Designer Iria Lopez began working with Design for Loneliness after a move to a new city left her experiencing social isolation first hand. It was pure serendipity that one of her first freelance projects was working with the local council on a project to combat loneliness.
The topic of loneliness is often one of those taboo subjects with a certain stigma attached. Here is the truth: loneliness (also referred to as social isolation) doesn’t only impact older people living alone. There can be a range of triggers that impact all ages and genders including a job change, moving to a new city, divorce, loss of a spouse or having a child.
Social isolation is a sense of feeling lonely in the crowd. It is the feeling that even though you are surrounded by people, they do not see you or you do not feel accepted.
The opposite of loneliness is connectedness. The key is maintaining a variety of relationships. Not all need to be close or intimate. It’s not about quantity. It is about others knowing you and you feeling accepted by them. It's having the confidence to reveal your true self.
You don’t feel lonely when you are seen by other. When the person sees everything about you and you feel accepted.
Increasing connectedness by design
As designers, we have the opportunity to be intentional about designing for connectedness. To start, put your journey mapping skills into practice. In workshops Iria runs, she encourages looking at the service you are creating through the lens of someone experiencing social isolation. What might they be thinking and feeling before, during and after the service?
For example, imagine you signed up for an event. You don’t know anyone else who is going and don’t think you will see a familiar face. It’s uncomfortable, it’s unknown. You end up not going after all.
How might this experience be different if we work to create a sense of connection from the start? Iria emphasises the importance of bringing this intention to our work.
In communications, make the community aspect explicit. Set aside time at the start of an experience to build genuine connections.
In the online space, it can be more difficult to build trust because we trust people based on the intuition of how the person is responding and moving. Encourage a camera-on approach especially at the start of an experience to help build those connections. It is also important to give permission to turn the camera off, especially during long sessions or intense activities.
As a leader or facilitator, know that others have a tendency to imitate or to mimic your energy. If you jump into an experience in “efficiency mode” to just get things done, know that's the energy that you're going to create in the group. Before you start, breathe. Get calm. Take a minute at the start to pause and encourage presence and connectedness. Invite others to reduce distractions —emails and mobile phones—that impact one’s ability to connect.
Use your design superpowers to create services that connect. For Iria, that is an event called Connect through Cooking that was built as a living lab and experimentation space. It is intentionally designed to build connections gradually over time.
Keep in mind that vulnerability is something that people allow themselves to reveal as they build trust. You can't start a workshop where nobody knows each other with ‘tell me your deepest, darkest secrets….’ It doesn't work.
Trust and acceptance is something that you build little by little.
This article was created with excerpts from the This is HCD podcast episode 'Designing for Loneliness' with Iria Lopez, hosted by Gerry Scullion. Listen to the full episode >>