Yesler Central

Centralizing communication efforts in Seattle's oldest low-income public housing community

Yesler Central is a platform designed to bridge the communication gap between administrative staff and residents at Yesler Terrace, a low-income public housing community in Seattle.

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.

Seattle Housing Authority

User Research
Interaction Design

Mar–Jun 2018 (12 weeks)

Excellence in Design @ HCDE Capstone 2018



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.

SHA Staff

Employees of Seattle Housing Authority, they work onsite and support residents by informing them of helpful resources and services available to them

Service Providers

External organizations that partner with SHA to offer free + affordable social welfare programs for residents

Client Concerns

The SHA approached our team with the following concerns.

Redundancy among service providers
With many services offered, there may be overlap in types of resources/events offered. e.g. Many services are geared towards K-12 education and less in other sectors.

Difficulties creating two-way dialogue with residents
Service providers usually come from outside of the Yesler Terrace community.
Residents may not know where exactly to get support if they need it.
Multiple language barriers and tech proficiency barriers exist.

Key Themes

We analyzed data from qualitative research (field studies and interviews) and identified these three themes that represent the current status of community concerns.

The population is constantly changing due to high resident turnover and market-rate residents moving in.

Communication Methods
Flyers are a commonly used mode of advertisement in the community.
Every stakeholder uses and prefers communicating by word of mouth.
Consistency among people and programming builds community trust.

Community Investment
A community-oriented mindset leads to increased resident engagement.
Time and personal investment in people and relationships ultimately builds trust and opens up a two-way dialogue.
How might we improve the distribution of information about resources from Yesler Terrace staff to residents?


Design Goals

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.

Emphasize community
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.

Participatory Design Workshop

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.

Photos from during the workshop

Design Opportunities

Many ideas emerged from our workshop and internal team ideation, so we got to work on conceptualizing + prototyping those ideas.

Giving each idea a fair chance, we sketched out all ideas to easily compare + contrast them.

From those ideas, we extracted three general categories that the ideas fall into:
Products, Events, and Processes.

Our team moved forward with the three highlighted product ideas. All others were combined to contribute towards the top ideas, or were out of our project scope.

Top 3 Concepts

Each of the three concepts was prototyped to medium fidelity, mapped to our design goals, and further analyzed for their strengths and weaknesses.

Each medium-fidelity prototype with its accompanying concept brainstorm.



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.


SHA Staff Platform

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:

  1. Centralize information channels for SHA staff to facilitate community happenings.
  2. Alleviate tasks that SHA staff must manually perform on a regular basis.
Our initial exploration of the new design direction to serve SHA staff needs.
We built a foundation for the navigational structure of the new platform.


Dynamic Events Calendar

SHA Staff-to-Resident Messaging

Service Provider Directory

Printing Targeted Calendars

Screening Event Requests

Service Provider Info

Concept Testing

As with previous concepts, we tested with relevant stakeholders for feedback.
SHA staff reacted to this new concept positively, further validating our direction.

Gathering feedback from SHA staff, onsite at Yesler Terrace


Yesler Central

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.

High Fidelity Designs

Events Calendar

Efficient, resident-interest driven communication
Filter events based on age, building, and event type
Generate printable calendars for target resident groups


Central awareness of where information exists
Browse service providers by category
View up-to-date resident contact information


Multimodal forms of communication
Screen and approve event requests for the community
Send personalized messages via mass text campaigns

Style Guide

Moving forward with Yesler Central

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.



This project was deeply personal to me. When my grandparents immigrated from Vietnam to the United States, they first settled down in Yesler Terrace. Knowing that my family has been directly impacted by the work done in Yesler Terrace and SHA has made me all the more eager to give back to this community in the best way that I know how.

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.

Thanks & Acknowledgements

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.

Next Project