Support residents with acquiring the essential identification needed to access basic civic services.

Role: UX Researcher.
Project Type: Service Design.
Team: Jason Lam, Swarnima Deshmukh, and Mojolaoluwa Bolaji.
Contribution: Ideation, Experience Design, Contextual Inquiry, Usability Testing.
Deliverable: Process Map, Poster, Survey, and Analytics.


Our partners at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter, a 90day temporary homeless shelter, approached us asking to streamline the process to get government issued IDs. Recently, the State of Michigan made changes to Section 8, a program designed to help residents secure more permanent housing Jackson Interfaith Shelter, a 90day temporary homeless shelter, approached us asking to streamline the process to get government , with the hopes of getting the chronically homeless into permanent homes faster. However, an unexpected issue was that eligible recipients had insufficient time to acquire all the documents necessary to redeem the Section 8 housing voucher



The JIS residents were under tremendous emotional stress resulting in little knowledge or care about the ID process. The fact that the users were unable to articulate their problem with getting IDs was probably the biggest obstacle in the process. We used ethnographic research and conducting stakeholder interviews in the user discovery process. After our analysis, we determined there were three main phases to get an ID: pre-application, applying, and in-process. The most critical phase was in pre-application.

We narrowed the important IDS down to the birth certificate, state ID, and social security ID. We thought of two options. First, an interactive infographic that displayed the details of obtaining all the three forms of ID. However, typically, a user would not be missing all three forms. Too much information would confuse the user and render a poor user-experience. This led to the idea of a form that user would fill out. The answers would then bucket the user into a category based on which ID was the needed the most and easiest to obtain. The user would then be given personalized instructions on the steps of obtaining that ID.


A significant challenge was that the target users had little resources and were not tech-savvy. To address this, we stressed sustainability and usability over aesthetic appeal. We decided to leverage the existing and ubiquitous platform of Google forms to run the survey and display the personalized information, as well as store the data.


Usability Testing

The forms were tailored to the visual preferences of the residents. Residents preferred multiple questions with binary options, such as yes/no questions, rather than fewer complex questions. Residents felt more comfortable with text, rather than other mediums like pictures, since they did not always know where to look in pictures for the right answer. Finally, they preferred a touch screen device as they felt it was more natural than clicking.


The goal of the project is to help residents get the basic identification (birth certificate, social security number, and a driver’s license/state ID) to get them started on their path to independent living. Beyond that, the project served as a pilot for agencies seeking potential solutions to navigate government bureaucracy. It is currently used at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter with plans to expand it to other agencies in the Jackson area. 

Lessons learned

get feedback from end users

Easy to understand and often said, but hard to follow. We had spent a few weeks trying to simplify the steps by talking to stakeholders and the government. What would have been more helpful (and what we eventually did) was to visualize and build a prototype and get users to interact with it. One of the key insights we discovered were that residents did not find images helpful and preferred a one question format for surveys. If we had discovered this earlier, we could have conducted a card sort exercise to help prioritize the questions and made the process smoother.

use the resource you have in abundance

We had ignored a critical resource - the homeless residents at the shelter had time to spend with us and were happy to be involved in the process.  We interviewed and conducted usability tests with the users, but it was difficult to get information that reflected their behavior. The residents were not willing to give negative feedback on our prototype. While it did help to have a prototype ready for them to test, it would have been helpful to also include them in the exploratory phase and conduct a co-creation workshop.