SEEING AND BEING SEEN
Providing reassurance, clarity, and empowerment as people reach out for services at the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
3-person client project
2.5 weeks (group)
1 week (solo, visual design)
accessibility design, user research, content strategy, competitive analysis, interaction design, interface design, prototyping, wireframing, usability testing, visual design
Sketch, InVision, paper, pen, permanent marker
We worked closely as a team for every step of the project. I took more of a leadership role in:
Peer Leadership: I mediated conflicts, maintained team morale, and facilitated group cohesion. To keep us on track, I wrote daily agendas and timeboxed each action item.
Content Strategy: I synthesized and edited our content iterations and wrote most of the intake questions.
Wireframing and Visual Design: I wireframed the most complex screens – the intake questions and recommendations – and added visual design after the project ended.
The LightHouse needs to create a community of warmth and belonging to engage new students and alumni.
A San Francisco-based nonprofit, the LightHouse provides rehabilitation skills, services, and support to people who are blind or visually impaired.
But after the programs end, people disappear. So, we set out to research what was missing from the student experience and how to keep people engaged in the community.
Provide reassurance, clarity, and empowerment in the very first interactions.
Our research revealed that when clients didn't receive guidance and support at the beginning, they didn't think to give back afterward.
So, we envisioned a new front door that would warmly welcome every new client, clarify where the journey would lead, and reinforce their courage in reaching out for help. To provide a solution that could be implemented right away, we designed an online onboarding flow that:
- Addresses clients holistically by exploring aspects of their life beyond their vision
- Outlines the first steps in the process
- Provides immediate recommendations
- Frees up staff to develop deeper connections with new clients
Strong beginnings lead to strong endings
Through interviews with four staff members, we learned that most of LightHouse's programs did not provide an onboarding process, roadmap, or mentorship for new students. The most successful programs, however, included opportunities to bond from the outset.
We soon realized that the problem wasn't at the end of the student experience, but at the beginning.
Without structured support in onboarding, no one thought to give back afterward.
The first day was the worst day
We conducted six intensive user interviews with former LightHouse students to explore the end-to-end experience. We also published a survey on Facebook, Quora, and Reddit to learn more generally about community engagement among people who are blind.
Every person we interviewed said their worst memory of the LightHouse was the first day.
People were overwhelmed by self-hatred, denial, and fear at losing their vision – and their agency.
"I just need to not be the one holding the baton."
Sam needs help navigating the road ahead so that she can regain her independence and realize her life goals are still within reach.
Everybody was Sam at one point
Two personas emerged from our user research: Gary, who has completed several LightHouse programs and wants to give back. And Sam, who has recently lost her vision and needs intervention.
We realized that Gary and Sam were actually the same person, only at different stages of the journey.
We chose Sam as our primary persona because not only could she easily slip through the cracks, but also we could transform her into an empowered alum who would eventually give back to the community.
Guiding with hope, not fear
We needed to help Sam start her first day not out of desperation and fear, but out of hope. In user interviews, we identified three components of hope that became our guiding principles – reassurance, clarity, and empowerment.
To determine where to insert these principles, we drew a user flow of the current onboarding process and identified three areas for growth:
- When clients first reach the LightHouse via phone or the website, they're usually turned away to navigate the California Department of Rehabilitation alone.
- The intake call and/or assessment exam feels too "transactional" to new clients and takes a lot of staff time.
- There's no orientation session to provide new clients with guidance or support.
We addressed the first two pain points by creating an online onboarding flow that would set the tone for everything else.
Investment builds community
To find inspiration for onboarding, we ran a competitive analysis on other Bay Area organizations that serve the blind as well as indirect competitors that have found success in community building.
Strategies included giving new members a task to complete, using inviting language at every touchpoint, providing resources for people to explore on their own.
Empowering new members upfront increases their investment in their own journey.
It's not how it looks, but how it sounds
When we sat down to start sketching, we ran into a problem. How do we test paper prototypes with people who are blind?
So, we drew our inspiration from the newly renovated LightHouse headquarters, which are designed for optimal acoustics.
Without sight, sound becomes the way people connect and find humanity in this space.
So, we focused on content strategy, because we found that word choice is incredibly important to people with low vision.
We conducted six usability tests using screen readers, magnification software, and even reading aloud to one tester who didn’t have either option. Each test took 1.5 hours.
Iterating for comfort and clarity
Three major goals guided our iterations:
Clarify the steps and payoff
We exaggerated the visual hierarchy of the steps of the process and the payoff because testers didn't realize they'd receive immediate recommendations.
Offer an "eject" option
We added language to reassure users that they could skip questions or call the LightHouse if they were frustrated with the flow.
Expand lifestyle questions
We renamed the "Lifestyle Questions" section and added questions about interests and activities to address the client more holistically.
The Next Steps
How well did we solve the problem?
We would conduct qualitative and quantitative research to evaluate how our solution works for others in this ecosystem, such as sighted loved ones, the front desk staff, and staff rehabilitation counselors.
# of phone calls
Are new clients actually making it through the flow, or are they calling in for help along the way?
Testing with loved ones
How well does this work for sighted people helping a loved one find services?
Do the rehabilitation counselors now have more time to do other tasks besides intake data collection?
Does the staff notice any difference in the emotional state or mental preparedness of new clients?
What would we work on next?
Our next sprints would focus on four main areas.
We would reorganize the rest of the website to reduce cognitive overload.
Regularly surveying clients during and after programs would help the LightHouse iterate on their programs.
A session held before programs begin would provide new clients with the information and tools they'll need.
Pairing alumni with new clients with similar interests or backgrounds would create a virtuous cycle.