Navigating
Homelessness

It starts with a pivot

I decided to change careers from managing a downtown homeless shelter in Toronto, to pivoting into the User Experience Design field. My decision to transition into the User Experience (UX) Design field from social work was considered greatly on whether I could still make social impacts…to my favour I can!

Role: Product Designer

Overview: I created and designed a mobile digital app as a means to alleviate homeless-related issues prevalent in Toronto, Ontario

Timeline: Ongoing - January 2020

The Challenge

My aspiration to improve experiences for others was met when I joined BrainStation’s 3-month intensive UX Design bootcamp program.
Throughout the course, we were challenged to apply our understanding of UX design principles to individually develop a mobile digital product that solves or alleviates a problem space (of our choosing).

I. Discover


Given the creative freedom I had for my project, I took my front -line experience of working with homeless individuals and curated some problems from previous work experiences and observations. 

I remembered working with clients and most were unaware of the free, public social services provided for them. 

"Those in need often don’t know where to turn for help or what resources are available. As a result, social workers and homeless advocates may not be able to make contact with those individuals (to get the help they need)" - (7 Common Causes for Homelessness), Fred Victor.

"42% of people have difficulty finding a place to wash their clothing, one day a week on average someone goes hungry, and 32% sleep outside than in a shelter." - (What Housing First Means for People), Streets to Homes Post-Occupancy Research.

Why is it difficult for individuals to find services?

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People who experience homelessness often face discrimination because of their behaviour and/ or appearance.

It can be difficult to access such services without a stable address, health card, ID or form of reliable transportation.

Research Plan

Hypothesis

I believe that people who are homeless in Toronto desire a simpler and more accessible
method to accessing support services.

Participant Criteria

Those who self-identify as homeless or are at risk of homelessness.

Any gender, age over 16  (otherwise underage participants are usually in
group home or out of reach- policies), race, ethnicity, marital status, income, education, and employment.

Participant Activity

I used a qualitative research method by conducting 5 in-person interviews, at the participants’ location of choice (in Toronto). I contacted previous co-workers to set up a private room to interview individuals, and provided compensation for participants’ time.

Interview Summaries

I organized participants’ answers into this Affinity Diagram and further synthesized data by identifying common pain points, behaviours, frustrations, goals and motivations. 

Affinity diagram

II. Define

The common theme I've identified through research is there seems to be a lack of transparency on homeless support services. 

Below are some artefacts I've curated to understand the unique needs of the user.

Persona

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Experience Map

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How Might We...

Connect homeless individuals with reliable support services in Canada?

Market Research


I compared various technology and competitors (that attempt to meet the same end goal) by using a chart to analyze similarities and differences.

Chalmers Bot

A ”Chat bot” mobile app that is meant to help the homeless locate resources in Toronto through texting.

City of Toronto Website

The city of Toronto has many dedicated pages to assisting those experiencing homelessness.

OurCalling

A mobile app to identify resources tailored for people experiencing homelessness.

Organization Sites (various)

Some non-profits have their own website showcasing their organization.
Examples: Covenant House, Egale & Evangel Hall.

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Task Selection

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The user stories are written from the perspective of a user of the product- in particular a homeless individual seeking support services (that are tailored to help this demographic). The main goal is to provide transparency, accessibility, inclusion and advocacy to homeless individuals on their right to finding the support they need in whatever capacity they choose.

User Flow: Selecting a Clothing Bank

Userflow

III. Develop


Concept Ideation: Features


With my user flow diagram, I sketched with a pen and paper using methods like Crazy 8’s to come up with my wireframes. Every feature was designed based on my knowledge of the industry, preliminary and secondary research:

No login screen

Provides an inconvenience for users as those experiencing mental health complexities and physical ailments, as well as urgency it is deemed unnecessary for the users.

Older design for Android mobile

These were the more commonly used models as they are easily accessible to the user; Samsung Galaxy 7 2016 model was the most common phone.

Filters

Users should be able to organize results faster and more accurately that meets their unique needs.

First round of sketching

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Mid-Fidelity Wireframe User Testing

I decided to user-test these designs with 5 different social workers* for two rounds.


*Social workers were user-tested because from an informational and experiential point of view, they would provide great insights representative of the demographic I’m designing for.*

I then wrote a User-Test script, and asked participants to do the following tasks:

1. Filter your SMIS number

2. Find directions to your nearest clothing bank

User Test Results

Below showcases one round of user testing results and changes.

Further iterations after the second round were made to improve information architecture and UI clean up. 

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*This is an identified number the city gives to homeless individuals for identification.

*Residing in the city of Toronto.

Visual Identity

First I imagined the mood I wanted to create while using the product and I thought “Empowered” with a dash of serious tone would emulate the experience.

Colour Choices

Dark blues for calming effect.

Bright Yellow for cheeriness and up-lifting.
 

App Name
" Reach" Inspiration from the social work terminology “outreach".

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IV. Deliver

High-Fidelity Design

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Supportive Marketing Website

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Responsive Tablet Design

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Closing Reflections

Design Impact

My design impact for this project is particularly dynamic because it aims to serve one of the most vulnerable populations, growing at an increasingly rate in Toronto.

However, on a larger scale, it’s a band-aid-solution. We are meeting the short-term basic needs of the demographic, but it doesn’t prevent homelessness, nor does it completely alleviate current homelessness.

Design opportunities can be discovered through more in-depth research on government and city policies, design and tech trends by qualitative and quantitative methods. A further design challenge would be to address long-term needs like mental health, housing support and the like.