Do(ne) It Day

As designers, we’re action-oriented. We always want to do stuff. Full of zeal, we feel that we can and should make a difference to the world in everything we’re doing. And sometimes, we get frustrated if our plans and visions never see the light of day.

Well, Do It Day was designed for us.

Do It Day is a great chance to get away from Photoshop-ing fantasy “activations” that are never activated. From ideating pies in the sky. From building fantasy castles of the imagination. Do it Day is an exercise in making as big a difference to the world as is possible in one day.

Instigated and organised by The Drum, we were keen to participate this year in the first New York-based enactment of the event. Our NYC team took on two challenges that we saw through to action.

Virtual vs reality

The first was a challenge from the Ad Council on behalf of the US Forest Service. The problem was a paradox: Use technology to get more families to enjoy the outdoors. Instantly, the team debated the contradiction in this statement: isn’t technology the problem? That kids of between 8 and 12 are spending way too much time glued to screens rather than experiencing the outdoors. We gave short shrift to a bunch of ideas that centered around allowing kids to find more of interest in a forest by looking at it through technology. This seemed to us to be a travesty. Surely even today’s kids don’t need technology to enjoy the simple pleasures of exploring in the outdoors?

Mine the Forest

After a few heat-filled hours of idea generation, we found a winner. We connected the game Minecraft to real-life environments. By capitalizing on Minecraft’s popularity with kids, we created a simple mechanism by which players can unlock new features in Minecraft by Instagram-ing themselves in the outdoors. This way we encourage virtual and real life exploration simultaneously. The Ad Council and the USFS were delighted with the idea, and plan to run it as part of their current USFS “Discover the Forest” campaign.

Rewrite the future

Our second challenge was very much not of the first-world-problems variety. With only 1% of Haitians able to afford university, thousands of bright young people are denied a higher education. This will fatally affect Haiti’s ability to function properly as a country in the future, and Help for Haiti exists to do something about it. We heard moving stories from Conor Bohan, the founder of the charity about how he first recognized the issue when he intervened in the case of a bright student who was about to go to secretarial training school, despite having passed her baccalaureate with distinction. After asking him if he could help with the $30 admission fee, Conor agreed to give her the money if she put it towards sitting the entrance exam at medical school instead. That was 1996, and the student in question is now a senior doctor practicing in one of the foremost hospitals in Port au Prince. The organization’s challenge to us represented its mission: To rewrite Haiti's future by empowering 50 deserving Haitians with a university education.

Out of the spotlight

It’s now nearly 10 years since the catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti. At the time, there was a tremendous amount of attention paid to the suffering caused. Now, even Wyclef Jean has switched off his support site. But Help for Haiti soldiers on, recognizing that there’s always real work to be done to help countries like Haiti create a better future. Our solution, then, wasn’t to try and draw attention to the issue: there are too many other current crises that are occupying the media spotlight. We reasoned that what would work better was to find an entertaining way to entice people to engage with the issue.

Are you smart enough?

Our answer was to create an energetic Buzzfeed quiz which challenges people to answer questions drawn from real Haitian high school exam papers. If you’re smart enough to pass, then you’re encouraged to support someone as smart as you who can’t get a college education. If you fail, then you’re encouraged to support someone who is smarter than you who can’t get a college education.

Incidentally, writing the quiz caused quite a bit of head scratching. We had asked for sample exam papers, but we hadn’t thought to ask for the answers. Not so smart admittedly, but, thank you Google…

We’re now working with Buzzfeed to launch the quiz, but you can test whether you yourself are as smart as a Haitian high schooler at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/helphaiti/are-you-smarter-than-a-haitian-high-school-student-1y8mp

Mind you, the really smart thing to do would be to donate. That way, we really will make a difference. And having taken part in Do It Day this year,  that feels good.