Talking breakups

This project was done as a part of the emphatic equality course at design for people 1, in fall 2020. The topic of the course was loneliness and this project talks about loneliness after a break up.

See the project video here: https://vimeo.com/536440404

Breakups were an interesting topic for our group because it is a very common experience that can cause different, long term types of loneliness. It also shapes the way people see and form their further relationships in life and it makes us wonder why we don’t talk more about it. 

We not only wanted to explore the breakup, but also the impact on future relations with oneself and others, different coping mechanisms as well as society’s stigmas and opinions around breakups.

To check the potential of the project we set up a survey to see if people associate the topic of breakups with loneliness. The survey ended up being a big success as we gathered around 100 responses within the first 48h. 

It helped us to decide on our target group and future users of the project: young adults from 20-30-year-old, both people who have been through a breakup or for friends of a person going through it.

Through the survey we found participants we could work with throughout the project, starting with some general interviews. We were very aware of the fact that it might be difficult for them to open up, so we brainstormed what would be the best way to make everyone feel comfortable and still get the needed data. 

We prepared a conversational tool to help open up and make it easier for participants to sort their thoughts. The tool consisted of keywords of feelings, support they received and things that helped them in different stages of the process. 

So far we had noticed: 

1. How quickly and openly people talked to us. In many cases sharing intimate stories with strangers is easier than opening up to someone from our everyday network.

2. Self-expression or self-reflection were often mentioned as positive coping mechanisms in processing breakups.

3. By inviting people for our interview, we gave them time and space, which helped to establish a bond and make people comfortable enough to open up. We compared it to creating an ‘appointment’. 

At this stage, we couldn’t help but wonder how we could create an open forum for people to connect over sharing their breakup experiences by giving them tools and space to process their stories. 

Photo of one of the workshop and the cosy common room setting

We then held a workshop to translate the individual interview experience into a group setting. We created an open forum and facilitated building connection through sharing personal stories in our cosy common room setting. The main activity of the evening was the conversational toolkit that helped them to open up. It consisted of 4 types of cards:

-Individual question cards

-Wild cards that had to be answered by everyone

-Reminders

-Picture cards for a discussion

The success of the workshop influenced our final outcome and after some revisions became a part of it. 

To get more specific insights on the breakup experience of our participants we also handed out probes. They included:

  • an emotional network map for “during the relationship” vs “after the relationship” as we wanted to understand the impact a breakup has on the connections around us. 
  • a coping mechanism scale to rate how helpful vs unhelpful and how social vs individual different coping mechanisms are. 
  • General feedback on their experience working with us both regarding the interviews but also the workshop. They were able to rate the space, our explanations and activities. We also asked them to let us know how they felt before and after our interactions. 

After analysing the feedback on our workshop and the outcomes of the probes we can say that:

– Participants relationships with people around them in general become tighter after the breakups. 

– Also a closed group and a comfortable environment make it easier to open up. Our participants, that felt slightly nervous before the workshop, have agreed that this feeling faded away as they felt safe and heard by others. 

– Open forums and receiving undivided attention to their stories, made people feel relieved after the meeting as it provoked a constructive reflection on their experience.

– Being able to relate to each other’s stories makes you feel connected. Our participants felt a lot more comfortable answering our ‘wildcards’ rather than individual ones. 

Based on the insights, we identified three problem areas we could address:

  • voluntary participation
  • forming connection through sharing experiences
  • creating an ‘appointment’- dedicating time and space to share our feelings and hear others

By now we were ready to hold a co-creational workshop to discuss and hear ideas of creating such experience with our participants. Our participants were divided into 2 groups, in which they discussed the form they would feel comfortable sharing their stories in, the merits of having a physical and digital space for expression, and what form the physical meetings could have. 

After our workshop we knew that our outcome would need two channels: a digital version, as in a website, and a physical version, as in events. We then came up with a low fidelity prototype of what our outcome would be.

On the website prototype we provided people with 5 sentences they could complete with their stories. Two of the main uses were ‘what I’ve learned after the breakup…’ and ‘I still want to tell my ex…’. It was completely anonymous and people were free to write as much as they wanted. 

Our physical prototype was a mailbox with the same templates to fill in. We left it around school and people were able to anonymously write down their thoughts on the provided notes. 

The goal was to see the reaction and to test if people would use these kinds of services to share their stories. In total we got around 100 stories which showed the potential for the project. 

The mail box left around the school

Finally, Talking Breakups gives people a platform to connect with strangers free from judgement and pressure. This framework welcomes people to leave stories that might not have another place to live in. It provides the needed tools, space and undivided attention. The project lives and grows from the shared stories, gaining meaning and depth through people opening up to others.

It lives through different mediums:

The website :
It serves as a digital collection of people’s stories. There are 2 templates to fill in, one hopeful and one to reflect on. They will appear on the main wall next to all the other stories. It serves as a support for people who need a medium to let their thoughts out but want to do it anonymously.

The video :
Functions as an explanation of our motivation and an introduction to what talking breakups are about. It translates our key insights from our interviews and workshops into neutral, often abstract and poetic illustrations. For the music we collaborated with Luxembourgish musician Hy-Khang Dang.

The toolkit:
Containing our final deck of cards that support conversation and a manual to explain the rules. People can relate to each other’s experiences which creates special bonds between the groups. The 3 levels of question cards are: 

1. warm up: with questions that will make you gain perspective and challenge the assumptions we create about the people around us.

2. open up: connection questions which make you get closer to the other participants. 

3. level up: These questions will make you think about the event but also your personal story.

‘Wait a minute…’ cards that can be used once when you feel like someone is holding something back, asking this person to elaborate on their answer.

The physical events:
The goals of these events are to open up, share stories and create connections while doing so. These events are organised by the community itself and promoted on the website. Our manual guides the hosts throughout the whole organisation phase to ensure the best outcome. 

All in all, our project 

  • creates support networks for people who are lacking one
  • accompanies people during their healing process
  • invites for (self)reflection
  • builds honest and understanding connections
  • encourages a more respectful community

The designers:

Anastasia Nichitsca:
Instagram: @nikitskaya_a
Website: anastasianichitsca.com

Nina Próchniewska:
Instagram: @ninadrawssometimes

Aitana Kugeler:
Instagram: @aitana.kugeler

About Haavard Holme

Master student at design for people. Working for the social lab as a content creator. You can see my portfolio at: holmedesign.no
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