Uberising Judaism

Uberising Judaism-1
Rebranding Judaism

Imagine this.

It’s the Jewish weekly observance of the start of the Sabbath - “Kiddush” dinner on a Friday night. We’re in a drab, quiet room where a woman is serving a traditional meal of chicken, vegetables, challah bread, and kosher wine. But she’s sitting alone at a table set for six.
Cut to a loud and crowded table in bright sunshine. This time a community of friends and family shares bread, toasts wine, lights candles. They smile and laugh. It’s the same ritual, yet it’s radically different. For sixty seconds, we cut back and forth from joy to solemnity.
This simple, one-minute trailer, designed by Dav Rauch, UX guru, futurist, and full-time member of the legendary global design firm IDEO, is part of an eyebrow-raising design endevour. 
Through powerful storytelling and design, the video connects us to an ancient Jewish ritual.  
We feel the beauty, necessity, and togetherness that add up to “divine” spirituality for millions of people.  But that lonely figure in the quiet room also articulates the problem facing the 5000-year-old religion of Judaism: people are leaving the table.
This is the problem that IDEO has been drafted to tackle with - redesigning Judaism for the 21st century.
The mission to re-engage Jews with their religion was spearheaded by Reboot, an American organisation dedicated to upgrading the “user experience” of the Jewish religion. Reboot took the project to IDEO.
Rauch’s first task for Reboot was the one-minute trailer, a pitch to the Righteous Person’s Foundation (Steven Spielberg is the chairman) for support. In the final moment of the video, the tag-line: “our people are leaving the table, how might we bring them back?” The Foundation has chipped in for the project.
At the outset, Rauch wants to get one thing straight. This is not so much a rebrand for people outside Judaism, as a project to help Jews re-engage with their religion. But there are undoubtedly lessons for anyone who has drifted from their faith, and for designers who want a better insight into the kind of work that has made IDEO famous.
Says Rauch, IDEO started out by asking themselves “what would we have to go about changing about the way we design, in order to do something disproportionately large on something that feels like it's impossible to change…like religion?”

“What would we have to go about changing about the way we design, in order to do something disproportionately large on something that feels like it's impossible to change…like religion?”

Dav Rauch

IDEO designed icons like the mouse for the first Apple computer and the stand-up toothpaste tube. But they’re most revered for pioneering “design thinking” for companies. As one Sydney designer gushes: “IDEO took design into boardrooms and made companies realise they needed it. Before it was, you know…decoration.”
With, the firm uses design for projects that impact issues surrounding poverty alleviation, from spreading awareness of clean water or birth control, to building a resource platform to help Kenyan farmers adopt modern farming practices to using drones to deliver “last mile” urgently needed medical supplies where there are no other transport options.
In addition to the .org work, IDEO in it's profit making entity has turned their hand to the metaphysical, “redesigning” taboo topics like ageing and death.
Rauch’s own story reveals the places where a design career can lead. The San Franciscan, raised in southern California, who once designed film and TV title sequences, built his reputation creating some of the most memorable UX sequences for film - the J.A.R.V.I.S. interface in Iron Man, the Link and Ops Centers in Avatar among them. Then a creative residency at IDEO – another of the firm’s outside-the-box innovations - led to a career change. 
Uberising Judaism-2
Illustration by Stephan Schmitz
With the Judaism redesign, Rauch and IDEO are reimagining an ancient creed for a modern world. They’re doing this by drawing out some of the most universally appealing and accessible qualities of a religion more often known for its exclusivity, and encouraging people to spread the word.
The approach is part physical design innovation (think back to stand-up toothpaste tubes) and part “experience design.”
Designing experiences involves creating an ‘open source’ platform – a call to arms – that users can build on to launch their own enterprises. Rauch talks about building an “ecosystem” and he uses the language of innovation.
Think Uber, says Rauch: “they're creating a platform for moving things around … and ultimately it might not really be about moving things around it might just be about connecting resources”.
Another even better comparison might be Airbnb, - “We’re tempted to think of it simply as an alternative to hotels,” says Dav. “But what they’re really doing under the hood is optimising the ability to connect resources to demand in ways previously unimaginable.
“In this case it’s beds and travellers, but it could be almost any resource and demand. In other words, it’s not just about beds... the magic is in the connections”.
Whatever the platform du jour, applying experience design to religion is extraordinary. Rauch’s one-minute trailer for Reboot was part design nous, part divine inspiration. A half-Jew on his father’s side, Rauch drew on his own connection to the religion.
“I feel a connection to my Aunt Bea every time Yom Kippur (the holy Jewish Day of Atonement) comes around,” says Rauch. “I sit and I think about her, and I feel connected to her and that's going across time and space and life.”

“We’ve been looking at the reasons why people seek out immersive experiences… in a certain sense religion is all about immersion - immersing in love, or community or in something that we just don't understand or can't explain.”

Dav Rauch

Following the trailer project, Reboot and IDEO held a two-day workshop to dream up what the Judaism redesign movement would look like, and to brainstorm design ideas to make Jewish traditions more accessible to the Uber generation.
“The feedback loop for tech happens at a dizzying pace” says Rauch, “but religion has exactly the opposite problem - far too slowly, and it takes centuries to catch up.”
Rauch wants to create “a new feedback loop where the cultural zeitgeist can get reflected back into the language and the expression, and rituals of religion.”
Out of the workshop came an app called “Friday. Free, mobile and inspired by the Jewish laws of Shabbat which demand no work is done (or technology used) from sundown to sundown. “Friday” facilitates a Shabbat-style “shut-down” through disabling your screens (with the option to re-engage). Before unplugging, there are a few short stories to read and reflect upon, to enhance your shut-down for the next 24 hours. 
Curiously, there’s no mention of Judaism in the “Friday” app. That might be because the exercise is not strictly about being Jewish, but is designed to appeal to anyone besieged by screens and modern life. If they happen to be Jewish, that’s good too.
“It's early days, but we’ve already done two subsequent projects, and I hope and pray that underneath it all, there’s something that’s going to emerge over time that’s bigger.”
So what will this “something” look like? Dav says he doesn’t know yet. Or perhaps he just isn’t ready to share.
But we do know this: Dav’s influences go way beyond tech and toothpaste. Whether he’s drawing on childhood experiences or lessons learned when working with Jon Favreau on Iron Man, the solution to a problem, he says, usually lies with how people relate to each other and technology.
He’s mindful that while tech – and social media - can connect people, they can also powerfully  isolate us. He’s not a huge fan of traditional Virtual Reality helmets but is “super excited” about immersive and interactive theatre, and he keeps an eye on companies like British troupe Punchdrunk.
“We’ve been looking at the reasons why people seek out immersive experiences… in a certain sense religion is all about immersion - immersing in love, or community or in something that we just don't understand or can't explain.”
Though early days, the Judaism redesign project is getting attention.
IDEO’s first Jewish client, a progressive San Francisco-based synagogue called The Kitchen, launched a Kickstarter campaign based on an idea that was prototyped in an IDEO workshop. It ended up being the most successful Jewish project ever on the crowdfunding site.
The idea of redesigning Judaism might be raising eyebrows, but religious reformation isn’t a new concept. It’s as old as religion itself.
Says Dav: “At the core of what we're trying to do, is just make religion more relevant and more accessible and fit into our lives, better.”
Illustrations by Stephan Schmitz