Explore and design ways in which new residents discover and engage with city services, ordinances, and opportunities delivered in an accessible, inclusive, and innovative manner.

City of Chicago, Department of Innovation & Technology  (DoIT)

Liying Peng, Beatriz Alessio, Ernesto Garcia, Sara Gnolek, Bradley Sedor

January 2019 - March 2019
Target User
Chicago New Immigrant Residents

My Role
Research Lead, Service Designer

Research Methods
Service Safari, Stakeholder Interview, In-depth user Interview, In-context Concept Testing, Co-creation, Focus Group

Stakeholder Map, User Journey Map, Service Blueprint, User Story
Research Process

Limitations and Difficulties
Since our client as a city department had limited resources but were facing a complex administrative system, our research must be insightful enough to develop a solid, actionable and valuable design concept that worth city resource investments. However, the user recruiting process was very challenging, because immigrant residents, the group that we decided to focus on, were a very sensitive and insecure group. We spent huge efforts and experienced countless refusals, but finally successfully found some immigrant families who were willing to participate in our research. Special thanks to them! 

Design Outcome 
The final concept Dear Chicago is a story sharing platform that encourages sharing of service needs based stories in immigrant communities. Through the online archive or the offline physical listening stations, immigrant residents could share their stories of utilizing city services in their native languages, empowering other immigrant residents with to interact with city services. All design directions, design requirements and design decisions were driven and made by research observations and insights.

The final concept was presented to client and other non-design background audiences from different city departments. Audiences shown strong interest on the concept and the research stories behind it.​​​​​​


Exploratory Research to Define Focus

City of Chicago consists of close to 50 city departments with hundreds of services provided to the city residents, while new residents move to Chicago each year spread broad in ages, genders and culture background. The scope of the challenge we received was too broad for us to provide a delicate design solution. Therefore, we started with a round of exploratory research in various service providers and new residents, in order to refine point of view and narrow down the target user scope.

Research Methods

#Service Safari# To immersively experience not only the various city services, but also the process of searching and navigating city service resources. 

#4 Stakeholder Interviews# To understand the constraints for service providers.

#9 User Interviews#  To study different new residents' journey from knowing nothing about the city to successfully accessing the city services that are provided to them.


#Stakeholder Map#

#5 User Journey Maps#

#2 Key Observations#

#3 Preliminary Design Directions#

#Narrowed Target User Group#

#Refined Point of View#

Understand the Service Providers' Limitations
Service Safaris and 4 Stakeholder Interviews

We started the service safaris by trying to search for well-fit city services for different hypothetical using scenarios. Then with the ones we successfully navigated to, we personally experienced the services as Chicago residents.

4 stakeholder interviews were then conducted with Chicago Youth Centers, Chicago Department of Family & Support Services, Chicago Public Library and Office of New Americans. All 4 departments we interviewed aim at providing services to a specific group of residents.

A complex service stakeholder map for Chicago new residents was built based on the service safaris and interviews. Although we were very surprised to see the high quantity and quality of various city services, the complex stakeholder map gave us a glimpse of how complex it could be to search and navigate city services either through digital platforms or in the field. 
Get to Know Different New Residents' Journey
9 User Interviews with 5 Types of New Residents

A total of 9 user interviews were conducted with 5  types of new residents who recently moved to Chicago - young adults, seniors, middle-aged parents, immigrants and youths about their experience of accessing city services. In our initial hypothesis, these 5 types of users would have the highest requirements on service quality or largest barriers to accessing the services.

5 journey maps were constructed showing how new residents went from knowing nothing about the city to successfully accessing the city services they need. 

Gaps Between New Residents and the City: Lack of Awareness and Trust​​​​​​​
2 Key Observations Generated from the Research​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

From the stakeholder map and journey maps, gaps between new residents and city service providers were noticed:

#Observation 1# Lack of Awareness
They know what they need, but do not know what the city offers.​​​​​​​
Barriers like language, culture and unfamiliarity to the city make it difficult for new residents to seek out public services. Meanwhile, the overload information on government websites makes it difficult for new residents to find a well-fit program or solution.
#Observation 2#  Lack of Trust
They know what the city offers, but do not trust what are offered.​​​​​​​
City residents correlate city services and their outreach channels (mostly government digital platforms) with low value and negative feelings because of past negative experiences.
Based upon the 2 key observations, we chose 3 preliminary design directions to further explore the solutions to increase new residents' awareness of the city services and trust to their outreach channels.

#Preliminary Design Direction 1# Unconventional Information Channels
How Might We leverage current or developing new unconventional information channels that can overcome barriers like language, culture and unfamiliarity to the city to successfully aware new residents the existence of the city services.

#Preliminary Design Direction 2# Information Navigation
How Might We assist new residents to search and navigate to city services that are well-fit to their needs.

#Preliminary Design Direction 3# Authoritative and Positive Correlations
How Might We help new residents to correlate city services and their outreach channels with greater positiveness and authority.

Target the Extreme User Group: Immigrant Residents​​​​​​​
Refined Point of view and Narrowed User Group

#Target User Group# New Immigrant Residents
We recognized that immigrant residents are facing some of the greatest barriers in accessing and utilizing city services, and thus, if we can design a solution that promotes positive change for immigrant residents that are new to Chicago, we can take the design principles used and share them as the service experiences growth.

Initial Concept Testings For Deeper Empathy

To generate solutions to the refined point of view, we needed more research focusing on new immigrant residents. We decided to use the initial concepts generated based on the preliminary design directions as the media for further research, in order to obtain deeper understanding of users' behaviors and attitudes, as well as their feedback on the concepts

Testing Methods

#13 Immigrant Families# We connected with 13 local immigrant families from 3 different immigrant communities in Chicago - Chinatown (Chinese community), Pilsen (Spanish community) and Uptown (Vietnamese community) for the testings. Since our team had both Chinese and Spanish speakers, we were lucky to be able to have very deep conversations with most of the families.

#In-context# Since concepts we tested involve with very intangible elements like information and outreach channel, we decided to implement our concept into users' live contexts, at their home and in their communities, to capture their most natural reactions to the prototypes. 

#Co-creation#​​​​​​​ Followed by the in-context testing sections, co-creation activities were conducted with each immigrant families to uncover their ideas and additional thoughts on the concepts. 


#4 Observations#

#2 Insights#

#4 Design Requirements#​​​​​​​

#Research Pivot#

Although first two groups of concepts later iterated to some of the key features of our final concept based on the testing results, users' reactions to the 3rd group of concepts pushed us to pivot towards even deeper research.

Tested Concept Group #1
Unconventional Information Channels
1 Insight, 2 Observations, 1 Design Requirement, 1 Design Decisions

This group of concepts aimed at leveraging current or developing new culture specific unconventional information channels to increase the awareness of city services among these communities. 

Prototypes tested including city service information of local languages printed on different physical artifacts that are widely disseminated in the communities, as well as posted on local landmarks with high traffic.
Testings of this group of concepts, especially the co-creation sessions, triggered many conversations around users' past experiences of recalling and relocating seen informations. A important insight was synthesized from the testing results:

This insight was visualized into a journey of information awareness. Though the success of recalling, searching and relocating after encountering directly indicates the awareness of the information, the earlier part of the journey when users notice and remember the key elements plays decisive role in the success of the entire journey. We noticed that the key elements people remembered of a piece of information were all highly visual differentiated. This led to our first design requirement:

#Design Requirement 1# Distinguishable Visual Branding

Then as we dived deeper into what else could trigger users to notice the information and remember the key elements of a piece of information, 2 key observations were noticed:

#Observation 3#
Long-term and frequent repetitions push users to remember.
Semi-disposable physical artifacts (like grocery bags, disposable lighters and takeaway tableware) are commonly intentionally collected and saved for reused by the local immigrants in these communities. Information printed in these artifacts with eye-catching visual cues are usually remembered by the users subconsciously due to long-term and frequent repetitions.

#Observation 4#
Passive waiting time triggers users to notice surroundings.
Information posted on landmarks where people spend their passive waiting time like bus stops and train stations has large possibilities to be read and therefore processed and remembered.
Based on these two observations, our second design requirement along with its corresponding design decisions were made:

#Design Requirement 2# Multiple Outreach Channels​​​​​​​
Design decision: utilize 2 types of media as the outreach channels for city service information:
• Popular semi-disposable physical artifacts in the communities
• Landmarks where people spend their passive waiting time​​​​​​​

Tested Concept Group #2
Information Navigation
1 Observation, 1 Insight, 1 Design Requirement

This group of concepts aimed at exploring different navigation and filtering system to help new immigrant residents to faster search and locate the city services that are well-fit to their needs with less effort.

Prototypes tested were paper prototypes of digital interfaces of a information filtering system we built.
Most feedbacks we got to the concept of establish a filtering system for all the city service resources were positive. Our users knew well of how to use filter functions on digital platform and were able to accurately identify subcategories that fit their own needs. Additionally, a pattern of users preferences for the hierarchy ordering of the filtering system was discovered and led to our second insight:

#Observation 5#
Community names first, personal objectives second.
All users prefered to use their personal objectives (like to find better education resources) as guidelines to search for services. Meanwhile, they prefered to use community names as the first layer filtering labels, because they believed that the services categorized under their own community labels have larger possibility to meet their objectives. 

As we noticed that long-term and frequent repetitions and passive waiting time are the triggers for users to remember and notice the information, our second design requirement along with its corresponding design decision were made:

#Design Requirement 3# Speak Their Languages​​​​​​​​​​​​​​, Design for Their Communities

Tested Concept Group #3
Authoritative and Positive Correlations
1 Insight, 2 Observations, 1 Design Requirement, 1 Design Decisions

This group of concepts aimed at explore possibilities of tying more authoritative and positive media to city services and their outreach channels. 

The tested prototypes utilized existing resources and media generally trusted by immigrant residents(like bank promotion materials and utility bill pay portals) as outreach channels for city service information.
The testing results showed that the authoritativeness of the media we utilized in the concepts could not help our users to immediately build trust on the city service information. Though most information carried in our prototypes fit their actual personal needs, users showed obvious hesitations in their reactions to the information carried in our prototypes. During the conversations, many users mentioned the people who they trust rather than the organizations or platforms they trust:

#Observation 6#
Elder's voices are trusted.
The most trusted sources of information for new immigrants are elder immigrants who settled in Chicago earlier than them, and the most effective channels of information for them are words of mouth.

This observation aligned with the outreach strategy Chicago Office of New Americans (ONA) were using at that time. Form the stakeholder interview at the very beginning, we learnt that ONA was recruiting immigrant community representatives (called the Elders) as their information outlets. However, as we talking to the immigrant families we visited, none of them knew about the existence of ONA and its excellent prompts and services for Chicago immigrants. The information conveyed through the community Elders' words did not successfully become a word of mouth message that people generally trusted.

#Research Pivot# 
Gaps were still not bridged. At this point, we believed that there should be a deeper insight behind this observation that could become a game changer for the whole project. Therefore, we decided to pivot to do deeper research focus on how do immigrant residents screen, utilize and redistribute information they received from other people.

Pivot to deeper research to find the real opportunity

Though we narrowed the research question to focus on how do users deal with information from other people, we broadened our research target to include old immigrant residents who settled in Chicago decades ago, for opportunities to study how the new immigrant residents' trusted ones receive and pass the information.


#In-depth Interviews# We decided to conduct in-depth interviews with the users, so that we could sit down with them to slowly but detailly talk about their past experiences, some of which we thought may involve sensitive negative emotions. 

#3 New Immigrant Families# We connected back to 3 immigrant families who participated our initial concept testings, 2 from Chinatown and 1 from Pilson, for the interviews.

#2 Old Immigrants#  2 of the new immigrant families introduced us to their immigrant friends who were their trusted "Elders" in the community.


#1 Key Observations#

#1 Insight# The Game Changer

#Main Opportunity Area#

#Final Design Direction#
The Game Changing Insight
They Trust the Stories, Not the People

The interviews focused on two main topics - who they trust and who they do not trust​​​​​​​

All the users only expressed fully trust on one or two people. Unsurprisingly, the trusted ones mentioned were mostly people with similar background. However, many of the untrusted ones were also same background people. Therefore, the degree of trust is not directly related to the background similaritySo what do directly relate to trust? As we digged deeper into what triggered trust or distrust, a pattern was uncovered:

#Observation 7#
Two triggers for trust or distrust: personal experience and stories of other people
Successes and frustrations experienced in person gives people a sense of how trustworthy a person is. While their impressions and knowledges of a stranger are usually generated from stories of other people interacting with this stranger. 
What excited us next was that the same pattern also appeared on when we studied how people's perspective on city services were shaped. Recalling all the conversations with our users, there was always a "They used the service before." following behind the "They said that the service was good/bad." Our game changing insight was then synthesized:

What we were wondering at this point was that, people trusted stories and have their own story resources, but why were they not hearing the stories of the excellent city services that was currently offered? We knew something was going wrong with the word of mouth stories.

The Key Opportunity Area
Things Have Changed, But Stories Haven't

During the interviews, new immigrant families mentioned a lot about how they listened to their old immigrant friends advice to avoid fraud organizations and bad services when they first arrived in Chicago. While the stories of old immigrants were more bad memories of how they were defrauded by illegal organizations or suffered from bad staff attitudes and tedious procedures of city services. After mapping and comparing the stories told by the old and new immigrant residents, we uncovered the connection between them.

By the time when the old immigrants first arrived in Chicago decades ago, their only social connections here were the local organizations, some of which may be fraudsters, and their most direct resources were the city services, some of which may be poorly designed. After experiencing countless disappointments, frustrations and hurts, they no longer wanted to explore newly emerged local organizations and city services, but had spent the years under extreme self-protections to minimize losses.

However, kind people like them, despite being wary of the world due to all their negative experiences, still wanted to protect newcomers from these pains. Therefore, when facing new immigrants who just came to Chicago asking for their advice, they chose to use their past painful stories to warn them to be away from fraudulent organizations and avoid poor city services. 

In fact, in the past few decades, Chicago's most city services and immigrant community organizations have become welcoming and valuable after many iterations and upgrades. However, new immigrants to Chicago who have heard too many negative old stories have lost their willingness to explore the unfamiliar organizations and city services. As a result, immigrant residents were missing the high quality city services and meanwhile those services were losing the opportunities to be known through stories.

The discovery of this opportunity area drove our project to a very actionable design direction with many innovative possibilities:​​​​​​​

#Final Design Direction# Up-to-date Story Sharing
How Might We 
• Introduce new stories of improved or newly emerged city services to immigrant residents
• Encourage sharing of immigrant residents' own new stories within the immigrant communities
Testing WITH Service Providers TO POLISH FINAL CONCEPt

After brainstorming, filtering, integrating and iterating our ideas with the final design direction and design requirements, we conducted a initial service blueprint for our final concept. We then contacted back to our client and the stakeholders involved in the service blueprint for a concept testing session to polish the details of the blueprint from the service providers' perspective.​​​​​​​

#FINAL CONCEPT# Dear Chicago
Dear Chicago is a story sharing platform that allows immigrant residents to share and listen to service needs based stories in their native languages through online archive or offline physical listening stations. Label filtering system is built into the online archive and outreach channels are implemented into immigrant residents' life environment.
Testing Methods

#Focus Group# We arranged an online meeting session with our client and representatives Office of New Americans to detailly go through our design and consult the feasibility and viability of all details in the service blueprint.


Some minor changes were make to reduce the service providers' efforts in order to make the whole concept more actionable. We simplified the submitted story screening process and involved more city departments to share the responsibilities of initiating story sharing of new city services.

Final Concept and Impact

The final concept was presented to our client and other city departments representatives through a user story of how a newly arrived Chicago immigrant utilizes city services under Dear Chicago's help while trying to start a restaurant business. Since most of the audiences were from a non-design background, we chose to integrate the detail explanation of the key features and touch points into the user story and let the story to lead the presentation.

Client Feedback

In our earlier stakeholder research, we learned that for city departments, the threshold for mobilizing resources to build a complete new service system from scratch could be very high. While Dear Chicago was such a design concept that required the city to mobilize plenty resources to realize. Although we worked very hard to reduce the effort required by service providers while refining the final concept, we were still worried about whether our audience will accept such an unprecedented concept that require large upfront investment. 

However, the very positive feedback we received right after the presentation dispelled our worry. Then 3 weeks after the presentation, we were so happy to receive an email from our client telling us that audiences who watched our presentation were still thinking about Dear Chicago and chatting about how to make it happen. “It's a sign of cultural change.” said our client Jason Kunesh. It was such a pleasure for us to see that our research, our design and the story we told not only provided value to our lovely users, but also influenced the non-design audiences.

User Story

Key Touchpoints

Service Blueprint


Thanks to 

My excellent team

Our client Jason Kunesh from DoIT

All the City of Chicago staffs who helped with our research

Special thanks to 

All the lovely Chicago residents who shared their valuable stories with us
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