Earlier this year we at Pro Bono Net launched JusticeImpactNetwork.org , a project of the Justice Impact Alliance co-designed with Pro Bono Net. The Justice Impact Network brings together justice-impacted individuals and families, students, and advocates to help impacted individuals and families find and utilize the resources they need to navigate the system, access the full power of the law, and unlock justice.
This project posed a particular challenge to design for three very different user groups:
- Justice-impacted individuals: People who have been impacted by the justice system either directly themselves or indirectly as a family member or friend. This includes being arrested, awaiting trial, or being currently or formerly incarcerated.
- Students: Graduates and undergraduates studying a range of legal-related areas.
- Advocates: Legal professionals such as paralegals and attorneys.
When brought together, these three groups create a powerful coalition to support people impacted by the justice system. At the same time, they all have diverging needs and comfort levels with digital technology. In this two-part series I’ll describe how we approached the design process and then how we trained people that were totally new to web design to be usability testing moderators.
The first step to designing for this project was to workshop what kinds of users we were building for in the first place. At the outset, we had a good idea that this would include multiple user groups but it wasn’t entirely clear yet just how many user types there were and how we should organize them into umbrella groups.
In the fall of 2021, We conducted three co-design workshops with the Justice Impact Alliance members to confirm our potential user groups and better understand their needs. At the outset, we had identified a minimum of two user groups: impacted people and advocates. Our partners at the Justice Impact Alliance recruited workshop participants from their network of allies, including from the Jailhouse Lawyers Initiative, Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, Legal Action Center, Unlock the Bar, and Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Program, among other places.
“We knew how immensely valuable and necessary the voices and lived experience of impacted people would be in developing JIN. We weren’t experienced tech developers, but as justice impacted leaders who had been in the justice field for quite some time we were acutely aware of how much the field has excluded, underrepresented, undervalued, and underutilized our people. To fill the gaps and better serve them JIN needed to better reflect our people and their needs. The co-design workshops gave us an edge in this department from the beginning.” — Dieter Tejada, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Justice Impact Alliance (JIA)
In our first workshop we split into two groups to focus on creating user profiles for those two groups. These were the types of questions we asked:
- Demographics: What’s relevant to knowing the basic demographics of our users? Age, location, occupation, ethnicity, income background, etc. It’s easy to get hung up here on minor details. The goal is a broad understanding of what kind of demographics you are serving, not a singular and highly detailed person.
- History and story: What led them to this point in their life? What has been their experience with the justice system? What is motivating them right now? This is all about origin stories and knowing the state your user is in today as they become introduced to your product.
- Role: What role do they play? Who do they serve and does anyone serve them? Who do they work with? The concept of a role needs to be flexible. For attorneys this is more straightforward but for impacted individuals it’s more complex. For the directly impacted individuals, the question of role is more about who they work with and who they have access to. For the families/friends of impacted people, it’s more about how they offer support and who they work with.
- Mindsets and behaviors: What emotions is this person experiencing? How do they approach the situation? Are they emotionally heightened and stressed? Are they calm? Are the advocates overloaded with work and if so, what are the consequences of that? This section is critical when it comes to designing the user experience (or “UX”, this is the overall vibe of the site). Knowing what emotions you are dealing with will help you design an experience to balance that out.
- Pain points and barriers: What roadblocks do they face? Where do they get stuck and blocked? What’s frustrating? What problems, and even solutions, have they already identified? Here we start with the presenting problems and then dig deeper to get at the root. Think of a plant, what’s above ground is the presenting problem, the obvious and apparent issues. Below ground is a root system that represents the deeper diagnosis of the pain point and barrier.
- Comfort with digital technology: How comfortable are your users with apps, websites, computers, smartphones, tablets, kiosks, etc? What devices do they have access to? At this point in the process, you are just guessing. Once you begin signing real-life users up for interviews or testing, you can include this as a survey question on the signup form. Use a numerical scale to track this 1–10. A 10 being technically fluent and 1 being totally unsure how to use the tool.
- Value of our product: What can we offer? How would our users see us as helpful? Think big and then drill down from there. This is about casting a wide net of possible value propositions that you can continue to refine and reiterate on. The final set of value propositions will be much more narrow which is good. You can’t do it all so do a few things well and build from there over time.
The next step was to identify the existing workflows of our various user groups. We created a flow chart template, using Miro.com, where our workshop participants could fill in sticky notes of what actions occur in their work. We used this to cover user groups but also to dig into the work of an actual team doing work to support justice-impacted individuals, the Jailhouse Lawyers Initiative (JLI) led by founder and legal empowerment leader Jhody Polk.
Here is how this chart works. The rows represent different people/roles involved in the workflow. The columns represent different steps along the way, a timeline. This means on the left, you’d see the earliest steps and on the right, the latest ones. Arrows indicate interactions and directions that information flows. Multiple things can be happening at the same time in which case a column contains several cards. I used characters from The Office to fill in an example workflow.
Here is a lesson we learned: Doing this as a group exercise is tricky to contain within a reasonable amount of time. The discussion can get lengthy with debate over small details. In the future, I plan to approach this differently, conducting some individual or 2:1 interviews and then constructing the timeline independently. We’d follow up by having our partners review it and send feedback to make sure we have it right. This will likely save everyone time and even increase accuracy. We wouldn’t cut out group workshops entirely, those are valuable for many reasons. I just think you can do less of those with higher impact.
Once we had an idea of who our users were, their various related current workflows, and the roles our partner organization played, we took all of that information and developed some personas and stories to present to our designer.
If you are effectively employing a user-centered design process, you may worry that you’ve identified way too many user groups to build for. You appreciate the nuances of the people you want to serve so well that you see them as 10 or more personas! It’s good to appreciate that nuance, that means you are effectively empathizing. In most cases though, you won’t be able to build 10 different workflows into one website.
Allow yourself to find ways to group them under different umbrellas so that you can continue with a feasible strategy. No product is perfect so know that you won’t meet every nuanced need and instead, focus on getting the biggest priorities covered in your feature set.
This strategy helped us make the decision to target three user groups; impacted individuals and their families, students, and advocates. These three personas represented umbrellas where the users underneath them shared enough commonality to move forward with designing those three workflows. This also helped our partner organization strengthen their target and hone in on an impactful launch strategy.
We then went through the design process, iterating over and over to get the workflows to fit these three very different user groups. We developed a working beta site of the design and began preparing for usability testing. That’s next in Part II.
This blog was originally published by Ariadne Brazo on Medium. You can view the original post, here.