San Francisco is a vibrant and diverse city made up of people from different backgrounds and cultures. Apart from the geographical divide with pocket communities like Chinatown and Little Italy, it can be daunting and difficult for people to integrate into society and leave people in search for a sense of belonging.
Meraki is a social entrepreneurship grounded in fostering deeper meaningful connections between people by initiating conversations through play.
Design Research, Social Impact, Service Design
Design Strategy, Research, Rapid and High-fidelity Prototyping (physical games), Copywriting and Scripting
In order to better understand the challenge and the bigger system, we conducted observations in public areas, noting down the interactions between people. To better understand the user's perspective, we set up survey boxes with questions about belonging in CCA for 3 weeks, and we changed these weekly. In addition to that, we sent out photographic cultural probes to our acquaintances and conducted interviews of long term residents and people who had just moved to the bay area.
Inspired by the The Feast by Jerri Chou we hosted a small multi-cultural dinner themed around "Belonging" and got to observe people sharing experiences of belonging. We were also given the opportunity by Scott Shigeoka to host the dinner for the team and crew of Second Chance, as part of the Re-imagine: End of Life festival in San Francisco. We got to observe people meeting each other for the first time, and get in deep conversations around belonging, identity, culture, and end of life, which gave us a much broader perspective on the topic.
How might we design games in a way that the fun and shared experience helps people connect and also form deeper connections?
Based on our research findings, we founded Meraki. Inspired by people and focused on helping build deeper meaningful connections, the aim is to bring people together in order to initiate conversations, and give everyone a chance to be seen, be heard, and feel like they belong.
Our main concept is hacking existing games and designing them with a purpose to foster deeper connections. Leveraging the shared, common mental model of popular games in order to reduce the anxiety of learning a new game and make it easier to have conversations.
Language should not be a barrier in getting to know someone new so this version of charades is all about building connections through motion. In this version, players act out answers to quirky, personal questions helping them learn more about each other.
Our most interesting finding was that being silly helped our players get comfortable and get over any awkwardness. Through our user testing sessions we found that out players wanted a tangible takeaway after playing the game. We added a twist to the end of the game where players have to create their own handshake before they end the round. This became their own secret language and souvenir from their shared moment.
Physically making something is always a fun way to connect with someone. The Jenga pieces become building blocks and create castles of conversations. We designed categories and question prompts which would let players dive deeper and help the conversation flow smoother.
During our user-testing, we found that the collapsing Jenga tower would awkwardly stop the conversation. So in the final version, instead of removing blocks, players would be adding the Jenga blocks to build a tower as they answered questions. The growing tower became a metaphor of the growing conversation and the developing relationship between the players.
We really wanted to give players and opportunity to open up about their emotions. So we designed this version of strategy where monetary value is traded in exchanges of life stories. Instead of buying property around the board, players buy categories representing the phases of life which allows them to ask any related questions as and when other players land in their section. And since we gave the power of asking questions to the players this gave them a chance to open up and talk about deep personal topics.
After user-testing the game, we realized that players wanted the flexibility to ask questions. So in the final version we empowered players to ask any related topic questions as and when other players land in their section. Giving this power of asking questions to the players this gave them a chance to open up and talk about deep personal topics.
Working on the games and developing them to help spark conversations and connections was an iterative process as the language we used had an impact on the final outcome when our participants tested the games.
Learning about the small things that start a connection between strangers and then seeing those connections grow was an encouraging validation. One way to make this validation stronger would be if we had a method to measure or track the emotional impact that this intervention has in the longterm.