Voices Unheard: Designing a Safe & Inclusive Creative Process
Just one year after the devastating Dobbs decision we are proud to present the newly designed abortionfunds.org.
About a year ago, I received an RFP in my inbox that I instantly knew we had to win: it was a website redesign for the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). Just a few months after the devastating Dobbs decision—the one that took away childbearing peoples’ fundamental right to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives—we were given the incredible opportunity to partner with an organization on the frontlines of the ongoing fight for freedom of choice. Together with my colleagues, we poured our hearts into that proposal, and one year later we are proud to present the newly designed abortionfunds.org.
Working with NNAF was an incredible learning experience. We partnered with them to ensure the redesign process centered the voices of the people NNAF serves, which was a unique challenge in this case. But together, with a shared vision for building a site that would be as inclusive as possible, we navigated the process from start to finish never losing sight of this goal.
If you can’t talk directly to the people you serve, find the people who can
It goes without saying that abortion is a highly divisive subject and whether they’re working at NNAF or one of the abortion funds that make up the network, or if they’re one of the people seeking abortion care it can put people in dangerous situations. We always want to respect people’s privacy, but in this case it goes beyond privacy to a matter of personal safety.
This meant we couldn’t actually talk to callers directly (“callers” is NNAF’s term for people seeking abortion care and services). It was too risky and, generally speaking, someone’s abortion experience is not something a lot of people are eager to talk to strangers about.
But the people working at the various funds that make up the network do talk to callers. They are their advocates, helping them navigate what may be one of the most difficult times of their life. The folks at the funds know callers’ state of mind, the things they’re worried about, what information they need, and how they want to get that information.
So instead of speaking with the callers themselves, we spoke with people working day in and day out at abortion funds across the country—in states where abortion is still available and in states where it has been banned. This helped us understand the caller audience as best we could without actually speaking to them, as well as what the fund staff has to manage to do their jobs.
Remove language barriers
During our initial research, one thing we heard over and over was that the content on the old NNAF website was too hard to understand. It was written for a more insider or expert-level audience, and it created a barrier for people who needed quick, easy-to-understand advice and support.
NNAF recognized this too. They had been riding a fine line between providing the best information while also ensuring they presented themselves as an expert resource. It was very important to them that people who visited their site could quickly recognize and understand their deep knowledge and experience in this field. Yet they also knew they needed to be more accessible.
We worked together to develop a new content strategy that encouraged more plain language, especially in resources for callers who have enough on their minds as it is and don’t need to spend time wading through lengthy, lofty content. Content is now more bite-sized, headlines are clearer and more action-oriented, and there’s less unnecessary introductory text before you get to the heart of the content.
Supporting this newly developed content strategy, NNAF rewrote all of their other content aimed at new visitors, supporters, and members to use plain language. They are still a preeminent resource for anyone who wants to learn more about abortion justice but by simplifying the language even more people can get on board with their mission and get involved in supporting the network and funds alike. On top of all this, NNAF also translated all of their content into Spanish to expand their reach and their resources to a whole new audience. This inclusive and expansive content strategy has the power to reach millions more people supporting the mission or seeking support.
Test, test, and test again
After our initial research and strategy work, when the site started coming together through design and code, it was critical to once again bring in folks representing our key audiences to help validate our assumptions and ensure the site was hitting the mark through multiple rounds of usability testing.
We re-engaged with people at abortion funds to ensure they could find the information they needed quickly and easily and we also worked with one of NNAF’s other partners to test with neurodivergent users and users who use assistive technology to navigate websites. Abortion is something that touches everyone, and it was paramount to make sure the site not only met Section 508 accessibility requirements (which we always inherently design, build, and test for), but exceeded expectations for users whose needs are not always captured in requirements alone.
All of our testers’ input was instrumental in making sure our team designed a site with others’ needs in mind and helped eliminate our own unconscious biases. Hearing from them directly gave us the feedback we needed to refine and optimize their experience.
When it comes time to engage with your audiences, inclusion is key. You may be faced with similar challenges as NNAF where speaking directly to individuals is not possible, but as long as you’re prioritizing their needs, you can think creatively about how to ensure their voice is a part of the process. Center their needs in all aspects of the site, from content to code, and let them tell you what matters most.