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Design Justice Network

How might we design a sustainable membership engagement strategy

Client: Design Justice Network (DJN)

Role: Lead Strategist and Point Person

Year: 2020

Design Justice Network, a collective of design practitioners who want to rethink the design process to center the marginalized.  The initial goal for this project was to increase member engagement.


Design Justice Network (DJN) is a dispersed network of design practitioners across the globe who are rethinking how design can be practiced to center the marginalized. They started with the created on a set of 10 principles to communicate common values and grew into local "nodes"/groups and broader committees. Their structure is a steering committee that is the main decision maker and then local "nodes"/ groups in different cities around the world. The central question we tried to answer was- How might we create a structure that enables engagement from members and is sustainable for small steering committee? 

Ethnographic and Design Research

In order to figure out how to engage current members and attract new members, we wanted to first understand the structure of the organization, the path to membership, and the opportunities available for members to participate.  We conducted interviews and surveys with the steering committee members, existing members, and target audience/potential members to understand why they joined or would consider joining, how they moved up in the organization, and their understanding of opportunities to engage. 


We then created a stakeholder map to visualize the different pieces of the organization as well as the entry points to becoming a member.

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After showing the map to the steering committee and making some adjustments, we decided to use the map as a probe in order to understand how people came to be a part of DJN and how/if they took on a leadership role. This became important because engagement soon took on multiple meanings- we needed to understand their desire for engagement and what that meant for them. And if it meant more people starting local chapters or taking on leadership roles, what is the path to do that.

stakeholder probe
cultural probe

Synthesis and Insights

  • People are excited about the Design Justice Network principles but do not understand what membership entails and do not understand how/why they would become a member 

  • People join the organization in a lot of different ways and there is little structure dictating how someone would become a local leader or steering committee members. (there are steering committee members who were never “members” and never paid a membership fee)

  • The steering committee does not all agree about what constitutes a member (is it someone who has paid the fee? Or someone who is part of the slack channel etc.)

  • In order to pay a membership fee people need to see clear benefits that would warrant a monthly payment. 

  • The website is people’s main touch point for coming across DJN but the website is not clear about how to get involved, what comes with membership, and how being a member is different for signing on to the principles. - This was partially a communication issue on the website and also there was no clarity within the steering committee on these topics.

quotes from members
quotes from members


Based on our learnings we decided to narrow the focus to the following two questions: ​

  • How might we communicate Design Justice Network’’s dynamic in-person experience to an engaging online experience?

  • How might we provide avenues for members to engage deeply with the principles in their everyday lives?

Competitive Landscape Analysis and Communications Audit

In order to make sense of the DJN structure and hopefully provide more clarity for potential members we did a competitive landscape analysis of 29 other membership platforms, structures and portals. The goal of this was to understand how are organizations that are based on membership set up, what are common membership benefits, and how is the benefit of membership communicated. From this we synthesized  common benefits, opportunities for compelling language, and opportunities for internal structure. 


To move forward we created personas for both steering committee members and potential DJN members, It was important that the intervention or proposal balanced both of these needs as the steering committee had concerns about how a comprehensive membership plan would be manageable for their majority volunteer team.

Pitch and Prototypes

We originally pitched a communications strategy, a membership portal and an in person interactive installation to engage members around the principles. These three options were to help the steering committee decide their membership priorities. If their primary desire was to reach more people, gain more members and have clarity around membership then we believed clearer communications was necessary. This came with clarity on social media, an upgraded website, and clearer language. If their priority was providing added benefit to current members/ creating ways for members to engage deeper based on member feedback then we proposed a member portal. Many membership based sites offer a portal as a way to network, share resources, and facilitate deeper connections for people who pay. Lastly, The steering committee desired an engagement opportunity for an upcoming conference they were attending as a way to attract new members and garner interest around the DJN principles, for this we suggested an installation that people could interact with and share on social media.

stef persona
Jordan Persona
making membership active

Final Intervention -Covid 19 Considerations

The installation was most exciting to the steering committee as they feared they did not have the bandwidth at the moment to address the structural concerns or maintain a membership portal. Unfortunately the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown occurred midway though this project and the conference where the installation would have been set up was was cancelled. This disrupted the project however we were still able to create a detailed strategic plan outlining the questions they needed to address, what considerations needed to be taken into account, and a process for addressing member concerns (sample of strategic document below). Additionally, we created social media content, wrote new communications language, and created some promotional materials.

Challenges and Outcomes 

The largest challenge with this project was the lack of internal clarity around goals. This was only a short term project focused on membership however there was opportunity for greater internal clarity and structure.  It was difficult to address the issue of membership when deeper issues were connected. We received great feedback from the project and the steering committee shared that our involvement helped them to see and reflect on the internal decisions that needed to be made in order to move forward. They were able to implement some of the communications changes and have seen success from those. Additionally they plan to facilitate discussions within the steering committee to get clear on their direction and goals as an organization

Positive Feedback

"You have broken down what it means to have a network and have members and how to treat them on a lot of different levels so it feels manageable and less daunting in a lot of ways"- Steering Committee member

"We have deep gratitude for the work you have been doing in reflecting back to us what the shape of our network looks like from the perspective of people who aren't on the steering committee and that is really valuable to understand" - Steering Committee Member

"The strategic recommendations where extremely helpful especially the questions you posed about intentions- we had kind of backed into membership as a way to earn money to sustain us. So the research and analysis has been extremely helpful in thinking about if membership is our priority."  - Steering Committee Member

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