Harnessing User Experience Design to Tackle Homelessness

Becoming a Golden Hawk means more than just cheering on our (really good) varsity teams – it means being a student who cares about their community, who works hard in the classroom, and who takes advantage of all the learning opportunities that can happen outside the classroom, too.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s User Experience Design (UXD) program is tackling large, complex issues like housing insecurity in the 2022-2023 academic year. The theme, “Design to End Homelessness,” focuses on designing products, services, and policies to provide safe shelter for everyone.

“We want students to sink their teeth into problems that matter,” says Patrick Boot, strategic relationship officer in Laurier’s UXD program. “We don’t dictate what matters to people, but these are real problems that, in our opinion, are worth solving. UX and human-centered design has a huge role to play.”

The first-year Design Thinking I class is working with the Region of Waterloo to see if there’s a better solution for the pocket cards that list supports and resources for people experiencing homelessness. UX is so much bigger than creating apps or websites. The user-centred design of everything can be policy, building, design, processes, services, as well as digital touchpoints for all of those.

In fall 2022, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Centre for Research on Security Practices (CRSP) hosted a conference on fostering community responses to homelessness, which featured presentations from leading scholars from across Canada addressing key challenges related to homelessness in mid-sized cities. UXD program coordinator Abby Goodrum has hired fourth year UXD student Taniya Khangura to support student-led solutions throughout the academic year by serving as a bridge between students in the UX program and research discussions around housing insecurity issues.

The Design for Change Challenge returns in 2023 with a focus on tackling issues surrounding homelessness and housing insecurity. Details on the challenge and how to register will be launched in January 2023.

In 2020, the UXD program pivoted its internship focus to help make it possible for non-profits to hire UXD students. Students worked for non-profits such as Brantwood Community Services, Black Moms Connection, the SHORE Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton and Hamilton. This year, Goodrum and Boot are looking to place 10 students with partner organizations that are tackling issues of housing insecurity.

Many parts of this year’s UXD theme, including the Design for Change challenge and community-based internships, were made possible thanks to a donation from Scotiabank.

This article was originally published on Wilfrid Laurier University. According to the Homeless Hub, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Canada has increased by 30% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help combat this, it is essential to use user experience design to create products, services, and policies that provide safe shelter for everyone. By utilizing user-centred design, we can create solutions that address the root causes of homelessness and create lasting change.

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