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Unboxing America

There's a lot to unpack.

Context

Master's Thesis (MFA in Products of Design) 

Project advisors: Hannah Calhoun, Bill Cromie, & KT Gillett

Unboxing America is a conceptual service offering kits that helps families unpack political issues and navigate tensions due to political differences. The kits guide families through interactive lessons and structured conversations around issues. The service seeks to eliminate family political tensions by both strengthening relationships and fostering awareness of varying political beliefs.

The service sells kits for exploring a wide variety of current issues, with materials curated by incredible educators, designers, and political scientists. Families can purchase single kits for holidays or special gatherings or purchase a bundle of kits that act as a curated learning plan. Boxes are sent to families through the mail.

BACKGROUND

Americans feel anxiety about gathering with family and friends for yearly events. This is evidenced by the holiday help articles with tips for navigating politics at the dinner table. It has been satirized on Saturday Night Live and addressed by the New York Times with an “Angry Uncle Bot” — a chatbot created by psychiatrist Dr. Karin Tamerius that helps you practice good (and bad) responses to family members who try to provoke political arguments. 

 

Families that are grappling with social and political polarization are microcosms of the national problem and have clear incentives to overcome their problems.

 

Unboxing America fills a niche underserved by counseling and coaching, fitting into existing family gatherings and placing more ownership in the hands of families.

The initial target audiences are families divided within liberal politics; boxes will address popular issues that Gen Z cares about and their parents don’t really understand, like Universal Basic Income, Gender Identities, and Democratic-Socialism. From there, the service can expand by addressing other ideological issues and divided demographics, as well as by responding to current events.

USER RESEARCH + FINDINGS

Four hypotheses guided my user research. These were informed by prior thesis interviews and secondary research (especially the headlines above). My user research consisted of several (<10) formal and informal interviews and a discussion probe in the Make America Dinner Again Discussion Group on Facebook. I also presented my work and gained feedback from designers and users through ten weeks of iterations. 

While the most acute interactions generally came between younger and older family members, younger family members were not particularly invested in engaging with older family members on political issues.

 

“My grandparents won’t change their minds, so there’s kind of no point in bringing it up,” said one of my interviewees. While another interviewee agreed that her older family members were unlikely to be persuaded to consider other political beliefs, she did feel that engaging with them was important, particularly when “[they say] something at a family gathering that the younger generation hears, it is important to call out injustice.”


However, all interviewees expressed special respect and consideration for their parents, and much more openness to engaging around political issues.

One shared, “my mother is the person I look up to. . . . [She is] so remarkably selfless. I’ve learned that her moral compass is pointed in a different direction than mine because she has a different worldview. But it comes from good intent, and good intent is positive.” Another asserted that “[p]arents are always willing to hear their children,” In his family, his mother is the instigator of political conversations with her parents, who hold more conservative views. This insight led me to shift the target audience of Unboxing America from broader families struggling with political tensions to parents and children navigating political differences. 

 

These interviewees advised that the most important thing is remembering that the people with different views are your family — they are good people with good intentions.