere is performing better than some of the top location sharing applications on the market- including Snapchat’s “Snap Map” feature and Zenly.
Of course, the performance of a single app isn’t going to keep a phone from dying, so we put a few backup features in place.
Battery Status Notifications
bthere displays the battery percentage of each individual in the group and will send a notification when a friend’s battery reaches below 10%.
Last Known Location
If a friend’s phone does die, users will be able to see the location where it died and have the ability to navigate there.
Drop a Piñata
To further leverage the group aspect of bthere, an early concept was to integrate an event planning component. The idea was something like a bar crawl generator. Users would plan out what stops they were going to make throughout the night, and the app would notify the group when it was time to move on. During our research, we commonly observed people getting separated as the group changed locations. This evidenced that providing this kind of context throughout the night would dramatically help keep groups together.
Unfortunately, based on our observations, it’s very uncommon for college students to plan to this degree before a night out of heavy drinking.That’s when Drop a Piñata was born. The Piñata feature allows users to drop a pin on-the-fly and alert the group to the next stop of the night.
Users can tap on the piñata to navigate to it, as well as get notified when people have arrived at or left the general area.
Stay together. Get rewarded
With the core element of bthere being togetherness and safety in numbers- we integrated redeemable points for circles of friends for simply spending time together.
While we can point to several apps that reward users for spending time on the app itself, we knew associating points with spending time together in a physical location was sending a much larger message to our audience.
The execution was simple: create a circle of friends, and the more time people spend together, the more points they get.
Not only that, but we integrated a way for users to redeem their points through local businesses and virtual rewards on the app.
To create an additional incentive to drop piñatas, users get a multiplier when inside the radius of a piñata.
Currently we have executed a localized soft release of bthere with a primary focus on the University of Texas and continue to validate the concept.
We plan to open bthere to other campuses later this year.