To design for real-world resilience, put people first

By Christina Wagner & Destiny Aman • May 21, 2019

Design for real people

We’re C3, the team that works with FEMA to build flood resilience for the real world. We start from one simple premise: We are, above all else, human-centered. Everything we do flows from that.

We believe in meeting users where they are. That starts with understanding that they’re real people, with real households and businesses and competing priorities. When we talk about design and communications, we focus on improving all users’ experience with the NFIP, whether that’s the customers themselves, the agents who write the policies, or FEMA regions who interface with the program on a daily basis. We serve users in many areas of design. Sometimes that’s through visual design, like creating videos that break down how to buy flood insurance. Sometimes it’s through service design, like making information easier to use so agents can effectively educate their customers about flood insurance. It’s our job to make everything easier and more accessible.

We also believe in collaborative design. Sometimes the collaboration is in the actual design work, and we forego the standard tools of the trade (Adobe CC) for products that more people have access to (Microsoft Office). This allows us to include everyone, not just designers, in our design work.

We know that good work isn’t born in a vacuum, so we collaborate across teams and disciplines to create products that are informed by a breadth of experience. We consult everyone from expert geographers who are fluent in flood maps to insurance agents who are reluctant to write flood policies. And we synthesize that experience into products that truly speak to the customer experience.

Because of this, our designers aren’t just designers. Our researchers aren’t just researchers. And our liaisons aren’t just liaisons. We all play a role in each other’s work, and we are all user advocates. Like Scouts, our goal is to leave things better than we found them.

And we believe in empathetic design. We know we’re not just helping communities and individuals prepare for disaster; we’re meeting people at the worst points of their lives. We’re designing for people who are hungry, who are staying awake to make sure their family has a home to go back to. They’re stressed out not just by what’s happening to them, but by the news coverage of it. We’re trying to reach people whose resources are taxed to the limit. So our designs need to be accessible and reassuring even as they inform and persuade.

Design during disasters

Our approach to design means that when a disaster hits, we’re there to support the people who are in the greatest need. A hurricane or major flooding event brings all hands on deck, as our team applies this design ethic to helping survivors.

What does this look like in practice? Hurricane Matthew was the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since 2007. We designed a plan to meet flood insurance customers where they were in the immediate aftermath and help them begin rebuilding their lives. We created gifs and other digital tools to help FEMA cut through the noise and draw survivors to the resources they needed to begin recovery.

When we design resources to reach people and communities at risk of mudflows and floods after wildfires, we know they’re already traumatized not just by what’s happening, but by news coverage of the devastation. We start from that place of understanding and design communication assets that reach through the fear to meet people where they are and encourage positive action.

Design for the real world

C3 isn’t just about selling flood insurance. It’s about preparing people for uncertain events, reaching them where they are, and working alongside them to build resilience together. That’s flood resilience for the real world.