Earlier this year, client Jarad Bingham came to Simple Focus with a challenge: Make it easy to assistance to asset-deprived people from your phone.

It’s not a simple challenge. If you’ve ever been approached by a person on the street, you know it’s a situation loaded with social anxiety. The encounter often happens quickly and awkwardly. If you do hand over cash, you’re left wondering: did I actually help them, or did I just fuel a drug or alcohol habit?

Jarad, who has worked with Memphis’ homeless population for years, believed there was a better way.

The Brief

Jarad’s idea was for an app that connects with local shelters, restaurants, and transit systems to enable users to provide something more specific than just cash. You could book a night at a nearby shelter, call a Lyft, and offer a food token in a few quick taps.

A full build out with multiple integrations like this would be expensive. To get a better idea of the scope, Jarad asked us to create a map of all the possible routes a user might take during an interaction. And to impress potential investors, he also asked us to create an interactive prototype of the happy path.

The Solution

To start, I sat down with Kerry Crawford, our Director of Research and Strategy, to create the architecture and flow of the app. We role-played a few different types of interactions to get a feel of how an average situation might play out, relying on our own experiences and Jarad’s expertise to guide us.

It soon became obvious that while some integrations—like searching a database of local shelters—would be relatively straightforward, others would be extremely complex. To offer food to a stranger, for example, involves all sorts of variables: allergens, dietary preference, third-party cashiers, corporate partnership, and special menu selections. Would restaurants even want us sending homeless people into their restaurants to pick up orders?

Kerry took the lead on mapping what we knew would be three distinct subpaths: offering food, offering shelter, and offering a ride. Any of these three could be combined with any other, multiplying the complexity. And at any point the interaction might have to be terminated—say, if the asker walked away unexpectedly.

An early user flow for HLPR.

With our flow map created, we now, at least, knew what it was we didn’t know. So we set about creating a defined experience, one that we could base a prototype around. We agreed that offering a night at the shelter and then a ride to that shelter made the most sense, and showed off the idea of the app without distracting the audience with too many variables.

Kerry then created documentation for the happy path, listing every screen we’d need to design and the requirements for each.

When it came time to design the prototype, I decided to use InVision Studio, knowing that its advanced interaction tools would enable us to make the app feel more real. With Kerry’s paper prototypes in hand, I started by roughing out every screen I knew we’d need without creating any animations just yet.

Since this app was in its infancy, Jarad had no real direction to give on branding or UI style, other than wanting to make it feel like a positive, supportive experience. We were more focused on the at this stage anyway, but a level of polish would be required to impress investors. I settled on a neutral purple (the “in” color, these days) as a primary color, with an idea to incorporate illustrations to add a human touch.

With Jarad’s approval of the screen layouts, it came time to design the interactions and transitions from screen to screen. This is where the app started to come to life.

To finish things off, I created three quick illustrations for the onboarding screens.

The Result

The client was thrilled with the final product and has begun pitching the app to local investors and city leaders using our prototype and flow map. Simple Focus is currently working on scoping a real build-out of the app for when the funding is complete. 🎉

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