Working with Streetlives, Infoxchange, academic experts and team young people with lived experience, we led the effort to research, design, and prototype a new digital service for youth experiencing homelessness in New York City.
The challenge was to engage key stakeholders in creating a digital offering addressing the specific needs of youth experiencing homelessness. Our solution was designing a service that, at its core, provides meaningful, relevant, and accurate information that empowers those navigating youth homelessness. While several digital/mobile tools purport to help people address the complex situations faced while experiencing homelessness, very few have a youth-centric focus. The landscape of service offerings for this group of young people often presents a quagmire of eligibility requirements, availability, and accuracy.
We conducted six workshops and thirty-six interviews with individuals from across the spectrum of homeless youth service delivery, from youth with lived experience to federal funders to runaway homeless youth (RHY) service providers, to develop a comprehensive understanding of the youth homelessness ecosystem in NYC. A range of strategies, such as archival research to participatory workshops and individual interviews, were used to gather evidence and information about the experience of youth homelessness in NYC.
We framed the stakeholder engagements and conversations to identify barriers and solutions. The context for all discussions was the journey young people take from becoming homeless to transitioning out of system support. Based on their own experience navigating the space, our young people defined the journey, consisting of three stages containing nine smaller steps.
This final report provides an overview of the research activities and findings that, taken together, inform and provide the concept for a new digital service for New York City.
The recommended solution provides confidence and transparency to service users looking for the right service to meet their needs and new data for system providers and funders to accelerate and improve service provision. This solution is an ecosystem of tools and services, working together to holistically address the issues confronting youth on the verge of or experiencing homelessness. Designed to help youth navigate, find, and connect with providers in a friendly manner, it bridges the gap between those experiencing housing instability and the provider network with tools to help the provider manage intake, availability, and services. Fundamentally, it establishes a centralized, interoperable dataset that can be used freely by other parties.
To successfully drive better outcomes for young people experiencing or facing homelessness, our recommendation is supported by a range of service and system changes. These systemic changes are an essential aspect of the report, but at a high level, include:
- How to incentivize service providers to engage with the solution
- How we might use our solution to help the service system better “see” and understand itself and where issues might lie
- What we measure (and how) to determine the impact of the solution, and how this supports a positive feedback loop to ensure improved service provision
- How we engage, upskill, and retain young people with lived experience to provide support to their peers
- What concerns, e.g., privacy, data sovereignty, digital inclusion, etc., might require government support or reform for effective implementation
We establish a virtuous cycle: more and better information, enabling users to more quickly and confidently connect to provider services, more learning from the use of the platform – especially about when young people need help – and improved, more targeted services from that learning. People can be helped earlier and earlier in the cycle of homelessness, with more and better prevention services, thereby reducing homelessness.
In the early 2000s, the Port Authority commissioned Mijksenaar to develop a system-wide wayfinding standard, one that would ultimately be adopted by all PANYNJ airports and terminals. The system showcased the value of a uniform system across all the terminals within the airport, and became a global benchmark. Over the years however, many changes, from increased security protocols, additional ground transportation options, additional airline service offerings, and general changes to passenger flows conspired to a subpar experience. Even then-Vice President Biden described LaGuardia as being akin to a “third-world airport”.
As part of a significant investment into its aviation facilities, the Port Authority approached our design team to revamp its Wayfinding Standards. This provided a singular opportunity to refresh the Port Authority wayfinding system to provide a unified, cohesive, 21-century experience for all its airports.
We focused on imparting the bold, energetic and no-nonsense personality of the New York/New Jersey region into the passenger experience. The airport is but a part of a larger transportation experience, so we sought to align the airports to the region’s iconic transport vernacular to create a more seamless journey.
To that end, we commissioned a custom, backlighting-optimized version of Helvetica Now and created a set of pictograms to match. We designed a sign box that elevates signage from flat graphics to dimensional blocks of color, recognizable from more angles. They act as beacons to connect people to their destinations, enabling quick, subconscious recognition.
A grid-based, modular sign system now allows for precise sizing and scale of any element, depending on their proximity to the user and the type of information. This modular system also ensures that design teams working on the implementation and maintenance of the system can ensure consistency in disparate spatial conditions.
We went beyond the look and feel to improve the destinations being offered. A harmonized, airport-wide gate naming approach serves as a positioning tool for all users—especially connecting passengers—to understand and navigate their journey, from A10 to A12 or... E45. To mitigate passenger confusion, some destinations are renamed to be more descriptive: the AirTrain station “Federal Circle”, is renamed to “Rental Car Center”.
We expanded guidelines on digital technologies, anticipating that digital signage will be increasingly commonplace. Importantly, we took care to design the guidelines to be technology-agnostic: we did not prescribe specific digital touchpoints, but developed a design system flexible enough to accommodate both existing and future platforms.
The design system was officially released to terminal operators, developers and designers in the fall of 2020. The principles set forth in the manual have been embraced and applauded for their clarity, comprehensiveness, and design sensibility. In the coming years, existing terminals will be retrofitted with the new standards, while new terminal openings, starting with the new Terminal A at EWR, to be completed in 2022, will be the first new terminal to incorporate the fully, internally-lit sign system. Terminal operators have already begun using the new standards for temporary signage during construction.