The reports on increasing domestic, gender-specific violence during the pandemic are alarming. As a woman I'm used to those warnings. Why don't we use the long established technologies and our support networks to outsmart violence? My project idea aims to assess how existing technologies, such as silent alarms, panic buttons and speech recognition, can equip vulnerable people with the control and power to feel comfortable at home, and stay invisibly connected to their communities.
Domestic and gender-specific violence are still severe disruptions to our living conditions as a community. Women, females and vulnerable people of the LGTBQ community constantly reflect on their safety in public spaces. When someones is made a victim in their own home there are deeper concerns about ones autonomy. After a close friend of mine had been raped in her own home, her room, her safe space, I was determined to find strategies to give her back a feeling of control over her life. But after weeks of research I found little to no supporting service or tool for her situation. The German support system for victims of domestic and gender-specific violences focuses, like many others, on the joint and individual therapeutic treatments and personal support. And while the Germany government and the EU agenda have long understood the troubles of remaining sexism in our societies, it will simply take a long time to adjust the legislation and culture to establish the necessary measures and reach equality. In the meantime I strongly believe that innovation needs to be used to bridge the inequalities towards females by compensating physical weakness with the power of smart technologies and our social networks. There is already a market for home security systems and smart devices for the elderly, that support the safety at home. My project idea is to use the existing technologies to design a panic button and speech recognition product especially for the needs of females and vulnerable communities and their homes. Through these smart home devices one is enabled to send secret messages and alarms silently to ones neighbours, local help centres or even designated authorities in case of an incident at home. Where it is usually scary to know a tool is listening, like Alexa or Siri, in an emergency it can save lifes. And it lays a veil of safety over our living spaces, may they be communal, private or professional – creating an equality of safety through connectivity.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context
While this project idea is focusing on inclusivity, equality and communities rather than ecological benefits I do see values for sustainability in a conceptual way:
- Bridging the gap that is sexism and inequality in EU countries, such as Germany, means to work towards a sustainable society itself. A culture can only be sustained if it's safe for everyone.
- Establishing safety for females is enabling an excluded part of our society and former victims to heal and reach or return to a self-confidence and self-love that is empowering them to be active parts of our local and global neighbourhoods again. How many contributions have we lost by victimising the most sensitive members of our communities?
- Innovation in large parts of the EU member states is directly linked to technological advances in AI and mobility. Many of these uses are based on economic and representative interests and foster a competitive mindset in the innovation sector. With my concept I hope to see a change in the perception of innovation towards reasonable, human- and planet-centred use of technologies. I with to only creating technological tools that are needed and valuable to make up for human errors and as a means to re-educate human behaviours. Seeing that we often forget the ecological footprint of even just using the internet it is important to me to be aware when it makes sense to use such means and when it is an advance for the wrong cause.
- I'm considering an additional documentation function through which an alarm would also start a security camera that make it easier for victims to deliver proof in court. Supporting the legislative process would mean a more efficient use of the legal infrastructures and decrease psychological damage and trauma many encounter through the dreadful procedures of fighting their case. It would potentially even increase the amount of reported and convicted crimes that are sustainable in a sense of making everyones life safer.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context
Although I haven't entered the creation phase with this concept I have anticipated multiple ways in which the aesthetic direction of this plan will be beneficial for its cause and outstanding in comparison to the current products on the international market:
- Many home security devices are designed for home owners that are able to make major adjustments to their spaces. My concept will be simpler and mobile. The attachment of screws and cables are over-burdening for my target-groups even if they would be capable of such crafty work it should't be a necessary step.
- As a centralised system there are many questions regarding appearance and position to be answered. For now, I envision a well disguised, yet attractive range of objects, that isn't invading the design of the homes and is yet able to be reached and communicated through easily in the whole space. I want the design to speak to the female-identifying target group and be comforting in looks and touch, without appearing like a technology. To be exclusively attractive and accessible for females the security products should come in a variation of femme shapes and colours that could potentially be confused with female hygiene or cosmetic items men have no interest in, but they should not be patronising as well.
- The service behind this product should be equally designed to the needs to the target group. Since I have not been able to gather a focus group and finish the research yet this is a speculation! I intend to validate the need for a disguised website that requires, for instance, the answering of filter-questions only females would have sufficient knowledge about, in order to reveal the product designs and options.
- Responding to voice and using connections with people and organisations this service would need a well designed, intuitiv app that can always remain on the background of participating phones and laptops. The speech assistant needs different options, such as withdrawing the alarm.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context
sThis is the main aspect I meet with the project and many goals have already been named but I will specify the key elements:
- Empowering vulnerable, specifically female-identifying members of the communities to feel safe enough to flourish and contribute to our society.
- Building a preventive support mechanism to make up for lacks in our human culture, education and behaviours towards each other. We need something to prevent and proof violence now, until society has reached their fundamental goals of equality.
- Depending on the support for the concept the devices would be purchasable online or distributed through charitable organisations and authorities to those in need. If a mixture of both is possible, I aim for using the online distribution for those who can afford a preventive support systems but relying on local foundations etc. to provide the devices to former victims or endangered females.
- I would like to spend time on extensive research with victims of domestic violence to assess every aspect of my proposition in a Service Design manner. This would require the development of scenarios of violence with specific responses and applications from the designs to each case. The creation should benefit females in as many situations and incidents as possible without causing further harm or distress while also meeting local privacy laws. This also requires consulting experts in data security and psychological emergency responses. Even in the last stages of the product and interface design I would like to speak with focus groups of victims that would like to contribute to the project. I will need the support of active charities and social organisations that have access to the target group.
- Of course, the idea is to alarm a neighbour, friend, family-member or local organisation through the silent alarm which means the concept takes existing infrastructures and makes them permanently available – strengthening a the feeling of belonging and local comfort zones.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary
When we design living spaces we design living conditions that impact us on a fundamental level. Making our homes sustainable in an environmental aspect will be crucial for our survival. But while reaching for this higher purpose of climate neutrality we can't forget that each individual space also is an ecosystem and it is the individual human inhabitant that makes a mental and physical contribution to larger issues such as climate change or even just our local communities. By supporting the individual within the space to flourish we support the well-being on a social and possibly planetary scale. So when the living experience in our spaces are unequal, we cannot turn a blind eye. Even if apartments look entirely the same, someone who has been made a victim in their homes or is confronted with insecurity based on their gender will have an entirely separate experience within them. Straightening our gender inequalities and gender-based violence will be a mission for many generations to come. While we are working out these problems in our European societies and governments we can begin by preventing them within the contained spaces we call home. By addressing the home security of females I want to design for a group that is done being vulnerable and create support especially for them, being sensitive in the concepts looks, feels, accessibility and development. The future will be more female, more equal and more diverse and we can start by providing a strong home to these individuals that will shape our world.
The idea was fuelled by the frustration of lacking services and products for the specific need of a representative real life experience of gender-specific domestic violence. In the case of my friends, as I'm sure it is in many cases, the infrastructure in place directed her only to help lines, therapies and communal action groups for women and victims. Being the strong personality my friend is she didn't want to continue as a victim among victims but instead secure her personal space to be herself again. Regaining that control has defined her everyday life since. After affording her own space she is still, months after the attack, pushing the couch in front of her bedroom door every night. Many others are most likely not even able to change their living situation, move out or afford their own space. And living in women centres is a major lifestyle choice that surrounds victims with a lot of anxieties and trauma that can easily influence an already fragile mindset. When I was looking for preventive measures I could only find:
- Wearable bracelets and necklaces with silent alarms to local care homes and charities for the elderly in the case they fall. These often come with subscriptions and tariffs one wouldn't afford if for a long lifetime just for the sake of prevention.
- Wearables from start-ups in the US with silent alarms that were not aesthetic, bulky, expensive and not even on the market.
- In the UK there was in fact one provider with a panic button that would even alert the local police if programmed to do so. However, this product was not available for the EU market, expensive and part of a larger package that was clearly targeted at home owners.
- Panic buttons and camera-on demand services for shop security that were not authorised for private purchases.
- I ordered her and myself a flimsy keyring with a silent-alarm based on an app. Some of its functions don't work and it is not helpful for home security, because who has his key handy at home?
While I have spend a lot of research and thought on the concept it is clearly in the early stages and I will need time and partners to develop it. So far I have been trying to find two partners who believe in the projects: 1. An organisation working with victims of gender-related domestic violence that would be able to connect me with my target-group to start validating my concept and researching scenarios I need to respond to with my design. 2. A technological partner that is able to prototype ideas along the way that I could then optimise and shape with the focus groups. Finding partners alone seems like a closed circle of barriers that is hard to break through without the necessary validation, time and money. I have received a lot of interested also through the German Bundesregierung and some charities, but without funding charities don't believe in the project and without a partner in expertise it has been impossible to get government funding or support. So I hope to break through this cycle of lacking support by using the potential prize money to find a partner organisation with access to the target group and technological expertise. The money would also give me the opportunity to pause my work with the IZZ Institute and pay my bills while I work on the development and research. I would also hope to get validation and a network of potential economic and political supporters that guide me with the concept. With this backing I could use the communication package and tools to source fellow designers and engineers to build a working group to collaborate on the project. Once there is a tested prototype I will be very careful to promote the final shape publicly to guarantee its safety and instead promote the cause. Perhaps the EU or the Bundesregierung would then be interested in taking the project a step further with their industrial partners and distributors.
As mentioned in the previous section I would like to use the prize money to first of all attract at least two partners for the research and technological support. In the following year the money could also allow me to take a short sabbatical to work intensively on the project. In this phase I hope to work with a working group of fellow designers and engineers that I could potentially gather through the communications channels and networks of the New European Bauhaus. Together we would work with victims and validate essential research questions before developing a detailed prototype to be produced with a technological partner. With this prototype further testing and designing in collaboration with the focus group would take place before establishing the step-by-step blueprint of the service behind it. This service at the end of the process will depend on, whether the EU or Bundesregierung would support the innovation with industrial partners or the distribution through authorities and organisations in close proximity to the local communities. The final product would be fully functional and designed with a communication plan and service blueprint including a distribution and feasibility plan.