Designing a Cure for HIV
By Haris Silic
Issue 5 Fall 2010
Has HIV prevention become outdated? Can design offer a better solution? Can we design a cure?
HIV is the eight hundred pound gorilla in gay culture that very few people talk about. Men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 70% of new infections. In addition, 34% of new infections were among young MSMs that were 13-29 years old. These statistics do not deter the younger generations of MSMs to protect themselves; in fact these numbers have become obsolete, and irrelevant to them. The MSM demographic has become blind to present prevention methods. Currently Florida, where I live now, has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country, followed only by New York State. Miami has the highest HIV infection rate of all cities in the US. We have to design a different approach and start a dialogue for better solutions.
Current prevention methods are failing for several reasons. As Michael Shernoff explains for Advocate, a leading gay lifestyle magazine, in order to be effective in the HIV prevention arena, we have to step away from sex-negative approach, where sex is portrayed in a negative light and empower MSM men to practice safer sex. Furthermore, the sex-negative approach and abstinence only approach, where no sex is portrayed in a positive light, has become irrelevant and therefore ineffective. Most HIV prevention messaging today is focused on scare tactics, suggesting no insight into the psychological factors that surround safe sex. Love, intimacy and closeness, combined with defiance and invincibility are just a few factors that need to be addressed. Design thinking, and its observational methods, can provide new insights into these behaviors.
“…inherent optimism of design comes from confronting the worst conduct and the greatest conflicts with a design perspective—and then seeing which solutions arise.” Tom Fisher
Strategic design can and should play a crucial role in providing intuitive solutions to this epidemic both on a micro and macro level. If we use design thinking as a road map, we should start by understanding the innate motivators of MSMs. Ethnographic research, as a staple of design thinking, will yield new ideas, which in turn can lead to integrated communication and behavior solutions. In essence, design thinking can help us figure out how we can change behavior and encourage adopting HIV prevention as a lifestyle. Perhaps, we can use behaviors such as invincibility and defiance as well as psychological needs for love, intimacy and closeness to improve current HIV prevention methods. As strategic designers, we can create a culture that will embrace HIV prevention from within. Ultimately, as strategic designers we can and should design a cure for HIV that will be spread from within this target group – young gay men.