Responsible Design for
Digital Communities

Digital interfaces are the bridges to our communities. Technology can’t fix the systemic inequality revealed by COVID19, but it can help make connections with our communities better. This tool kit and website brings together emergent best practices, workflows, and tools that communities, educators, mutual aid groups, designers, artists and activists are using for community building, and how design needs to change to best suit people, right now.

Keep In Mind

What To Keep In Mind

If you're a community organizer, designer or an engineer, these best practices are designed to help guide in creating and designing community spaces online for participants and organizers.The big things to focus on prioritizing safety, including your participants and your own data and privacy, creating a plan, agenda or run of show for events, creating cohesive work flow, and creating intentional spaces for human connection and interaction, beyond the chat window.

There needs to be structure and a plan

If you’re organizing your community to come together, engage in conversation, teach, or even just to talk or you’re part of a collective that organizes people, the tools you’re using are probably pretty frustrating. What’s important to understand is that tools are frustrating, and poorly designed, and organizers usually have to use a bunch of tools to accomplish organize and create a workflow and this needs to be balanced with persevering digital safety for your attendees. This ‘digital duct taping’ is like giong from Google Docs to Slack to Zoom to organizing and planning for communities. For communities, it’s important to think about what you are asking people to do, and what kind of data you are asking them to give up, like phone numbers, email addresses, their names, and where is that stored. It’s not just using the most secure chat, though Signal and WhatsApp are great with end to end encryption, it’s recognizing when you ask people to give you information, how can that information be used to harm? Think about the flow of information- is it mono-directional or multi-directional? Are you, an organizer, just sharing or broadcasting information, or does there need to be a backforth? Depending upon how you want information to flow, you may need different levels of privacy.
“What does safety look like in digital spaces when you are basically letting [other] people into your home?”
It's important to recognize you’re using tools to continue what you used to be an offline or face to face meet up, but the tools are not a 1 to 1 replacement for the offline. It’s about resetting expectations for the host (you) and the participants in this space. It’s about being extremely upfront with participants of what you will be doing in the digital meeting, of how long each section of the meeting will be, and what they will need to do, when. It’s a lot of guiding and planning before the meeting, and a lot of guiding and planning during the meeting. Much like theatre, think of this as a run of show- what needs to be accomplished, when. You need a plan because being on video can be terrifying and confusing for participants, and a video conference doesn’t ‘flow’ the same way a face to face meeting would.


Digital Duct Taping

Communities need multiple tools to do things, those tools sometimes sync up fairly well, such as going from Google Docs, Slack and Airtable, but sometimes they don’t.


Architecting intimacy with interfaces

Right now, people are using conferencing tools similar to social networks. People aren’t just using video conferencing for work, they are using it for social interactions, for artists panels, and for really large group hangouts- for mutual aid, community organizations, church meetings, school, and even city meetings. The user interface design in these tools need to be focused on serving all of these groups, with one host or a variety of hosts, and better tools for participants. Imagine if hosts could queue up speakers, have interactive polls, or if participants could decide who they wanted to ‘sit’ next to in the video marquee. People need this kind of agency, and they need more customization- they need a mixture of a broadcast tool and a social network but with a focus on video.
“We would benefit from having more frameworks and ingredients rather than trying to have tools that are one size fits all.”
In early June, Zoom finally added better moderation tools for hosts but not any moderation tools for participants. They also added the ability for people to share files within the chat, like images or documents. Other video chats don’t offer any of those tools. Much like advice for the engineer, people need better ways to share media and more intuitive ways to engage and moderate conversation.



Even with Zoom’s update, hosts and participants need better UI moderation. Moderation shouldn’t just fall to the host, when any participant can face harassment.


Latency and security are a top priority

What’s key here is latency, syncing, security and safety- which depending upon the tool can be meh, okay, or bad. If you’re worried about security, the Mozilla Foundation publishes Privacy Not Included, a guide that analyzes different tools and products on how ‘secure’ the tools, products and technology are and they have a special guide just for video conferencing. There are five points to consider: does the product, tool or app have encryption or end to end encryption, does it push security updates, does it require a strong password, does it manage vulnerabilities like having a bug bounty program, and does it have a privacy policy?
“Syncing makes it basically impossible to teach.”
When it comes to latency and syncing, it’s important to remember that people need better ways to share media like audio and video, for dance parties, for school, or for organizing. People need more initiative ways to share this media in video conferencing and they need to make sure everyone is hearing the same thing at relatively the same time. Lastly, safety- none of these tools have enough moderation tools which can help mitigate so many forms of harassment.



No matter how well planned an event is, the second something breaks, the moment is lost. People will choose to use another platform with lower quality video but is more reliable.


Dive Deeper

The Checklist

A list of needs that designers and engineers have to prioritize when designing technology that functions easily and safely for communities online.

Download The Toolkit

The project and toolkit are made in response to how communities were organizing and creating spaces of interaction during COVID19.