I am a connector. With research, I aim to bridge the gap between designers, engineers, and their users.
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A navigation tool for first responders that leverages crowd-sourcing and database querying

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10 Weeks
Sep 2017 - Dec 2017



User/Usability Research
Project Management


Vijay Farmah
Shin Liu


Our team defined a "smart city" as a city that uses emerging technologies like crowd-sourcing and IoT to promote efficiency for citizens. We aimed to create something that would empower the city's emergency resilience.


We were tasked to design something for a “smart city” in 10 weeks for our "Ideation Studio" course. The prompt was open, and the requirements were to find a problem space and take a design from inception to high fidelity visual specs.

How might we empower emergency resilience in a city using emerging technologies?



We wanted to practice following a Human-Centered Design approach and thus conducted research through all parts of the ideation process, from generative research to usability testing. We used insights from each research activity to inform about our problem space and add to our final design.

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In-City Intervention (Scavenger Hunt)


Problem Setting | 14 Participants

Through secondary research in our first week of the project, we decided on the general space of crisis management, touched by the tragedies pervading the news like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the Las Vegas shooting. To identify problem areas in emergency preparation and response in Seattle through primary research, we conducted an "in-city intervention." This was a practice in guerrilla user research since we only had a week to design the experiment, recruit, and carry out.

We chose to conduct a timed scavenger hunt as a low-budget way to simulate the urgency and panic that comes in a crisis without having to create an actual crisis.  Participants were to find 5 hidden pictures of objects around a park in 5 minutes to receive a Starbucks gift card. This activity was open to the public, and recruitment was advertised through online forums like reddit and Craigslist and on fliers posted throughout the park in which the scavenger hunt took place. We observed participants' movements and tracked their paths throughout the park and also asked questions about their experience after they reported back to the table at the end of the hunt.


How do civilians move when under time pressure of a crisis?


Are people in Seattle prepared for a major crisis?


Break the ice for informal interviews about experiences in emergencies

 Participants finding one of the hunt items

Participants finding one of the hunt items

I’m definitely not prepared. I just don’t think Seattle will ever have any major emergency.
— Participant 2
 Talking to participants about their own emergency preparedness

Talking to participants about their own emergency preparedness



People are not prepared and do not think to prepare for a major crisis in Seattle


People do not move in organized ways while under pressure if they have not planned beforehand


Paper Prototype Testing


Problem Setting | 8 Participants

Our next assigned task was to practice paper prototype testing. After learning that Seattle citizens were not thinking about emergency preparation from our intervention, we decided to use this opportunity to make 2 paper prototypes that we thought might help in planning for emergencies and have civilians evaluate their desirability and utility to gain insight into what we could make to help civilians.


Learn if these prototypes can empower more efficiency and better coordination for civilians

Discover what types of technologies civilians would be willing to use in a crisis (eg. apps)

Use activity as jumping board for informal interviews about emergencies if questions not answered through testing alone

 RescuePool: An app that allows you to arrange and give rides out of the city when there is an emergency or orders to evacuate.

RescuePool: An app that allows you to arrange and give rides out of the city when there is an emergency or orders to evacuate.

 Crisis Care: An app that shows the locations of nearest emergency facilities and shelters, and also their wait times.

Crisis Care: An app that shows the locations of nearest emergency facilities and shelters, and also their wait times.

 A Seattle citizen testing our paper prototypes.

A Seattle citizen testing our paper prototypes.

In an emergency situation, I would never use this. I would never open up an app and see who is going to hit me up first. I could see a lot of people wanting to use something like this, but they probably wouldn’t think to download it. I wouldn’t. I mean, I may come around eventually, but I don’t even go to the doctor.
— Participant 6
We tried to call my dad but the phones didn’t work. They still don’t work.
— Participant 1 (was in the Mexico City Earthquake)
This is cool, but I don’t know how likely I would be to download something like this on my phone pre-disaster or crisis
— Participant 5


It would be difficult to force adoption of these apps, though perceived as useful

Rideshare apps are dependent on many active users, and if no one is motivated to download it and drive, it would provide little use

Apps are dependent on cell tower reception, which is spotty during major emergencies


Pivot to first responders since they have more infrastructure to be prepared. By helping the first responders, we hope it will have a trickle down effect to the citizens who are not prepared to help themselves.



Semi-Structured Interview


Problem Setting | 5 Participants

After pivoting to first responders as our target audience, we went to a local fire station and conducted interviews with firefighters and paramedics there. We did not go through official channels to schedule these interviews because it would take too long and we only had a week. So instead, knowing that there are always firefighters waiting for a call at the station, we walked over to the one near our school and rung the doorbell hoping for the best. We brought 2 paper prototypes (first responder versions of Crisis Care) to look at to break the ice and start the conversations. 

 Ringing the doorbell at Station 17

Ringing the doorbell at Station 17




Find out current emergency protocols and technologies of first responders


Learn about current pain points in emergency response process to find opportunities for design intervention

 Navigation system in current fire engines and ambulances that are a source of frustration because of lack of information given

Navigation system in current fire engines and ambulances that are a source of frustration because of lack of information given

 Paramedic testing a paper prototype

Paramedic testing a paper prototype

 Crisis Care for first responders paper prototype

Crisis Care for first responders paper prototype


    Emergency response technology is still very low-tech (radios, pagers, web-browser based navigators)

    The GPS systems on ambulances and fire rigs are a source of major frustration because they do not take into account the abnormal sizes of the emergency vehicles

    Real-time updates about roads and scenes are relayed only through radio and rely on word of mouth and memory

    First responders want technology that will help them focus more on the scene or the patient

    With these new insights and relationships formed with the local fire station, we updated our problem statement to focus on first responders and how to address their needs in crises:

    How might we help first responders be more efficient in responding to crises?


    InVision Prototype Testing


    Design Evaluation | 5 Participants

    Our response was to make an improved navigation system for first responders. Based on the information we gathered at Fire Station 17, we started making a low fidelity wireframe prototypes using Sketch and imported them into InVision to make interactive prototypes. We skipped making paper prototypes due to time constraints (favoring rapid prototyping and progression), constraints of the class deliverable, and because the concept was already an extension of one of our previous paper prototypes we tested with Station 17. We went back to Station 17 and tested with 4 firefighters. We also tested on an EMT who worked with a private ambulance company to get a different perspective before starting on the final prototype.


    Final Prototype

    Tailored Navigation and Crowd-Sourced Road Conditions

    Permanent navigation hindrances like weight limits and low clearances are taken account of in the route provided for the specific emergency vehicle. Temporary road obstructions like construction can be reported by other first responders on the network and are updated on the maps as well.

    I know these streets because I’ve been out here for 17 years. But when a guy leaves, he takes all his knowledge with him. So when a new guy comes in, sometimes it’s like, ‘does he know he can’t get under the Golden Gardens bridge in that truck?’
    — Participant 2 (firefighter)
    These things are made for little Hondas, not our trucks. So they’ll be telling us to make these turns that our rig can’t make.
    — Participant 3 (firefighter)
     Whiteboard in the front office of the station where firefighters write down information they hear through word of mouth about road obstructions and closures and fire hydrant shutoffs.

    Whiteboard in the front office of the station where firefighters write down information they hear through word of mouth about road obstructions and closures and fire hydrant shutoffs.


    Scene Preview

    Building information like the construction class and building size for scenes is also provided on the map (queried from the city's parcel database) so that firefighters can prepared before they arrive on scene. Additional information reported by other first responders who arrived on-scene first is also updated onto the map (how first responders report this information is covered below.)

    It would be nice if we could know what the building’s like before we get there. You know like a reinforced concrete building is gonna burn different than a woodframe house.
    — Participant 4 (firefighter)
    Sometimes the guys that get there first or dispatch will tell us about [the building] over the radio, but a picture’s worth a thousand words.
    — Participant 3 (firefighter)

    Parking Assistance

    When the vehicle gets within 2 blocks of the scene, the map switches to  "parking assistant" mode and marks entry points to the buildings and the closest active fire hydrants so that the driver can park in the most optimal location to respond to the scene.

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    There’s a lot of times the city shuts off the hydrants for maintenance without telling us, then we gotta look for one that works.
    — Participant 2 (firefighter)
    We just had this one call where we parked on the wrong side of the building because we didn’t know there was an entrance on the other side. So that was like 9 minutes getting in, then another 9 to get the patient out.
    — Participant 5 (paramedic)

    Reporting Road and On-Scene Conditions

    Navi allows first responders to report both road and on-scene conditions. This information uploads to other first responders' systems and maps and allows for more seamless information transfer than calling over the radio. This allows first responders to focus on responding to the scene or attending to a patient rather than trying to catch radioed information. 

    It’s 2017. Why can’t we use FaceTime or something and be like, ‘here, that’s what the road looks like’?
    — Participant 1 (paramedic)
     Radio and pager paramedics and firefighters use to relay all information, including road conditions and on-scene information.

    Radio and pager paramedics and firefighters use to relay all information, including road conditions and on-scene information.


    Full Prototype Feature Flow Videos


    Feedback from First Responders and Future Directions

    After finishing the project, we went back to Station 17 three months later to share our final prototypes and receive feedback. We received enthusiasm and suggestions for other features.

    Could you make it so that it gives you an alert when you’re about to crash into another truck? Few days ago, we just had a crash with two of the trucks hitting each other. It was too late when they saw each other.
    — Participant 1 (firefighter)
    This is great. Have you seen the things we use now? It seems like we’re always last with technology, but we have these tablets now so we should use them with stuff like this.
    — Participant 3 (firefighter)

    The Captain of the station also asked for information to pass off to the Fire Chief in hopes of escalating the concept to the city.



    01 Many things cannot be learned through secondary research alone, or it would take much longer to find out than just talking to people.

    02 Walking over to the nearest fire station and ringing the doorbell let us make quicker connections than if we had tried to recruit interviews with first responders through conventional methods. Sometimes you just have to try something and iterate quickly instead of planning everything beforehand.

    03 If I had more time and resources, I would have done a usability test inside of a moving car (or simulation) to optimize the button placements and sizes for use of the system in moving first response vehicles.

    04 Our team often referred to each other as a "dream team," as many decisions were made without much contention. This was especially true during the discussion to proceed with a better route navigator as our final design solution which honestly was decided within a day of our first visit to Station 17. At the time, this group synchronization was much appreciated because we could make decisions quickly and keep moving forward at a steady pace. However, I wonder if also having a more dissenting voice on the team would have pushed us to consider a completely different solution and made our final solution better in the end. If I could complete this project again, I might want to work with someone with a much different perspective than mine so that we could push each other to think outside of our current respective realms of thought and thus cover a wider range of solution ideation.