Discovering our Problem Space

Our team started with basic demographic, secondary research online to consolidate our understanding of the problem area at hand: the growing homeless population in the Bay Area. (Feel free to click the images to enlarge.)

We identified three key users in this problem area: the "Good Samaritan," the Case Manager, and the Homeless Individual.

Defining our User 

We initially understood the relationship between these key players to flow as a two-pronged system, where both the Good Samaritan and Case Manager contributed to the support of the Homeless Individual, but in different contexts. For example, the prototypical Good Samaritan would donate money or resources to a Homeless Individual on the street, while a Case Manager would provide services and allocate resources for the Homeless Individual through the shelter network. 

To test this assumption... we interviewed a series of random, well-employed Bay Area locals on their experience interacting with the homeless community.

We found a key insight: several emotional and physical barriers, related to mistrust and fear, severed the link we had initially drawn between the Good Samaritan and Homeless Individual. More often than not, Good Samaritans defined their relationships with the homeless as being one-way: the homeless would beg to the Good Samaritan, who would feel much more inclined to volunteer or donate resources to a structured shelter system than give directly to a Homeless Individual on the street.

We revised our visualization of the cycle of giving to demonstrate this newfound understanding:

Identifying the Case Manager as an interesting key player and "middleman" in this context, we decided to target the Case Manager as the End User for our design process.

Conducting Empathy Research

As we progressed to primary empathy research, I began to adopt more of a leadership role on the team. 

I independently generated all of our research connections within the local homeless shelter community, by using email, phone call, and social media platforms to reach out to Case Managers and schedule phone interviews and personal shelter visits.

Once interview and travel times and dates had been solidified with Case Managers, I organized Google Calendar invites for the rest of our project team to attend the interviews with me, including biographical information on our interviewees, data on the shelter networks, relevant links, and the best mapped travel routes for visiting. I also curated a general interview guide for the visits, which I continuously updated with improved questions and interview tips for the team as we carried out more interviews and visits over time.

We interviewed 6 key players involved with Case Management at emergency shelters, transitional housing, family housing, and more. We identified each of their needs, tasks, and tools, and then used our insights to develop their profiles.

Building our Persona/POV

In order to develop our overarching Persona Profile, we first identified four major, interesting insights, themes, and needs shared between the Case Managers that we interviewed:

  1. Recording Information
    • Insight: data is collected on paper, then into HMIS and Salesforce
    • Need: gather and analyze new data in real time, without need for manual transfer
  2. Communication
    • nsight: non-standardized, manual pathways of communication between Case Managers, clients, and job/opportunity databases
    • Need: standardize an efficient, user-friendly communication tool for real-time conversation between Case Managers and clients
  3. Locating Resources
    • Insight: countless diverse and non-regulated sources of information on resources for clients to receive and Case Managers to sift through
    • Need: combine and share these resources in a more convenient and easily navigated location
  4. Engagement
    • Insight: little communication between Case Managers between shelter networks, though they all embark on similar resource allocation process for clients and often times work with the same clientele
    • Need: integrate existing groups into single network technology to leverage the community's intel

With these key points in mind, we were able to flesh out our Persona, "Ramona Turan:"

As a team, we zeroed in on two areas of our Persona's experience as a Case Manager that we sought to design around: the first-time intake process, and the search for resources. 

We also defined our Mission Statement and dream - to empower Ramona Turan, an experienced Case Manager at an emergency shelter in the Bay Area, to connect her clients with the resources they need, from the moment they step into the shelter.

Mapping Experiences as Journeys

In order to achieve an even deeper understanding of how these two key experiences occur -- the first-time intake and the search for resources -- we shaped each process into the format of a Journey Map.

Each Journey Map carefully breaks down a process into a series of smaller steps. Along with each of these steps, the Journey Map also includes any tools and emotions involved, paying attention specifically to the "pain points" and "opportunity areas."

Hard-copy iteration of 1st Journey Map

Hard-copy iteration of 2nd Journey Map

Creating these Journey Maps helped our team both solidify our common understanding of the processes undergone by Case Managers, as well as identify specific pain points within these processes that we could ideate around.

For example, from the second Journey Map (the resource search and first needs assessment meeting process), we discovered that there are actually two significant areas where handling resources becomes troublesome for Case Managers: not only when they're searching, but also when they are actually sharing those resources later with clients.

In an effort to push my own thinking about data visualization and about how the emotional levels of the first client intake process might flow for our end-user, I also designed two unique, supplementary means of visualizing and interpreting the experiences as a map:

This first deliverable recreates the intake process as a cycle, as the Case Manager checks in more and more clients. In contrast, the second iteration traces the linear progression of emotional changes occurring throughout the Case Manager's journey of intaking a client for the first time.

While a traditional Journey Map categorizes specific stages or steps in a process with a category of emotions, this Journey Map style creatively accommodates for the fact that emotions ebb and flow naturally in real life, often times overlapping and reaching varied degrees of strength. This Journey Map also incorporates realistic phrases under each of the four main categories of activity that put us even more inside the shoes and minds of our POV.

Crafting How Might We Statements

Upon using the Journey Maps to solidify our understanding of the Case Manager's experiences and our unique Persona, we were prepared to enter the ideation stage of our design process. To further narrow down our problem space and set ourselves up as a team for this ideation stage, we crafted three main HMW statements that pertained directly to the pain points found in our Persona Profile and Journey Maps:

Ideating a Software Solution

Gamification Principle Ideation

As members of a project team at SAP, we knew our final solution carried a specific constraint: it would need to be software-based and somehow relevant to big data-driven technology.

Using this constraint and our HMW's, our team launched into ideation. We aimed to ideate visually and demonstrate as much of our thinking as possible in the form of a storyboard of a future experience.

For one of my ideation storyboards (featured below), I bounced around ideas about integrating gamification principles into the design of a dashboard and user profile system that could be dually accessed by a Case Manager and a homeless individual. 

Such a solution could be used to set goals, monitor the homeless individual's progress, receive a consistent flow of information regarding the homeless individual's status, and immediately connect the homeless individual with resources that match his/her specific needs. Thus, the ideation behind this solution was inspired directly by the first two HMW statements we generated before.

Goal Sheet Ideation

Reflecting on our overarching dream, we also ideated around solutions that allowed the Case Manager to integrate the resource search process into the intake process for clients. 

For example, we considered an intuitive iPad application that Case Managers might use to not only check in clients efficiently and comprehensively, but also simultaneously start an automated resource search process for clients, even as their information was being inputted for the first time. 

Furthermore, the app would have a calendar feature that would enable clients to instantly schedule a meeting with a Case Manager for later that night, during their stay. 

Finally, based on the client's demographic information, identified needs, and goals, the app would generate the skeleton of a goal-setting timeline for clients. This goals page on the client's profile could later be edited and updated by clients and/or Case Managers, both online and over the phone.

Developing a Process Map and Screen Flow

While I had never tried software application design before this project, our ideation sessions gave us the creative confidence and guidance we needed to move forward with our designs and develop a Process Map for our envisioned iPad and web application.

This marked a huge milestone for our team in the design process, taking us from mildly directed blue-sky ideation, to narrowing down our solution into a concrete map. Suddenly, our solution became so much more real!

Process Map

Each box linking to another box represents one step leading to the next, as a Case Manager checks a client into a shelter.

The green sticky-notes indicate interactive components of the process map, such as where buttons might be located, what types of information might be accessible during each step and how, etc.

The blue sticky-notes hold questions that we came up with about the design, through generating this process map. For example, we considered whether or not there should be a "profile picture" option or requirement for the client profile and how clients might feel about this feature. We also wondered how to frame and present certain questions regarding health and income to clients in the application, in order to be most respectful and foster the most trust and comfort in the Case Manager-client relationship.

Finalizing our Process Map served as a very helpful segway to the creation of our Screen Flow, which ultimately entailed breaking down the "steps" provided in the Process Map into a specific series of screens with added detail.

Screen Flow Key

Screen Flow

Screen Flow Side View

Here, the sticky-notes act as a color-coordinated guide to reading the Screen Flow, where yellow represents the screen number (with 10 screens total), purple indicates information provided on each screen for the user, and pink represents the interactive components of each screen and the types of interactions prompted for the user.

Wire-framing our Solution

With our completed Process Map and Screen Flow in mind, we set a concrete timeline for the rest of our project and were ready to wire-frame our solution.

Project Process Timeline


We began by sketching out a few low-fi iterations of what the first few screens of our application might look like, including the log-in screen, welcome page, basic profile card, and screening (bag and drug check):

Next, we looked into a few low-fi iterations of how the client's Profile Page might be set up: