In Spain there are around 40.000 homeless people and the number is on the rise. These people are often marginalized and excluded from society and, therefore, lose trust in it. There are a lot of stereotypes associated to the homeless: some people tend to consider them as alcoholics, mentally ill or violent people, but it’s a false belief based on groundless prejudices. The majority, in fact, is homeless because of job loss or insufficient incomes.
This Case Study aims to improve the user experience of homeless people, raising awareness about their condition among society and giving the possibility to those who want to help them to do it easily and directly.
Through a Design Thinking process I will try to face this challenge that arises from the following question:
“How can I improve the UX of the homeless?”
I will use the Double Diamond Model and go through four different stages: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. Therefore, my article will be divided into 4 sections, one for each phase of the process.
Starting from some Research Questions about the homeless environment, I applied these techniques to find all the answers I needed:
- Desk Research
Thanks to Desk Research I find out that the main causes of homelessness are job loss, breakdown of family ties and insufficient incomes. Life for homeless people is hard and dangerous: in fact, everyday they have to fight against aggressions, thefts, insults or threats and also sexual aggressions.
The main problems I detected are the difficulty of finding a place to sleep, since social shelters can’t foster everybody, and the complications when looking for a charity canteen or food in general. Moreover, homeless people need more psychological and legal help and they have many difficulties when trying to find a job, because of their life condition.
By means of Netnography I tried to understand what people think and write about them on Social Networks and it was good to see many people showing empathy and solidarity towards homeless people.
I also launched a Survey in order to gain a better understanding of public opinion on homelessness. I found out that 92 people out of 93 don’t know how many homeless people there are in Spain and, more importantly, they are biased. In fact, they think that the main cause of homelessness is the addiction to drugs or alcohol. The majority of the respondents (50 out of 93) do not usually help the homeless, but 78 out of 93 would like to help them in an easier and more direct way.
After these first phases of research, I needed to gain a more emphatic approach to understand the real life conditions of homeless people: how they live, how they sleep, how the find food and what they feel. That’s why I decided to do a Safari. Walking on the street I found a man: Antonio, 10 years homeless. We talked for a while and he told me his story. I took the opportunity to interview him and these are some Verbatims I would like to highlight:
“It’s hard to find something to eat. Today I just ate 3 croissants.”
“I don’t know where to go to sleep. Many of the homeless centres I know are closed because of covid-19. Now I’m sleeping on a bench.”
“In winter I suffer cold, so I try to find some warm clothes and a sleeping-bag.”
“I’m looking for a gym in order to have a shower.”
Another crucial moment was the interview with a volunteer at Samur Social, a Social Service in the Municipal Help Program of Madrid. He explained to me that “being homeless is nothing out of the ordinary, because it may happen to everybody” and that “it’s easier to have prejudices, than to inform yourself about the real background of these people”. Some other interesting Verbatims are the following ones:
“The shelters for homeless people are not enough to foster everybody. Many of them live in parks, under a bridge or at an ATM.”
“There isn’t a specific profile associated to the homeless.”
“People may think these people do not want to work, the problem is they can’t find a job.” “Their biggest problem is their future.”
“It is not true that most of the homeless are alcoholics”.
“It’s beautiful to help people and see how much they are grateful to you.”
Finally, to end my research phase I interviewed a few more homeless people (some have found a way out of it and some not) and these are their words:
“It may happen to everybody, you don’t decide it”.
”The worst feelings are fear and anxiety. You feel lonely and think nobody will help you”. “It’s not easy to rest, you are afraid that someone could steal your things or hit you.”
“Thanks to some friends, I found a few places where they give me some food, they are far from each other, but I have a daily route”. ”I found out that on Thursday they give you sandwiches in a place and on Friday they offer you hot café in another one.”
“I remember the owner of a bar, who at 4 a.m. gave me some food leftovers”.
“Many people do not have a card which gives them access to charity canteens and if they want to eat they have to talk to an assistant and then they are placed on a waiting list”.
“Sometimes someone brought me a Tupperware with food or a sandwich. I felt so happy”
The most important finding I made thanks to investigation is that, although prejudices and disinformation about homeless people are evident, people seem to be willing to help and give their contribution to this social issue. According to public opinion, homeless people should have easier access to food, medical help, job support and housing.
User Personas, Empathy Map and User Journeys
In order to put myself in the users’ shoes, understand their pain points and their needs, I created two User Personas, Alberto and Laura, two homeless people. I decided to focus on Alberto for my final idea.
Alberto has been living in the street for 2 years. He lost his job and ended up on the street because of the breakdown of his family ties. He feels sad, lonely and excluded from society. He can’t find a place to sleep or eat and he hopes to find a way out of homelessness as soon as possible.
His User Journey would be the following. Alberto wakes up after a bad night. He couldn’t sleep because he was afraid that someone would steal his belongings. He is hungry and he needs to find something to eat. After a long time wandering, he finally finds a bar where he is given some food.
Point of View and Insights
To conclude the Define mode, I ended up creating an actionable problem statement, commonly known as Point of View, based on a deeper understanding of my specifics users, their needs and my most essential insights about them, gained from research and fieldwork in the empathize mode. POV offered me a wide enough scope to start thinking about possible solutions. I used some interviewees’ Verbatims to better define the problem statement.
After reflecting on my users’ needs, I detected some insights:
- Homeless people are not informed about the places where they can be given some food and it is difficult to find them.
- People are not always empathic with homeless people, because they don’t know their stories and they have many prejudices.
- Homeless people need more support to find a job, because it’s difficult to find one in their situation.
- Homeless people need a solution to sleep in better conditions, especially during the winter, when it’s very cold outside.
These insights could be now turned into actionable ideas.