Or how we studied their routine and we improve it thanks to human-centered design.
In the modern era, daily routines developed so fast and a lot of cities have become so hyper in activity. Homelessness is one of the characteristics of the Hyper-city.
In the light of the economic crisis, a lot of citizens lost their jobs and were not able to afford the expenses of living in big cities, like Milan. In consequence, they stop in keeping up with the fast rhythm and they find themselves in the streets of the city with nothing… homeless.
In Milan, homeless people suffer from the weather conditions, illness and hygiene issues. Recently the situation got worse when the refugees increased in the city and they stopped receiving the aid they used to have from the charity associations. These associations used to provide them with food, shelter, medicines, and clothes. However, now they are more focused on refugees’ problems and their aid.
Our high-level goals were to:
- Develop a multipurpose solution to improve the health conditions of homeless
- Involve the association in this innovation process
- Make people aware of the homelessness problem
I worked for the first time in a multicultural team of 4 people. Together with my Italian teammates, we lead the research phase and the interaction with the user because the other two teammates weren’t able to understand Italian. In addition, I worked also as a prototyper and strategist for the association that we involved during the project.
We first build a knowledge about the economic crisis, the main actor related to the homeless and the policy plan of the city. All the data that we found in this phase were difficult to understand and complicated, so basically, we make it more visual:
Early insights from the field: the Infield Stories
After the on-desk research, we decided to get some inspiration and learn directly from our target user. We started contacting some association and we established a partnership with MIA (Milano In Azione), and we got our hands dirty, going out with them and start collecting the user’s story.
We created the “In-field Stories”. It was one of the best parts of the process, we really deep-dive into the lives of the homeless. We created some empathy with them, trying to put ourself in their point of view. Talking about my team, It was interesting to see the different insights that we created because of our different cultural background.
This are some of the best Infield Stories:
Maria is 53 years old and although she has an house in Naples, she prefers staying in the streets of Milan to receive the food, clothes and other services provided by the charity associations. One cold night, during the winter, she met Aziz (a Italian-tunisin baker, who lost his job because of bakery bankrupt); she was feeling cold and it was raining heavily so he offered her a blanket and since then they became a couple who live together in the piazza of the central station, sharing pizza and their blanked during the cold nights.
Matteo was born in Italy, he has a degree in Psychology and he became homeless when he lost his mother, and fell into a depression. He likes to help other homeless friends who live with him in the streets of Milan by giving medicine and other things that he manages to get from charity associations. The most difficult problem of sleeping on the street during the winter is the cold weather: the humidity often rises from the ground and it becomes difficult to find a dry place. He still dream about the sun of Spain, where he can meet some friends who have a bar and start working with them.
Thanks to the in field research, we were able to determinate what is the context of use of our product. Homeless are found mainly in the city center and in the stations, especially Stazione Centrale, Porta Garibaldi and Cadorna.
Basically, the homeless that are living in the center of Milan are the most inserted in the social context, they do not create problems and are known and supported by different people. The stations are home to the homeless with some social problem and drug abuse, while the few homeless people living in the suburbs are people with serious social and substance abuse problems who do not want contact with people.
We also try to understand their daily routine, and according to our Infield Stories we created a simple customer journey of their daily routine and their habits:
So, after investigating the habits of the homeless and their routine, it was obvious to us that they need insulation to protect them from weather conditions: humidity, rain, low temperature, and wind. Also, they need a bag-like to carry their belongings during the day while walking around the city.
How might we improve the live condition of the homeless during their actual routine?
The first prototype and deeper insights
The perfect product for the homeless has to be:
We started our design trying to maintain a beginner mindset because our main purpose was to answer a critical question quickly and see things from the user perspective.
The homeless were very familiar with the cardboard solution, so we started with this material. The cardboard was an important element to focus on while developing our design, due to the many advantages it offers to the homeless: partial insulation, availability, transportability and adaptability.
We tested early, often and we also failed a lot.
While testing the first prototype, we ultimately realized that the size of the folded product was critical.
So we started the process by enhancing this element through finding the right folds to keep our design compact, but we failed: the size of the cardboard remains too big.
After this tests, it became clear that using hard materials is not applicable to a compact product.
So we reduced the use of materials to the minimum. During the investigation of materials, we found flexible ones in folding and found a good potential: neoprene. Both keep the warmth, flexible to form, water repellent, and affordable. It turned out to be a good material to form and we reached an eye shape design to cover the body from all sides. Then by adding a rope, the second mockup developed to the third that transforms into a bag carrying their belongings. However, the high market price of neoprene was a big problem for us.
Our final solution was build by felt. In comparison with neoprene, seemed more practical in folding and shaping into a bag; also from the cost aspect, it was more affordable.
We went to some company to better understand how to work with it, how is produced, it’s cost and characteristics.
The advantage of felt is its ability to keep warmth, to be recycled and its low cost. Some felt fabrics are also waterproof, so they repel the water in case of rain. The material was flexible to shape and also the final mockup lead us to a prototype that was produced easily due to its simplicity. The production cost of such a product, in addition to material price and other pieces required for its functionality, presents a competitive advantage for our design.
The product when open looks like an eye shape: at the top part the width of the fabric is longer to protect the two sides of the human body from wind, and at the bottom, the fabric is held together to cover the legs of the user using Velcro and simple strap.
By pulling the polyester straps and closing the plastic locks, the whole fabric folds and transforms smoothly into a backpack. This backpack carries all their belongings during the day and is unfolded to be a sleeping mat at night. The sleeping-mat/backpack design has succeeded in satisfying most of the homeless’ needs.
The launch and the validation
The product was tested on field various time, and the feedbacks were amazing from both sides: the users and the association working with them.
So, how we bring Knapsack to the market?
To provide Knapsack to the homeless, we need to launch our campaign before “Piano Freddo” starts, so before the end of October.
The “Piano Freddo” is a plan from the municipality of Milan that involved much associations to help the homeless in the coldest period of the year.
The campaign is divided into three phases.
1.The first phase is communicating with the target donators through social media through showing the environment and the rough conditions the homeless live in.
2. The second phase, we create an advertisement about Knapsack and launch the campaign on “Kickstarter”.
3. The last phase we keep in touch with our community and show the progress of delivering the product to them.
Note: the campaign was stopped due to a private event of some components of the team.
What I bring home
That was my first real service design project. I learned how to interview people in order to get a meaningful answer. I enjoyed the teamwork in a multicultural group. I understood how to deal with external organization and how to work with them to solve a complex problem.