Crafting a Vision of Housing Assist
Though there are almost a dozen service providers, one of the big challenges for homeowners is to actually apply for assistance. The variety of providers and the complex and demanding application forms can lead to residents giving up or getting less help than they are eligible for.
To better help residents, I’m developing a concept for a streamlined, online application process that makes it easier and faster for residents to apply for all services for which they may be eligible.
This past week has been exciting as I worked to develop the vision for a long term solution. From sketching through digital creation, I worked to create a variety of media to better visualize and communicate the vision.
How does Housing Assist really work? A service blueprint is a diagram that illustrates how a service works. Though Housing Assist may seem like a product – that is, an online application software – the product is used over time and in concert with multiple parties. That process of use is more like a service than a static product. For this reason, a service blueprint helps clarify how the value is created that the product is intended to support across the ecosystem of users and service providers.
In the image below, you can read the service blueprint left to right, and every column is a phase or moment in time. The top row represents what the user, (read “resident”,) is doing. The “Front Stage” is that place where someone or something is visible and interacting with the resident. This could be a computer screen or a person. In this service blueprint, all Front Stage interactions represent the assisting service provider.
Backstage represents all those things people do “behind the scenes” to support the service, and supporting processes represent things like policies and automatic transactions that the service needs to support its functioning.
One of the first things I worked on was the service blueprint because it helps to create such a clear, big picture of what’s happening. You can see the initial sketch below it.
Storyboards also provide a clear picture of how the service works. The beauty of storyboards is that by making up a story about the product, we tune into our instincts for assessing its likelihood of working. We are the storyteller but also become the audience as we listen to the story we’re weaving. As we listen, we start to ask ourselves all sorts of questions about the story.
What happens next? How did that happen? Who told him about the service? Would he really react that way? Who is this “user” anyway?
Our human capacity and desire to understand causality comes to life when we tell stories, and it helps us take the temperature of their feasibility. Whenever there are gaps, to the extent our creativity is active, we will fill in the gaps and make a better, more seamless story.
Below is the latest iteration of the Housing Assist storyboard.
Customer Journey Map
Similar to a storyboard, a customer journey map tells the story of the “user” but in a more abstracted sense. It isn’t the story of Gary, as in the storyboard, but the average person who uses the service.
In this diagram, you can see that I propose the resident becomes aware of Housing Assist through one of a variety of channels. Afterward, he or she will go through four stages to complete the housing repair application. By breaking it into stages and front-loading eligibility assessment for all programs and service providers, this ideal vision for Housing Assist saves residents and service providers time, and saved time means better use of resources.
One thing to note is the assignment of an assisting service provider. Though Housing Assist is meant to support and guide users through the application, I believe they would necessarily need a human to connect with for the challenging questions or simply because it provides assurance that the application will lead to a benefit. The assisting provider is determined by the eligibility profile of the resident and the provider’s capacity. If there’s a likelihood the resident will need services offered by a different provider from the assisting one, then a collaborating provider is informed. This will allow service providers to more efficiently and effectively coordinate their services with a resident.
What are wireframes anyway? The common term for pictures of an application is “wireframe”. In order to visualize the product, I developed wireframes for multiple points in the application journey. It was a long road to getting to that point, however.
I created scenarios that told a story about the use of the product.
Afterward, I developed a diagram called an information architecture map to represent all the sections and features of the product that a resident could utilize in the course of using Housing Assist.
Next I sketched wireframes from key points along the way, and finally I rendered them in a digital format.
Normally I would test how well user’s could understand the wireframes before bringing them to the fidelity seen below, but I needed just a couple at a high fidelity for this week to demonstrate Housing Assist in a presentation. I will be doing usability testing and refining the wireframes in the coming weeks.
The final item I made this week was a pitch deck. A pitch deck is a presentation slide deck meant for pitching an idea to investors. There are “presentation” pitch decks – meant for presenting of course – and there are “reading” pitch decks – meant to be read by individuals like a brochure. This Pitch Deck is a reading deck. It takes a common format.
- How it works
- Traction (which means proof that people want the solution devised)
- Ask/Next Steps
As for next week, I will be shifting back to focus on the minimum viable product – the single application form I spoke of last week and in the deck.
Meals on Wheels has agreed to partner in piloting the form to do intake with prospective clients, and if the stars are aligned we will be able to fit in some testing this coming week. I look forward to testing and refining the form and will keep you all updated.