Despite the urgency of the matter, the refugee resettlement process often consists of months and months of waiting, hours of preparation, bottomless stacks of forms and materials, and countless interviews and appointments.
A technical assistance project of the International Rescue Committee, the Cultural Orientation Resource Exchange (CORE) supports refugee resettlement staff by developing orientation tools and resources for refugees arriving to the United States as part of the Refugee Admissions Program. With the goal of helping refugees adjust to their new homes and integrate into their new communities quickly, CORE came to ISL looking for a digital solution that would bridge the gap between pre-departure and post-arrival refugee resettlement experiences and increase comprehension around cultural and transition information. A key tenet of cultural orientation for refugees is self-sufficiency — but given the stress, complexities, and information overload that go along with the resettlement process, that vital information can be difficult to process and retain over time. The result was Settle In.
Since its launch, Settle In has been used during pre-departure cultural orientation overseas. In the United States, the app has been used in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In order to thoughtfully approach the challenge at hand, we embarked on a comprehensive discovery phase that included interviewing and surveying stakeholders around the globe, comparative analyses, familiarizing ourselves with cultural orientation curriculum, and lots and lots of research.
Upon completion, we arrived at a set of strategic insights that ultimately defined our UX and design direction for the entire product.
1) Let the user control their journey.
2) Be consistent and concise.
3) Create relatable scenarios.
4) Prioritize simple, visual elements.
5) Reiterate material and assess knowledge.
6) Avoid personally identifiable info.
Hearing so many unique perspectives during the caseworker and refugee interviews really reinforced the idea that no two resettlement experiences are alike—and that our design was going to have to be flexible.
The fact that refugees experience so much information fatigue during their resettlement journey largely informed our gamification and content strategy in that we knew we needed to design a system that would allow refugees to revisit material over time in formats that aligned with their unique learning styles.
We implemented the Tell, Show, Do, Apply learning model as a lesson framework for its proven ability to help users retain information over time. The sheer simplicity and efficacy of the Tell, Show, Do, Apply model naturally lends itself to mobile app design. This framework served as our North Star when deciding how to approach content and questions formats for our lessons.
To many, refugee resettlement is a sensitive, controversial process—especially from a privacy standpoint. Due to user confidentiality precautions, it was too risky to store personal information in the application. Instead, we made it easy for users to skip around to lessons that interest them or pick up where they left without having to log in. Flexibility was the cornerstone of our approach to user experience, and proved to be a fun design challenge to overcome.
I can’t think of a single conversation that wasn’t reflected in the end product.
We began by branding and naming the application, landing on Settle In – a reminder to the user that the app is meant to be a comforting mechanism to own and understand your resettlement process. From there we designed a universal iconography set, which mimicked airport way-finding, and a color scheme, which was devoid of colors representative of any particular nation.
To account for English and Arabic speakers, we created a design system that enabled both left-to-right and right-to-left reading across the app and integrated curriculum. We integrated animated tool tips that added contextual hints for non tech-savvy users, prompting them using motion (rather than language) to access Settle In’s features.
Before finalizing any UX or visual design decisions, we tested our prototype with real users who had recently resettled to the United States. While we did uncover a handful of UI design optimizations, the usability tests ultimately validated our hypothesis that the gamification format was an effective learning framework. Users were extremely receptive to the various question and answer formats, and expressed that having access to this type of information throughout their resettlement journey would have been extremely helpful.
Up Next: Phase 2!
The first iteration of Settle In launched in the Google Play and App Stores in March 2018. After a hell of a launch party with our clients and International Rescue Committee stakeholders, we talked through project wins and opportunities at a full-team retrospective and started looking ahead to Settle In, Phase 2. Stay tuned!