My team of 4 partnered with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) to explore communication strategies to encourage greater community engagement among Yesler Terrace residents.
From March to June 2018, we conducted user research, uncovered key insights, and investigated design opportunities to support greater awareness and access to resources in Yesler Terrace.
To better understand Yesler Terrace, we sought out to learn its history, consulted with our clients from SHA, carried out observational field studies in community spaces, and conducted semi-structured interviews with people in the community.
The people that live in Yesler Terrace. A widely diverse group with varying needs and preferences. Many are recent immigrants and refugees.
Employees of Seattle Housing Authority, they work onsite and support residents by informing them of helpful resources and services available to them
External organizations that partner with SHA to offer free + affordable social welfare programs for residents
The SHA approached our team with the following concerns.
We analyzed data from qualitative research (field studies and interviews) and identified these three themes that represent the current status of community concerns.
Streamline communication channels to reduce information redundancy.
Create greater awareness of where resources and information exist.
Utilize a variety of methods and platforms to accommodate for diverse communications preferences.
Support two-way dialogue between residents and SHA staff.
Draw upon an existing network of trusted and established community figures.
Designed for long-term operation: low maintenance and minimal upkeep.
Taking our insights and design goals, we started exploring ideas together with our stakeholders. We conducted a participatory design workshop with our stakeholders, then started mapping those shared ideas to realistic design opportunities.
We hosted a design workshop that brought stakeholders into one room, face-to-face, to have them collaborate on communication solutions together.
The workshop offered participants the opportunity to call on their own experiences to offer ideas, and to be exposed to the perspectives of other stakeholders.
Many ideas emerged from our workshop and internal team ideation, so we got to work on conceptualizing + prototyping those ideas.
From those ideas, we extracted three general categories that the ideas fall into:
Products, Events, and Processes.
Each of the three concepts was prototyped to medium fidelity, mapped to our design goals, and further analyzed for their strengths and weaknesses.
We tested our prototyped concepts with stakeholders. Each prototype was examined based on desirability, usability, and feasibility.
Based on feedback from testing, we took a step back and reconsidered our goals for the overall project. We made the ultimate decision to pivot the direction of our project.
We found that our designs were each missing some full-picture nuance in one way or another. Our concepts didn’t seem to be aligned with our main goal of improving information distribution throughout the Yesler community.
If there was any opportunity to better address the needs of the community, then now would be the time to change direction and recenter our focus on creating the deepest overall impact.
Our concepts were mostly resident-facing solutions. Yet, we had weaker user research data about residents due to their size and variation among our community stakeholders. Residents are the people we wanted to impact in the end, but how could we impact the overall community in a deeper way?
We considered SHA staff instead. By serving the admin side, we could create long-term, top-down change for the community. So, we oriented towards this new direction.
The new concept we came up with is a platform designed for SHA staff to easily retrieve all info regarding Yesler events, programs, service providers, and residents.
This platform now aimed to:
As with previous concepts, we tested with relevant stakeholders for feedback.
SHA staff reacted to this new concept positively, further validating our direction.
Introducing Yesler Central, the desktop platform designed to enable Seattle Housing Authority staff to support and build community engagement within Yesler Terrace.
Yesler Central consolidates all info about Yesler Terrace—events, programs, service providers, residents, etc.—into one place, so that SHA staff have greater access and awareness of community information.
Over the course of this project, we developed a close relationship with our SHA sponsors. They were very happy with the development of Yesler Central, and did not want our work to go unnoticed. We presented our work at SHA's headquarters office.
We hope that someday, our work will be implemented or inspire future solutions in the community—perhaps our platform can one day be used as a positive example of design in public housing communities all around the world.
Over these 12 weeks, I learned an incredible amount about myself and my skills as a researcher and designer. I'm truly grateful that I had the opportunity to work with my team to create Yesler Central. We made something that we're very proud of.
But it wasn’t easy to get here. Successes ultimately outshine failures, but mistakes teach us the most. Some takeaways I had about this project:
Keep your eye on the ball.
We chased many ideas, had long discussions about hypothetical innovative solutions, and imagined big things. But in the end, most projects have limited funding, time, and effort to consider. Focus on function over form, and quality over quantity.
Teams make possible what individuals can't do alone.
Good leaders play up their team members’ strengths, and good team members support each each other towards the group’s common goal.
Strive for the best, not the convenient.
Just because we already invested effort into an older idea, it doesn’t mean that we have to go along with it until the end. I led a serious conversation in my team about pivoting direction towards a more feasible goal. We ended up Yesler Central as our outcome, which we believe can make the strongest impact if it was implemented even tomorrow.
To my amazing team, Emily Wong, Gina Lee, and Bonnie Tran.
To HCDE faculty, for recognizing our work at the HCDE Open House/Capstone 2018.
To our sponsors, Nathalie and Ben at the Seattle Housing Authority.
And finally, to Yesler Terrace for graciously welcoming us to work with their community.