Safe & Sound


Project Details

If you’re homeless in New York City, the current and only way to sign up for shelter is to travel in person to an intake facility. It’s a stressful and taxing experience for everyone, especially to those who have physical and cognitive disabilities. Safe & Sound was created to tackle this problem and come up with a solution. This project was my capstone project in a design challenge during my UX certification courses.


Looking for a homeless shelter in New York City is stressful and complicated. There is no online system in place to assist with signing up for shelter.


Provide an online tool for the homeless to easily sign up for shelter. To give advocates the ability to help the homeless sign up for services.

Target Users

  • The homeless
  • People about to be evicted
  • Volunteers/Advocates

Project Weeks

August - October 2021

My Role

Sole UX Designer: User research, competitive analysis, wireframes, prototypes, and usability studies.



Preliminary Research

I began this project with user research in order to better understand the challenges and issues that users faced, before designing.

Research methods implemented:

1. User Interviews

I conducted interviews on 5 participants during a moderated usability study. These included members of the local NYC community, the homeless, and people who volunteer with the homeless.

I wanted to find out how NYC handles people in need of shelter. So, for the main questions I had some Q&A sessions from a couple of sources.


  • Online and user research
  • Interviews with the homeless
  • Interviews with NYC shelter employees

Questions & Answers:

Q: Where do people go to get help for shelter in NYC?
A: They have to travel in person to an intake shelter to get help.

Q: How can they get help?
A: There is no online process to sign up.

Q: Why is there no online process to sign up for shelter in NYC?
A: An evaluation needs to be done in-person to assess their mental and physical health. Many people have mental health issues and cognitive impairments.

Q: Do the homeless have cell phones with access to the internet?
A: They can sign up through expanded Medicaid in NYC for a free Android smartphone which includes data, talk, and text.

Q: What happens if someone is in a wheelchair — how would they get to the intake shelter?
A: NYC provides transportation to pick them up.

2. Competitive Analysis

I completed this analysis to understand how other nonprofits position themselves. It helped to inform the design process for Safe & Sound and how to best meet the users’ needs.

3. Information Architecture

I created these to show how the content is organized to help users understand where they are in Safe & Sound and where the information is located.


This diagram shows how the pages are prioritized, linked, and labeled.

User Flow

This is the path taken in Safe & Sound to complete a task.

Key insights I learned from the preliminary research:


The homeless in NYC have access to cellphones through Medicaid from the Affordable Care Act. On the street they were called “Obama phones.”

Cognitive impairments

Many of the homeless have cognitive impairments, which includes mental illness. I did not realize at first that I needed to keep this insight in mind when designing.


The current sign up process for shelter in NYC is not easy to do, especially for people who are not able-bodied, since you must travel in person to get help in the first place.

User Personas

After I finished the research phase of Safe & Sound, I gathered and analyzed the findings and created personas as aggregate representations of the people I interviewed.


Lily is a 39 year old paralegal who lives in Queens. She knows a number of homeless individuals in her community that need help throughout the year. She is interested in helping them find shelter but the current systems available are difficult.

Lily’s Goals

To find shelter for people in need that she knows through her church group.

To use a convenient and easy online tool to start the sign up process.

Lily’s Frustrations

No ability for her to help people remotely.

Disabled individuals that she knows have a difficult time accessing the system for help and it makes her frustrated.


William is 43 year old and unemployed. He’s in a wheelchair due to a recent left foot amputation from diabetes. After losing his job, he is now homeless and looking for shelter. He has to travel to a facility to get signed up but finds this difficult because he’s immobile.

William’s Goals

To find safe and clean shelter nearby.

Have an easier time signing up for shelter by using an online system.

William’s Frustrations

Current system forces him to travel to a shelter in-person that is far away.

This makes it difficult and stressful because he is immobile and in a wheelchair from a foot amputation due to diabetes.

Ideas & Strategy

Once I began to have a clear picture who the users were and what their needs and goals were, I was able to start brainstorming strategies, insights, challenges, and any other ideas that would help the users.

1|  Based on the research I conducted, I realized that creating a safe environment for the homeless to access help in finding shelter was a priority.

2|  I asked myself: “How can the experience of obtaining shelter be accessible, consistent, and reliable?”

This led to the idea of access points

Community centers = local churches

Place with internet = library

Dedicated mobile app = accessible on-the-go to anyone with a cell phone

Advocates would be available to help

They can reach the homeless in person, on the spot and in the streets, and sign them up for shelter and services using the mobile app or tablet.

Design Strategies

Fact 1

According to 2018 US Census data, 15.3 million people have a cognitive disability (5.1% of the population).

Fact 2

Mental illness is a cognitive disability.

Designing for cognitive disabilities became the priority.


Larger size fonts so content is easier to read.

Clear navigation

Simple layout with obvious visual cues.

Progressive disclosure

Dividing tasks into shorter steps.

Simple steps

Complete the steps without being overwhelming.

White space

Text is easier to read when it’s visually separated.

Key Challenges

How can the cognitively disabled use the mobile app without difficulties?

Bringing down barriers

Designing simple and understandable information architecture.


Recognizing rather than recalling. Recognizable iconography and intuitive gestures so they do not have to learn anything new.


Quick and simple

A simple, linear process in the user flow allows for quick on-the-go usage.

Design Phase

Now that I had my user research completed, with insights into who the users were and what their goals were, I began creating digital wireframes in Figma and thinking through the preliminary flow. I had many iterations before moving on to prototypes.

Mobile Wireframes

Testing the Product

After completing the wireframes and lo-fidelity designs, the next step was to test them on users. I created a research plan, usability study, and an analysis of those results. The overall goal was to figure out if users could complete the core tasks within the Safe & Sound prototype without difficulty.

Research Study Results


Signing up

40% of users had questions during the sign up process. People looking for shelter need a simple sign up experience with larger font sizes.


20% of users needed clarification about choices in gender identity. An explanation was included to prevent confusion.


Appointment page was unnecessary because shelters are open 7 days/week, 24 hours/day.


Transportation options needed to be offered to the homeless during the sign up process. They need to be taken to an intake shelter to finalize the process.


Offers of assistance for permanent housing should be made available and included in the list of services.

Design Iterations: from Lo-Fi to Hi-Fi designs

Designing for cognitive disabilities

This is an example of how I applied my designs to incorporate cognitive disablities. There is a curb cut effect in where these features benefit everybody.

Hi-Fidelity Design

After I completed the usability study, I was able to synthesize the data and iterated on my designs. These hi-fidelity designs reflect Safe & Sound’s final product and includes visual elements, navigation, and interactive details.


The Solution

Find a shelter

After incorporating design strategies for cognitive impairments, the homeless could now quickly find shelter options without difficulty. All buttons are clearly labeled, explanations on screens are given in simple-to-understand language, affordances are straightforward and easily understood by the users.

Sign up process

After many design iterations and implementing a clear linear process, Advocates could now easily help the homeless sign up for shelter and services. In addition, the homeless could also sign themselves up quickly for shelter. Transportation options are given in a clear manner at the end of the process for those who are unable to travel to the intake shelter on their own.

Style Guide



What I learned:

  • When designing for users with cognitive disabilities it’s important to keep in mind how the layout, structure, and elements are presented.
  • Designing across different devices helped me understand how to use consistent and continuous design patterns to keep the experience familiar to users.
  • Many of the homeless in NYC have access to the internet and technology by positioning themselves outside near buildings with free wifi.
  • NYC shelters could really help the homeless by granting free wifi in their shelters across the city. Right now there is no internet.

Next steps if I had more time:

  • Continue to test the prototypes on users and iterate on the designs.
  • Research more on statistics of how the homeless in NYC use technology and the internet, and how those factors could positively influence social and health outcomes.
  • Look into other major cities in the U.S. if any similar online shelter resource is available, and what those outcomes are.

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