An online community that helps people transition out of homelessness through the power of storytelling.
Top 12 Papers Submitted to CHI 2015 Student Design Challenge
COMPETITION: CHI 2015 Student Design Challenge
ROLE: UX Researcher + Designer
DURATION: 3 Months
TEAMMATES: Mohammed Abid, Prasannavenkatesh Chandrasekar, Letícia Patrício, Thidanun Saensuksopa
- Competitive Analysis
- Contextual Inquiry
- Literature Review
- Paper Prototyping
- Think-Aloud Protocol
- User Interviews
Design + Prototyping Tools
- Adobe InDesign
- Adobe Photoshop
Design a product, application, technology, or service that enable people who are a new and completely unexplored user group in any country to appropriate things and technologies around them.
The Goal of Compass
Our target population for this project is homeless people in the Allegheny County of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who want to get out of homelessness.
The goal of Compass is to help people in this transitional period by providing them inspiration, a mentor to talk to, and access to relevant resources.
RESEARCH FINDINGS + INSIGHTS
To understand how technology can be used by the homeless to help in their transition out of homelessnes, we conducted secondary research as well as field research interviewing 10 end users at two homeless shelters in Pittsburgh.
Over half of the homeless population in the US own mobile phones. 
Homeless people obtain gadgets such as smartphones and laptops by looking for them in trashcans, saving up to purchase them, or even getting them as donations . Most use the Internet to connect with family and friends. Homeless young adults’ (75%) use of social networking sites such as Facebook is somewhat close to that of undergraduate college students (96.7%) .
So if homeless people have mobile phones and laptops, how do homeless people get access to the Internet? One method is through shelters, which often have computers and Internet access readily available. Additionally, there are places that offer free Wi-Fi services like public libraries, coffee shops, and sometimes grocery stores like Whole Foods .
Wanting to get out of homelessness is a personal moment of epiphany.
A common theme from all the stories gathered from four homeless people at shelters in Pittsburgh was that all of them had a moment of epiphany when they decided to get out of homelessness; it was not something that was induced by external factors. Realizing that we cannot design something that will help the homeless realize they want to change their lives, we decided to focus on the portion of the homeless population that has made the decision to change. Our interviews revealed that the problem for people in this phase is that they usually do not have someone to help them through it nor recognize the resources they can use.
Seeing others get out of homelessness inspired them to do the same.
We spoke to the program director at one of the shelters where they run long-term, one-on-one programs with the people who stay there. He emphasized how much impact seeing others in the same shoes succeed had on others. Those staying temporarily often times apply to the long-term program citing that they’ve seen their friends in the program succeed and want to do the same thing for themselves.
IDEATION + VISIONING
We conducted a brainstorming session and proceeded to evaluate each idea by feasibility and by the impact it would have in solving a real problem.
Ideas on how to tackle different aspects of homelessness
From the secondary research we came up with multiple ideas on potential design ideas. Two example ideas are:
A code-protected food and resource box placed in urban locations where people can both donate and receive food and other supplies. We envisioned an accompanying app that will serve as a notification system for both donators and the homeless population.
A job-finding app that uses gamification to inspire and motivate homeless people in finding employment. The app would provide homeless people with daily goals that they could complete to unlock achievements and receive rewards.
Validating Our Ideas and Gaining Deeper Insight
We wanted to test these ideas with the actual people who it will impact so we went to two homeless shelters in Pittsburgh, PA to first find out what their needs are, and then to test out our relevant ideas. We found that both the code-protected resource box and job-finding app ideas were riddled with issues ranging from food getting spoilt to gamification misdirecting the motivation to change one’s life into being an extrinsic one rather than an instrinsic one. We took what we learned from our interviews and observations at the shelters and revisited all of our ideas with a fresh perspective and a deeper understanding.
PROTOTYPING + ITERATIVE DESIGN
We decided upon creating an online community that would connect homeless people with mentors who can both inspire them and keep them motivated in their journey of change.
We sketched out multiple versions of Compass mobile apps on paper and made a phone cutout out of styrofoam. We mainly wanted to test out the general concept of using an app to connect with mentors. Additionally, a physical prototype allowed us to express our ideas clearly to our end users and gain their feedback onto what features worked and what did not.
We used Balsamiq to create a clickthrough prototype of the web version with the feedback we got from the mobile prototype. We tested out what information whould be included and how information should be presented. For example, we tested whether it was more effective to present mentor stories in paragraph form or in a timeline. We discovered that a timeline with the option to view more detail on each time point was most effective.
Final Design + Prototype (Adobe Photoshop + Axure)
For our final design, we created the main screens of the app using Photoshop to convey the look and feel of the app. We used Axure to place hotspots in the prototype and mimic basic functionality. We later use this prototype in the video demo that showcases how Compass could be used to help people who are homeless change their lives.
WHAT MAKES COMPASS DIFFERENT?
Mentors on Compass have gone through homelessness themselves.
Users can filter mentors by background and life-struggles they've faced, allowing them to find more relevant sources of guidance and inspiration.
Resources in Context
Resources are presented with the context of how and when mentors used those specific resources.
The added context makes resources more tangible and easy to understand. Additionally, users will know which mentor to contact for more information.
Everyone's journey is different. Compass allows users to set their own plan of action.
When users get inspired by mentor stories, they can write their goals down and receive targeted feedback on their plan from their mentor.