Making new connections at JusticeHack

Yes, we make media, but we design for community

We’ve read a couple of interesting stories in recent months about how hard it can be to make friends as an adult. At WhereBy.Us, we think about community and friendship a lot, and working to solve this specific problem is embedded our work in both content and event design.

Everything we build starts from our understanding of the community we’re trying to serve —people we call “curious locals.” These are people eager for engagement in their city. They’re looking for interesting ways to work, play, and contribute to their community, and they’re trying to find like-minded people with whom to do these things. They’re time-starved and over-stimulated, but they crave meaningful interaction, understanding of their communities, and lasting impact.

Our understanding of this curious local persona started as a behavioral breakdown of our core users and has grown and changed as more people have opted in to the community. We’ve designed a custom model for understanding our audience, which lets us use data and human-centered research to develop validated segments of people like this one, which shows how we think about individual’s information-seeking (vertical) and engagement (horizontal) behaviors.

User behavioral matrix for WhereByUs’s Miami brand, The New Tropic. The vertical access describes information-seeking behavior. The horizontal access describes experience-seeking behavior.

The Architects

Architects are entrepreneurs and connectors. They care about causes and connections, and leaving a legacy in their city.

The Regulars

Regulars are the foundation of local businesses. When they find a place they like and feel welcome, they’ll return again and again.

The Voyagers

Voyagers constantly seek new experiences and hidden corners to explore. They avoid predictability in favor of novelty; they want to see everything the world has to offer.

The Passengers

Passengers are stalwart companions. Where the voyager prizes the energy of adventure, passengers value the camaraderie and comfort that comes from journeying with people you know.

We use this rubric (and several others) to test our ideas against user behaviors in the planning phases of our work. The content and events we create serve users in multiple quadrants of the matrix. More important, when we take care to tailor our efforts to specific personas, we can often facilitate the right kind of social friction that helps curious locals meet and build relationships. Then, we track and measure how effectively we drive those relationships, both for ourselves and for our clients.

What does this look like in practice? Here are two quick examples of how we have used this approach to grow and build stronger ties among our community.

Arts and Drafts

Arts and Drafts began as a way to get people out of the same-old bar routine and into Miami’s local arts scene. It goes like this … We invite a local artist to a local bar to teach local people how they do their work. It’s simple, lightweight, fun, and it’s become a pretty popular night out. Since launching The New Tropic, we’ve done dozens of these events, and over time we have refined them, based on feedback from users and artists alike.

Arts and Drafts at Elwood’s Pub.

Arts and Drafts is targeted at all four of our user personas. It gives architects a chance to meet an emerging local artist and to network in a casual, fun setting. Explorers get to try something new, check out a new bar, meet a new artist. Passengers are welcomed with a communal table setup and packages designed for two or more people to share. Because we move this event around town, it gives regulars a chance to have a different sort of night out at a place they already know and love, and many of them come back again and again for the event itself, no matter where it’s hosted.

Your View

Our Your View series of community columns is targeted at getting architects to promote their missions in a way that gets other users excited to contribute. Unlike a traditional op-ed, we ask that Your View contributors explain some aspect of their work that resonates with a broader audience and offer a way for us all to pitch in.

In our favorite Your View columns, our community members are telling their own stories and connecting new people to their efforts. They’re not meant to change policy so much as to get the community active on what matters to themselves.

Ralph Rosado and his children with Miami Commissioner Ken Russell. (Courtesy of Ralph Rosado)

Ralph Rosado, an urban planner and a member of The New Tropic, wrote recently how he helped rally his neighbors to get a long-closed park cleaned up and reopened. He told a story, and it ended with a rallying cry that wasn’t just about his cause, but about how we can all contribute throughout the city …

“Find that person in your neighborhood that can champion your cause or — better yet — be that person, that voice for the voiceless. Rally your own neighborhood troops and get them to city hall to address the issues that affect your daily life — traffic, crime, poor social services, whatever they may be. Urge them to speak up whenever and wherever necessary. Your neighborhood will be all the better for it.”

After the column was published, we heard from several readers on social media and via email about how inspiring they found the tale, about how much they loved Douglas Park, about how excited they were to get back there.

When we focus on users, we put community at the center of our work. That community benefits, relationships strengthen, and we can foster new connections to each other and to the future of our cities.

We hear from our users on a regular basis about how important these connections are to them. New residents tell us they met their friends at The New Tropic events. People who’ve lived in Miami their whole lives tell us they discovered a new way to volunteer, a new place to visit, a new group to join in our newsletter or on our site. These seem like small interactions, but in aggregate, these community connections are what give our work value.

How are you thinking about community in your products? How are you designing for connection? We’d love to learn with you too.