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🧩 Prototype to pattern: Using New_ Public's design process
Plus: Announcing our co-design partnership with Hylo
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Let’s continue our mini-series on New_ Public’s Community Lab by digging into our design process with Adriana Rivas Ruffatti, Head of Community Lab.
Through work in tech, including at Spotify and Instagram, Adriana came to appreciate that product designers, especially her peers working on sensitive issues like equity and integrity, must hold themselves to a high standard and bring procedural rigor to product development.
Over time, Adriana sought to move on from a design process focused on growth incentives and lacking empathy for marginalized people. At New_ Public, she’s now focusing her standards and rigorousness towards empathetic, public-spirited community-building.
Since the spring, Adriana’s Community Lab team has begun to apply the principles of the scientific process — hypotheses, testing, reproducibility — to creating new patterns, features, and tools for community stewardship within social products and spaces.
–Josh Kramer, New_ Public Head of Editorial
This week: Adriana walks us through the team’s design process and our new co-design partnership with Hylo, an open-source platform for community action.
Good design has to start with an understanding of what already exists and what else is needed. As Adit wrote previously, Community Lab interviewed community stewards to learn about their work and challenges. Also, the formation of New_ Public’s Community Stewards Guild brought more opportunities to learn directly from stewards. Adriana says, “That was really eye-opening, how many gaps we had and how much we had to learn.”
In addition to the interviews and co-design sessions, the Community Lab team built a knowledge base through reviewing relevant scientific and technical literature.
Research in hand, the team set about organizing ideas and observations into testable prototypes.
In one example, the team proposed an AI mediator prototype to assist stewards in moderating nuanced, gray area conflicts. However, stewards found it risky to let community members directly interact with automated features. They were concerned that automated tools in charge of decision-making might misunderstand important context, unintentionally exclude people, and make other mistakes. One interviewed steward, who goes by binchlord, described the challenges of using automated word-filters of membership applications:
When we did implement automated bans for sending hateful content during our onboarding process, we audited it for a long time. Despite using a carefully selected & iterated list of terms collated by moderators with years of experience with the space, there are still false positives.
In order to continue development, prototypes needed to fit a few criteria: each needed a hypothesis of how it might work, be a good fit for the strengths of the team, stand up to internal review and iteration, and be potentially widely applicable to stewards in many different contexts. Our hypothesis framework was borrowed from The Atlantic’s product team and adapted slightly for our needs.
Testing at scale
Next came the fun part — testing a prototype’s hypothesis with real users and stewards. Sure, the idea seemed promising internally, but will it work on a platform with key, functional features and a stable user base of growing communities?
After a brief “speed-dating” process to meet with different teams of builders, New_ Public’s Community Lab began a pilot partnership with Hylo. It’s a free app for purpose-driven groups, currently gaining traction with climate activists, social movements, farmers, and all sorts of values-driven users. The team was drawn to Hylo’s interesting UX patterns for groups, including subgroup organization and cross-connection.
According to Adriana, working with Hylo is a great opportunity for both organizations. New_ Public is learning from Hylo’s community members and stewards while testing new concepts, and Hylo is gaining access to helpful research about product development.
Hylo and New_ Public are a good fit: Hylo is also a nonprofit, and they aim to facilitate collective action to address global challenges, with a vision of creating a more just, resilient, and sustainable world through empowered and interconnected communities. Clare Politano, Hylo Product Lead, writes, “Like us, New_ Public sees digital spaces as a public good, a shared resource that we all have the power to shape according to our values and the future we wish to inhabit.”
We’re currently in the middle of a twelve week collaboration with Hylo, running design sprints that will implement our steward-inspired prototypes in real communities. The next step is larger-scale testing across multiple communities and platforms. Before that, the team will assess prototypes for potential harms or unintended consequences with methods such as red-teaming.
Validated and published
We aim to share everything we learn — every success, failure and mixed result. In science, published studies can be reproduced and hypotheses can be re-tested in different environments and contexts. Community Lab aspires for this work to be just as useful to other designers and builders.
Especially useful prototypes that have been tested and validated in Hylo, and eventually other platforms, will be shared as open-source design “patterns.” New_ Public wants to build patterns to model features and tools that actually work and assist stewards. As we learned in our research, the work of stewards is vital to the health of digital public spaces, and stewards could use more help.
Adriana observes that while this is a moment of genuine upheaval and innovation in social media, more than we’ve seen in years, many of the new products emerging now are seemingly clones of what we’ve seen before. The incentives, business models, and features are largely the same.
Many community stewards, and product builders too, are looking for something new that’s a little more public-spirited. Thanks to Community Lab, New_ Public can suggest patterns that have been rigorously built, tested, and shared.
“We're hoping that with these patterns, we provide at least a starting point for folks who are trying to do things a little bit differently,” says Adriana.
Builders: How do you test hypotheses in your products and spaces? Stewards: how do you handle situations that require tools you don't have on your hosting platform? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Trying not to overdo it on lingering Halloween candy,