Nov. 30, 2022Print | PDF
How can human-centred design help with large, complex issues like housing insecurity? That’s what students in Wilfrid Laurier University’s User Experience Design (UXD) program are tackling in the 2022-2023 academic year.
The theme, “Design to End Homelessness,” focuses on housing insecurity and 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.”
This theme has already influenced projects and partnerships for the classes students are taking. For example, 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.
“There are so many avenues to take when it comes to designing for homelessness, for example policy issues, or looking at it from a service perspective,” says Abby Goodrum, professor and program coordinator of Laurier’s UXD program. “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.”
The idea for the theme was born out of research by Erin Dej, assistant professor of Criminology, and Carrie Sanders, professor of Criminology and director of Laurier’s Centre for Research on Security Practices (CRSP).
In fall 2022, 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.
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.
“Our year’s theme of designing to end homelessness will culminate in the nation-wide Design for Change challenge that will launch in January,” says Goodrum.
In 2021, the Design for Change Challenge saw more than 120 participants from nearly 50 universities and colleges across Canada. Students were tasked with developing and designing solutions to transform social behaviour toward greener and more sustainable practices. Prizes totalling $8,500 were given to the top three teams.
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.
“There’s not one thing that is going to solve homelessness, but this is going to be a portfolio of solutions to different facets of homelessness,” says Boot.
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.
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