Service and Concept Design

Neighbours in Need: Researching with and designing for at-risk teens

How might we create a sustainable system that can empower the next generation and support their family through economic hardships?
Challenge / Brief

Youth living in poverty or at-risk of homelessness struggle due to their lack of basic needs being fulfilled. Additionally, resources are not organized to be distributed effectively to those in need, and children not being able to plan effectively for the future, causing them to be stuck in an infinite loop. How might we find these resources, synthesize them, and provide them to those who need it most?


We created a service-oriented solution to aid children and teens at risk of homelessness by providing essential items (food, hygiene, clothing, etc.) through a community-sourced donation program. We give donors an opportunity to connect with the receiver on a personal level; while providing a seamless donation experience that integrates with their day-to-day shopping routine.

I owned and led
  • Generative research through expert interviews, in-depth interviews, and online ethnography
  • Evaluative research through role-play exercises, service prototyping, closed card sorting, expert review, sequential monadic test, and conjoint study
  • Product visualisation in AR to help teams evaluate the form
  • Creating artifacts such as personas, user journey, service blueprint, and evaluative research data to externalise knowledge and insights
I supported
  • Digital and physical prototyping
  • Presentation design
  • Business strategy research and design
Methods, tools, and artifacts used
In-Depth Interviews
Digital Ethnography
Expert Interviews
Role-Play Exercises
Service Prototyping
Card Sorting
Sequential Monadic Test
Conjoint Study
Optimal WOrkshop
Apple AR Kit
Personas and Mindset Segmentation
User Journey
Service Blueprint
Vision video of Neighbours in Need. Credits to Nico Zafarana, Savannah Wilkinson, Varun Khatri, Andrew Goodridge, Tova Tobrand, and Simran Kejriwal.

The Big Problem: Progress in combating homelessness and poverty has been slow

1 in 6 children in America struggle with hunger. Thats 13 million children in total.
17% of all children live in households that lack access to adequate food and basic necessities.

The Big Goal: Preventing youth homelessness and increasing social mobility, autonomy, and security

So how do we find these resources, synthesize them, and provide them to those who need it most?

Content in this page:

We started by defining what success might look like. This will be revisited and revised.

We believe that lower youth homeless rates will be achieved if young adults (aged 14-25) can successfully access resources to help them sustain a lifestyle where the threat of homelessness is not impeding.

We know we have succeeded if youth feel reduced perpetual stress (misery) of falling below the poverty line, they can achieve a sustainable lifestyle, and potentially the overall numbers for youth homelessness decreases throughout the next 5 years.

We then looked for data and information about youth homelessness and current landscape to be more informed about the topic.

With the information, we learnt that resources for teenagers at-risk of transitional homelessness are readily available, but very scattered and difficult to navigate through for a family that already has enough struggles every day.

Reference: Types of homelessness and resources available to teens

With these information, we started wondering

How might we find these resources, synthesize them, and provide them to those who need it most?

Research Questions

We started with the following research questions as we clarified our goals and initial problems.

  1. What resources were most helpful for creating change?
  2. What are the human needs, not just financial needs?
  3. What is the most effective resources and programs right now, how do they access them?
  4. Why are those resources effective?
  5. What specific point in their life would be most impactful for receiving help?

Primary Research Method

Since we want to gain understanding of behaviours, attitudes, and needs of the youth as well as the relevant stakeholders; we employed multiple research methods that helped us gain understanding of the problems.

Research methods we employed

In the end, we conducted semi-structured interviews with at-risk teens and subject-matter experts; We also conducted online social listening from sources such as Reddit, Quora, and more, to interact with the users and crowdsource data points.

Our target participants were teenagers aged 14-25, as we believe that it would be the optimal age to help them climb out of poverty, with lasting impact. This however, is an assumption that we will learn to be incorrect.

How did we employ them? What are the ethical and research concerns?

Research Insights: The Four Mindsets of At-Risk Youth

We identified and segmented the attitudes into 4 mindsets, each mindset represents an attitudinal segment and they help us better understand the beliefs, motivations, and needs of the teens, to better design for teenagers who go through different mindsets over time.

The four mindsets (More about them in the tab below)
Artifact: More about the four mindsets

Our goals are to help the teenager shift from less motivated to more motivated, even if it means shifting the present/future lens

These are the insights and themes that provided us with a human view of the issues teenagers face, and the roadblocks in solving them.

Insight One: Resources are not organized to be distributed effectively to those in need

Poverty is a complex issue that cannot be solved with a single solution, and existing resources are not in the hands of those who need them most. Different types of teens and archetypes need to be catered to in order to address their particular needs and situations.

Resources are scattered and not helping the ones who need them most
Human themes associated with insight one

Insight Two: Change isn’t impossible, but it is bloody difficult

Improving one's situation requires more than a person’s help. Teens face issues beyond their control, and the internal and social struggles in improving oneself undermine the effort and the results of change.

Adapted from Prochaska & DiClemente (1983)
Human themes associated with insight two

Insight Three: At-risk youth are unable to plan effectively for an already uncertain future

Life is already difficult enough for at-risk teens that even if they want to plan for the future, it is difficult to know where to start, what to do, and how to plan.

The cycle of poverty effectively prevented the teens from planning and preparing for the future
Human themes associated with insight three

Refined Target Audience and Design Questions

With the insights, we decided to target teens aged between 8 and 18, which are children from grade 3 to teens at grade 12. We wanted to break the cycle of poverty by providing help. We then ideated design questions that help us move forward in ideation, and voted the top questions we are most interested in.

  • How might we streamline the process of looking for resources and distributing them to teens and their families?
  • How might we help young students learn soft skills they otherwise don’t learn in school to help them out of poverty or at-risk situations?
  • How might we help at-risk youth perceive their future more positively and take actions towards it?
  • How might we make changing so alluring that not changing looks like a stupid option?


With our approach, we employed multiple techniques from ideating within our group to role-playing generative workshops where we work with teachers and social workers. It gives us a few benefits:

  1. Not only bring in their empathy and perspectives, but also facilitate generation of ideas
  2. Getting takes from different school teachers across demographics and segments
  3. Evaluating the other concepts and ideas we have
  4. Helping us empathize with the stakeholders to ensure stakeholder-centric design
Methods we employed to generate ideas

We started with 3 concepts which we later narrowed down to one

The initial three concepts

Introducing the Locker Buddies

Fun and efficient donations of basic goods

This concept involves lockers placed in community hubs particularly grocery stores that entice parents and their kids to provide basic good for those in need, while rewarding their effort. Donation is rewarded through contact with the recipients, build-up of points, as well as charitable receipts for tax purposes. Branded with love, positivity, a little more love and a lot more positivity.

Initial storyboard of how the concept work

LockerBuddies caters to an individual’s personalised needs by providing them with the basic necessities they require on a day to day basis. We give the donors an opportunity to connect with the receiver on a personal level. We provide a seamless donation experience that integrates with their day to day shopping routine. A post-donation experience for donors via text message to notify them after they donate and when the child receives the items.

The concept started with two variations, both are supposed to encourage donation behaviors and inducing empathy as well as curiosity.

But the general journey is the same: A double-sided market with donors and recipients.

Wireframes of the locker's digital UI

That creates a lot of questions for us. What are the components of this concept that we need to prioritize testing to learn more about the feasibility, desirability, and usability of the potential solution? What could go wrong? How can we improve or even change the concept?

Evaluative Research and Concept Development

We started with evaluation questions that help us prioritize and plan our test approach:

  1. How do students feel about the donation they get?
  2. Which visualization method would help the consumers understand the goals of the locker best?
  3. How excited people are about the prospect of donating once they get the ticket?
  4. Do the users understand the value of the system?
  5. What makes people want to donate?
  6. Do the users understand the value of the system?
  7. What items are needed most?
  8. Would people pause and approach the locker?

Based on the questions, we prioritized them and employed the following methods in an attempt to answer the questions:

  1. Role-playing exercises – Pretending to be the students and role-playing the item-grabbing experience from the locker.
  2. Closed card sorting – Evaluating the priority of different items that students need.
  3. Expert review – Evaluating the concept with teachers and school workers on its effectiveness and usage.
  4. Sequential monadic test – Going through the key journeys in the two slightly different concepts, and evaluating them both.
  5. Conjoint study – Evaluating the attractiveness of different features and combination of visual features.

First Evaluative Research on Recipient Journey

There are mainly three questions we want answered:

  • How would the students feel when they receive the resources in the way we gift it?
  • When requesting, how should the priority of items be considered?
  • How important is it that the teacher be able to request the resources for the students?

And these can be measured by:

  • Students' attitude towards the program
  • Perceived importance of different items in grocery store
  • Teachers' attitude towards the program

We went through role-playing exercises, closed card sorting, and expert review to evaluate the above metrics.

The role-playing exercises were done in a virtual format where we walked through 5 middle school teachers in Georgia our concept, and have them pretend to be in the situation, and how they would deal with different situations such as picking items for the students, organising the students to collect the items, or helping underprivileged kids sign up for the program;

The closed card sorting was done with a randomised item list where the teachers are asked to rank the items in Optimal Workshop;

Expert review is conducted after the exercises are completed, to review the details and overall concept.

Prototyping report card used to externalise the knowledge across the team
Learnings and changes made from the first iteration of the recipient's journey

First Evaluative Research on Donor Journey

Since we have not learnt anything from the donors in the past research, we had to start from the basics by asking:

  1. Would people pause and approach the locker?
  2. How excited people are about the prospect of donating if they get the ticket?
  3. Which visualization method would help the consumers understand the goals of the locker system best?

And these can be measured by:

  1. The perceived attractiveness of different forms and features
  2. Positivity and excitement towards the system
  3. Understanding of the beneficiaries and what is expected of them; Confusion and concerns for the concept

We went through sequential monadic test and conjoint study to evaluate the above metrics.

The sequential monadic test was done by going through the journeys with the participant in the two slightly different concepts, and evaluating them both using a within-subject experiment design. Questions are administered at the end of the walk-through to evaluate their attitudes and opinions. Order of displays are randomised to reduce fatigue effect and improve internal validity.

The conjoint study was done by designing the surveys with sketches of the lockers with different features (i.e. Organic form vs Geometric form, With a face on it vs Without a face on it), and randomising the sequence of display. We analysed the data using XLSTAT and Microsoft Excel to understand the prevalence of each feature.

Prototyping report card used to externalise the knowledge across the team
Learnings and changes made from the first iteration of the donor's journey

Iterations and continual evaluation of the journeys

After learning what works and what needs to be improved, our teammates built a cardboard prototype of the locker while I worked on the service prototyping with regard to how a user would experience the "grocery shopping" journey, and how different components would interact with the users.

We made updates to the digital UI that improved clarity and efficiency of obtaining the items. The goal of the test is to evaluate how a user would interact with the product in the grocery shopping context, with us giving them a fake shopping list along with the wishlist.

We set up a fake grocery shopping scenario to role-play with participants and evaluate the digital UI using an iPad

Improvements were made to improve clarity and transparency
We invited participants experience the journey and by using talk-aloud techniques, we got findings on what need to be further improved
Learnings and changes made from the next iterations of the donor's journey

Final Concept, Deliverables, and Artifacts

Value propositions

Direct to consumer donations, which are prioritized and curated specifically by those in need.

Personalized approach for donors, who feel that they are making a difference in a real tangible person’s life.

Provide greater consumption for businesses, higher revenue through larger purchases, and as helps move along stock

With enforced positivity and ease of use, it has never been easier to help out those in need with only $5 and 5 minutes of your time.

Interaction Model

Service Blueprint

Renderings and Concept Showcase



  1. Learning, exploring, and adopting quantitative research methods such as conjoint study to better measure metrics related to certain sets of attitude
  2. Refining my service prototyping and testing process to evaluate customer experience and operation efficiency
  3. Improving data collection, filtering, and analysis skills when doing digital ethnography by setting up standards and metrics

What I would do differently

1. Conduct research on logistics of the donation and delivery services

Due to the short timeframe we have, we had to assume that we can sustainably use current logistics systems such as local delivery programs in moving the donations from grocery stores to the schools. This is an assumption that needs to be turned into a hypothesis and a business research project. More understanding of the backend process is needed.

2. Improve the rigor of conjoint study by refining the visualisation techniques

In the conjoint study, we used rough pencil sketches along with background of a grocery store to create context for the participants. Of the 113 responses, we were not able to derive statistically significant result partly because of the sample size, and partly because of the poor visualisation. Refinements will be made in future projects to improve the internal validity.

3. Align with the team on the goal of the solution and use existing resources to save time

Our team tested two different forms of the solution (window and garden styles) but the findings we have in the end are similar to the themes we had from initial generative research. This shows us that we should look deeper into our goals as well as existing data before setting up tests to collect new data, which leads to diminishing return.