That was the case for the winner of the 2021 Victorian Premier’s Design Award for Design Strategy, Melbourne-based design and research studio, Craig Walker. The result is nothing short of a gamechanger that will create a safer and more positive online experience for all.

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Craig Walker was invited to respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP) by the World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF) — to create a meaningful and purposeful strategy for reducing online gender-based violence and abuse, one that could be accepted and adopted universally by online platforms.

Local design expertise, global relationships

Kernow Craig, Director at Craig Walker, credits his studio’s close working relationships with tech giants like Google and Meta, combined with the decision to partner with Feminist Internet, a civil society advocacy organisation, as key to the studio’s success in being awarded the WWWF tender, and ultimately implementing the award-winning campaign.

Working with the WWWF’s Azmina Dhrodia, a world authority on gender, technology and human rights, and having the backing of the WWWF’s founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee, were critical to getting the global buy-in required to bring this project to life. As Kernow commented “Having Sir Tim so actively involved and invested meant that people like Jack Dorsey and Melinda Gates tended to pick up the phone.”

The collaborative research and design process

The design process began by identifying the biggest challenges in terms of online gender-based violence in pragmatic terms. Consulting with tech companies and civil society organisations allowed Craig Walker’s team of design researchers, interaction designers, visual designers and design consultants to identify which groups were most likely to experience gender-based abuse, where and how that abuse was being experienced (which apps and web-based services) and how the campaign could make the biggest difference. The three groups singled out were high-profile women (celebrities, journalists, influencers, politicians etc.), women of colour and women from different sexual backgrounds. Online comments and moderation of those comments became the primary focus for the project.

8/10 women using the internet have experienced some type of gender-based online abuse

Craig Walker then created a series of personas that were introduced in workshops which took place with 120+ industry leaders from 35 countries over a two-month period in 2021. These personas were presented in particular scenarios within fictional apps that workshop participants could adjust and redesign to give them the tools to respond to the gender-based violence and allow platforms to eliminate or reduce the incidences of abuse.

Using design to turn policy making on its head

What would it look like to have a better experience responding to online gender-based violence? The Craig Walker campaign was a fundamentally different way of making policy recommendations. Often policies are only changed as a response to something terrible happening. This proactive approach allowed everyone involved — product makers from tech companies; government and transnational regulators; academics; and civil society advocates and activists — to work together to design what a better user interface would look like and what the improved experience could be. Sketching and brainstorming in small breakout groups, the workshops changed the conversation, and more importantly reformed the relationship between the major stakeholders, creating an environment where they were able to develop solutions together and share ownership.

The policy design ideas and prototypes that came out of these global workshops became the basis of a set of eight recommendations. These were publicly presented at the UN Generation Equality Forum in Mexico City in Paris in July 2021, where the WWWF asked for acknowledgment of the recommendations and a public pledge to implement them by major tech companies. The campaign achieved its goal and gained the commitment and support of Twitter, Google, Meta and TikTok — the four largest and most influential platforms. Although it is just a first step, the adoption of the recommendations lays the foundation for a more benevolent and positive online experience in the future.

“The power of meaningful and collaborative policy design is that it demonstrates how things can be done differently, working together to achieve shared outcomes,” said Kernow.

The future of great global design is right here in Victoria

For Kernow and his team at Craig Walker winning the Victorian Premier’s Design Award is meaningful for a variety of reasons. The recognition gives the WWWF and the Feminist Internet momentum to keep going with the valuable work they are doing.

“After weathering the pandemic and a tough two-and-a-half years, being acknowledged amongst our peers is exciting and incredibly validating. The Victorian Premier’s Design Awards allow us to move past the self-imposed Australian cultural cringe that many of us have experienced and celebrate the fact that some of the world’s best design is happening right here,” Kernow commented.

“Historically, great design may have originated overseas, in Europe and the USA, but the future of design is here. This is where the emerging markets of the world are, and this is where the design is being pioneered, so it’s important to celebrate that. These awards allow us to recognise that we have a strong culture of design here and the world wants to work with us,” Kernow concluded.

Although the project itself was completed over a two-month period in 2021, its impact will be felt for many years to come by more than four billion internet users on platforms worldwide.

View the Award Entry