Sabrina DavidMore than Words
Submission # 214
Student – Ākonga
Impact – Social Good
Identity – People & Culture
Auckland, Tāmaki Makaurau
Alongside a group of Salvation Army social workers, I run a weekly development programme Aspire, helping intermediate students connect positively to others and develop essential life skills. The small group sessions provide students with a safe space for discussion. Supporting them to communicate in any form is key for strong personal development.
However, we found students frequently ‘passing’ on their turn when invited to speak.
This was until my co-leader prototyped a set of homemade, laminated cards– each presenting a generic clipart image: ocean waves, a pair of eyes, a pair of shoes. She asked the students to pick a card to describe how their week was. Instantly each student dove into the middle to grab a card of their liking. After which they were asked to explain why they picked their card. These prompted them to open up. Conversations flowed, a sense of energy and willingness to participate grew.
My brief from my co-worker was to further develop the idea and design an authentic set of cards that could support not only our social workers, but teachers, counsellors, psychologists, speech therapists, mentors, and parents, in encouraging genuine and honest conversations, and in turn supporting the emotional and mental wellbeing of our people.
The final More than Words set consists of 100 ‘Imagery Cards’, each illustrating a common, everyday symbol. With the absence of words, these symbols aim to invite a variety of responses and feelings, and free interpretation. The card set itself crosses language, literacy, cultural, racial, age and gender boundaries. The original generic images concept has been expanded to include imagery that resonates with today’s society, as well as culturally-significant Māori and Pasifika imagery, creating a space where users can feel represented and culturally safe.
This intentionally allows for the participant and the facilitator to engage in whakawhanaungatanga, not only deepening relationships but also opens to them an avenue of genuine expression. This promotion of genuine expression intends to make the social work responses deeper, more vulnerable and natural.
The values imbued in the cards and the conversations they hope to promote between participants are grounded firmly in the traditions and strength of core whānau and community relationships.
I have been stunned at the sudden change of my group’s dynamic– often shy and reserved, to actively kick-starting conversation. While a few students remained hesitant to speak, their card’s imagery provided us with enough insight into what they may be feeling and thinking. With the cards, we have a direct route to better understanding what we can do to further support and guide them— without these, it would simply be a long and arduous journey.
I simply wanted to share this experience with others. Though it was evident that ‘others’ would not just involve social workers, but counsellors, teachers, psychologists, speech therapists, mentors, and parents. To ensure a valuable product, I employed their help and guidance in developing More Than Words. Māori and Pasifika social workers were involved to assure appropriate and authentic use of cultural imagery.
The final design presents a bold, child-like yet professional card set, inviting users of all ages. Attention to functionality was just as important as aesthetic elements, considering that it would be a resource used on a daily basis.
10 More than Words sets have been released for user testing to various social workers, counsellors and leaders from key organisations such as the Salvation Army, Aspire, 24/7 Youth, and Praxis. I have received positive feedback from all sample respondents, and have determined a high level of demand for a final set. Redevelopment and redesign is underway to ensure a well researched and reliable product is launched for national use in Aotearoa.
"This project really highlights how visual humans are. A colorful and well crafted project that connects concept and craft beautifully."
"I really like how the card set crosses language, literacy, cultural, racial, age and gender—creating a space where users can feel represented and culturally safe. Developed through early problem identification, prototyping and user testing this product is a great example of how more design should be taking place."
Credits & Collaborators: Teacher/Tutors - Kim Meek, George Haijan
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