ImmiSearch - Immigrant Resource Search Mobile Application
For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a newly-arrived immigrant from China who has recently moved to a small town in the United States for work. Being completely new to the country and having limited English proficiency, you struggle to settle down in this new community and face difficulty communicating with others.
There are tens of thousands of immigrants just like you across the country who would benefit from knowing about all of the resources and services in their area.
Fortunately, there can be a mobile app that solves this problem for you.
Countless immigrants who come to the United States, often hoping for opportunities to improve their quality of living, do not speak English and therefore struggle to settle down for a lengthy period of time.
The main goal is to design a mobile app that aggregates local resources and services (e.g. grocery stores, churches, community centers), and display directions (using Apple or Google Maps APIs) and contact information, for immigrants. Ultimately, this app would lower their stress level and make it easier for them to take advantage of valuable local benefits and resources.
User Experience Designer and Researcher
School project -> expanded to personal project
Conducting User Interviews
To fully understand the audience that I am designing this app for, I interviewed 10 immigrants from a variety of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. The interviews were semi-structured and lasted for about 20 to 40 minutes.
Designing User Personas
After coding my interview data, I created two user personas to use as a guide throughout the rest of this project.
Uncomfortable with their surroundings
Most immigrants felt uncomfortable looking for new resources or services in person, and would rather rely on their social circle for local information. I want to help them break this barrier.
Unaware of nearby resources
A few immigrants indicated that they have lived in their community for over three years, but have never heard of some local resources until very recently that would have been extremely helpful to them if they had found out earlier.
Insufficient knowledge with technology
Over half of the interviewees had at least basic knowledge of using a smartphone, but more than half also did not know how they can use their phones in the most efficient way to find resources that would help them live more efficiently in their community. They eventually end up just using it to message family and friends via call or text.
I created these following two main use cases to understand how immigrants would use my application under realistic circumstances. I have tried to cover the majority of my potential user base, who would be immigrants with diverse backgrounds.
Use Case 1
Actor - Newly-Arrived Single Immigrant Mother from Lebanon
Scenario - The immigrant mother is looking for a free language tutoring service to learn English and a food pantry service to receive food assistance.
Triggering Event - The mother is trying to save money for her son and herself. She needs to learn English to improve her chances of getting a stable job, and also to save money in other ways.
Precondition - She has access to a smartphone.
Flow of Events:
1 - She searches for a language assistance organization on the app.
2 - She finds the one the likes and looks for more details.
3 - She reads the type of language services offered and notices the address and opening hours.
4 - She looks for directions from her apartment on the app.
5 - She calls the organization to inquire and set up a possible appointment.
6 - She looks for and finds a nearby organization that offers weekly food pantry services.
7 - She notes the type of food available and the days of the week food is given out.
8 - She looks for directions from her apartment on the app and decides to visit.
Outcome - She pinpoints two organizations through the app, one that offers free language tutoring services and another organization that offers free food pantry services.
Use Case 2
Actor - Newly-Arrived Graduate Student from China
Scenario - The student is looking to find the cheapest stores to purchase groceries and a Christian church organization that has people who speak his language.
Triggering Event - The student has just moved to his new apartment and wants to plan for weekly trips to church and to shop for groceries.
Precondition - He has access to a smartphone.
Flow of Events:
1 - He searches for a grocery store on the app.
2 - He finds the one the likes and looks for more details.
3 - He reads the type of groceries offered and notices the address and opening hours.
4 - He looks for directions from her apartment on the app.
5 - He plans for a trip to the store on Saturday.
6 - He looks for and finds a nearby Chinese Christian Church organization.
7 - He notes dates for events, sermons, bible studies, and more.
8 - He looks for directions from her apartment on the app and plans for a trip on Sunday.
Outcome - He finds a grocery store nearby and a Chinese Christian church nearby.
Transferring Research To Design
Based on my research findings and personas, I realized that I need to have these essential features in the app:
A short, yet effective onboarding process that tailors the app to their location, linguistic ability, and national origin.
Easy-to-access, essential information for each resource or service, which include business hours, address, built-in directions map, detailed offerings, contact information, and more.
Allow immigrants to find the information they need through as few screens as possible.
Iterative Mockups and Prototyping
Next, I wanted to design the app that would bring out positive emotions from users. These were my first mockups, so they are very rough.
However, my goal was to explore my visual design options, and to map out the essential features that are needed in the app.
You can check out my final prototype at the end of the page.
Iteration and Feedback
After this iteration, I received feedback and critique that exposed many usability and visual design issue my mockups had.
The biggest issues here were the overwhelming variety of colors, the distracting background, and the lack of needed information on certain screens.
With this feedback, I went for another round of redesign.
I made sure that users see enough information before they tap on a specific resource to avoid unnecessarily bloating their mental model.
After receiving some more feedback from peer designers and colleagues, I noticed that the multi-color design, use of icons, etc., are very outdated and needed a more modern look, and some text was still hard to read. With this feedback in mind, I redesigned once again.
San Francisco UI
Heading text - font size 20 and 22
Main text - font size 12, 14, 17
The final design is made to give off a pleasant, yet professional vibe to immigrants, many of whom are very busy and deal with constant stress.
When a new user starts the app for the first time, they are approached with two questions in the onboarding process.
These two questions are asked because the app presents services that are the most relevant to the user.
One key assumption here is that when users choose their country of origin and English proficiency level, the app will automatically change to their native language.
Appropriate icons (flags, emoticons) are used to induce positive emotions from the user.
On the main screen, the user chooses from different types of services based on their immediate needs.
I included the address, distance, and languages spoken of each service on the services select page before the user decides to tap on a specific service. This information allows users to determine which service they would like to select as soon as possible, minimizing backup avoidance.
Then, the user is shown business hours and contact information, a button for Apple Maps directions, and other options.
Using Principle, I added an animation to the information panel about the service, which can be dragged down to reveal the map of the area.
Final Interactive Prototype
Click below to begin!
What I Learned
Confirming my hypothesis through user research is essential.
Through previous personal encounters and being a first-generation college student myself, I suspected that finding useful resources was a widespread issue across the United States and that immigrants could benefit from this application. In spite of that, however, I only became completely confident in my hypothesis after I interviewed immigrants who voiced the same concerns that I had heard and experienced before.
Users’ technical and language proficiency are significant challenges for designers.
Even though you and I may be experts on smartphone usage, many immigrants, especially ones who are older and less educated, may not be. Not only that, some of them may not be very fluent in English comprehension. All of this was shown through my user interviews. Therefore, having empathy for the user here is especially important. I had to keep these constraints in mind while designing and attempt to avoid complex design patterns for the sake of the user.