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Case Study



The State of Hawai'i Office of Planning & Sustainable Development's Special Plans Branch was awarded a Statewide Planning Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to develop an economic recovery and resiliency plan for Hawaiʻi. Known as the Hawai'i Economic Recovery & Resilience (HIERR) Project, this planning process is designed to learn from the economic impacts and experiences of hardship associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to inform and enable actions toward a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable economy.

The Challenge

One project objective is to identify gaps and strategies to mitigate Hawai'i's economic vulnerabilities and hardships revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it was envisioned that an online discussion board would be created as an optional space for community dialogue to facilitate deep thinking, reflection, and connection alongside the engagement. Ideally, participants would be encouraged to participate in the discussion board before, during, and following the workshop.

Our goal is to determine/implement optimal UX design and flow for in-person and self-guided engagement with the surveys and online discussion board.


Our high-level goals were to:

  1. Create moderator documentation for in-person workshops that is easy to use for everyone, everywhere.

  2. Give online users more control through self-guided documentation.

  3. Create an innovative and deeper engagement platform out of Peer-board.


I provided critical concept design solutions for the optimal user experience between Feb 27th, 2023, and March 17th, and collaborated with three other designers - Christopher Rini, Joseph Caouette, and Justin Pejman.

In addition, I worked alongside the Code for Hawaii and HIERR on risk analysis, usability testing, and a journey flow during the sandbox Hackathon, which was later implemented into the design.

I worked on the project's User Research, Ideation, Journey maps, and Usability testing while the documentation started to be built by my teammates.

Kick Off

Picking Up The Pieces

At the project's outset, we weren't given a clear mission or specific goals for the HIERR experience. So, we were initially mislaid without pre-existing insights and being far from Hawaii. However, not losing hope, we repeatedly partnered with HIERR Project representatives Scott, David, and Lauren understand the project's vision and values in depth. From there, we got a lead from the Anthology discussion group from Hawaii, in the form of qualitative and quantitative insights enough to lay the foundation for our User Research work.

Qualitative Data

Humanizing the quantitative data.

Quantitative Data

To make informed decisions using qualitative data that was specific to the counties they serve in order to understand the needs of the community.

Early Insights from the Field

We immediately understood the importance of agile methodology in this particular project. I suggested to my partners that we immediately interview users and test the existing discussion board and survey form. This was voted in my say among my peers. I also talked particularly about confidence levels regarding traditional and Non-traditional use of the technology, which we later dubbed as low confidence or high. In the next meeting, our Clients reflected on similar challenges.

We began our research journey by conducting interviews and early stage usability testing in the most problematic areas of focus, i.e., Tech proficiency and Introvercy. We aimed to understand the challenges users face online while communicating about their vulnerabilities.

A look inside Affinity Mapping. The detailed one can be accessed here

Platform Features

The best platforms have simple input rules (formatting) to make it easy to post and comment


I should care enough for that cause.


I am open to experimenting with new technology

Learning Preferences

Both videos and articles for guidance are preferred.  

4 key takeaways from the interviews were -

In general, users utilize multiple different platforms to learn more, even if they have a particular preference of one or two

-This seems independent to tech proficiency

-Platforms that have come up: Twitter, Reddit, Discord, NextDoor, LinkedIn, Facebook

-Features that should be included: personalized notifications, forum moderation, post sorting, comment threads

-To keep people engaged we need admin participation, honest discussion vs. mudslinging, active community.

  • Discord
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn


Users Preference changed overtime

I was surprised by the Usibility testing results that we found. The users felt like it had minor annoyances, rather than major problems faced by some social media. But after some thinking, it became clearer that users expected the experience to just work with minimal effort. As Peer-board became more integral towards the end of the test, their expectations evolved.


Deeper Insights

Working backward from Perfect

The majority of our participants found that the Peerboard site was simple to understand and to use. We asked our participants to complete three different tasks: create an account, create a post, and respond to another user’s post. All three tasks had an 83% completion rate which reaffirmed our belief that Peerboard is as easy to use as we thought. However, 80% of testers did reveal that they were confused by the term “Spaces” which is a label Peerboard uses to describe different topics on a discussion board. We amended this by adding a little note in our user and moderator guides that explained this language. Lastly, a couple participants took longer than expected to find the button to create a new post. Originally, we had labeled this “Share my Story” but changed it to “Create a Post” for clarity. Creating a Profile Page and Understanding the Section Tagline. Users were annoyed when they were asked to fill out the profile page. Users expected to dive directly into the discussion and didn't feel the need to reiterate. The users found it difficult to spot the logout button. Lack of context regarding the current welfare of the state of Hawaii.

Reframing the Problem

"...How might we?" -

This begs the question, how might we help users who are less tech proficiency and shy to get involved in the vision and values of Hawaii? My proposal was documentation based on the IKEA model, a model created on behalf of HIERR. My peers voted yes. So we began creating the personas.

Jason lee

The Redesign

Flexibility and the final say - The Peer Board

We decided to use the Peer board as the forum on the HIERR website, customize it to represent their unique vision and values for Hawaiian residents, and build a community with easy tools for members to use and understand. Sometimes, there’s a faster way that requires non-guided help. HIERR understands these situations and allows you to save time through an online connection. Also, your condition may require precise control over where or how to share. So, HIERR gives you complete control when you need it.


Peer Board Set up by Joseph Caouette 

Just request, and we do the rest

HIERR finds you the meeting place, a workshop based on who you are, where you are, and where you’re going. HIERR saves you time without you needing to learn technology. People-friendly walking instructions help you better understand and identify your meeting—no more nonsensical learnings. With this information we created the Moderation Guide for in-person workshops.



Concept Design By Me, study by the team, and Execution by Joseph Caouette 

You've got Other's back - The Pol.Is

It hosts a conversation where participants submit twitter-size comments on a topic which other participants vote on by clicking "agree","disagree", or "pass". It uses these votes to cluster participants into like-
minded groups and identifies "consensus" points about which all the clusters agree. Over time HIERR will learn more about you and your community, so the recovery will always start in the right place.



Concept Design By Me, study by the team, and Execution by Joseph Caouette 

Always Moving forward and faster

Users make sensible decisions for themselves, erring from self-guided documentation— informing themselves in understandable and actionable ways.


Concept design by me, study by the team, Execution by Justin Pejman

Perfect In-person guide for everyone, everywhere

Three primary questions informed my design strategy:

  1. How do you design for everyone, everywhere?

  2. What contexts need to be considered?

  3. What’s the perfect guide?

Early on, it was essential to understand the factors that may influence the User and HIERR experience. I mapped all the possible concepts from the Anthology discussion Panel and translated these into Key takeaways

Focus Groups

They are gaining Insights from Experiences of Hardship by engaging hard-to-reach resident populations for participation in focus groups and
interviews about their hardships experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, like

• Houseless communities and individuals struggling with substance abuse Native
Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander populations were highlighted as another subset
of the population who struggled greatly during the pandemic in Hawai‘i. Group was
disproportionately affected by the unemployment rate and vaccination rate.

• Non-English-speaking members of this population specifically struggled at the
beginning of the pandemic because there were no communications in their

• youth were heavily affected due to distance learning at home, being home alone
due to lack of care takers, the lack of available technology and broadband
connection required for them to be successful in school, food insecurity, decrease in
socialization, dysfunctional family dynamics, and overall lack of support, ultimately
leading to a decline in mental health.

• Frontline workers

• Senior citizens


With many isolated during the Covid Pandemic, the community's priorities have adapted to the new remote situation where they focused more on remaining productive and managing, especially after the effect. However, we cannot deny the pandemic's toll on the people, so there has been a clear shift to talk openly about specific topics around hardships and vulnerabilities during and after the pandemic. As a result, The U. S. government has implemented an Online Community Board to hear directly from the people – including questions asked and topics discussing the impact.


Participants would want the report from this research effort to be made up of both
quantitative and qualitative data.
• They would find data such as unemployment rates, number of evictions, vaccination
rates, and other similar data points during the pandemic, paired with qualitative
findings beneficial to create a full story and make evidence-based business
• It is believed to be impactful to hear the stories of people in their own words.
• It’s crucial to maintain the “human touch” when reporting the research findings.


Participants want to see bullet points, visual data, images, and other colorful visuals.
• They want the findings from this research to be presented in an engaging, easy to
read and succinct report that doesn’t lose the humanizing aspect of these
• Participants would like to see the common themes and challenges from the research
findings grouped together.
• In addition to the common themes, participants expressed interest in better
understanding the data in a way that provides context for what it means for them and
takeaways that could be useful for moving forward as an organization in this new era
of post-pandemic life.

A more inclusive design

The existing HIERR peer board was poorly organized for users who weren’t reflective of tech-proficient people. To move beyond the current biases, I tried to educate the team with an approach to designing for everyone, everywhere.

The Keys attempt to highlight the diversity to consider when a person is interacting with Workshop.

The Needs try to highlight situational challenges that everyone experiences if their requests are not fulfilled. A situation is a temporary context that affects how anyone interacts with the HIERR workshop for a brief time.

“Initially we poorly empathized with users who weren’t reflections of tech-proficient people.”

These Key takeaways destroyed the team's stereotypes about people. The goal was to create design solutions that scale and extend to any combination of these contexts from the outset.

Degradation to adaptation

We created this additional importance of needs to reframe our conversations about quality and features. Instead of starting with a Hawaiian centric problem, we needed a minimum quality bar to enable the experience for people in all contexts. This helped shift from unproductive questions like “How is this going to help Hawaiian resident?” to “How might we enable a design map for users to receive support without a traditional addressing system?”

Working Backwards from Perfect

I reversed the polarity of the imperfect flow to jumpstart creativity. Four key design challenges emerged:

  1. "How might we best pitch the online community workings to someone less tech-savvy? (Guidance)."

  2. " How might we best connect someone with like-minded people within a community from events held by HIERR? (Workshops)."

  3. "How might we best help Hawaii's people share their stories with others in the society organized by HIERR? (PeerBoard)."

  4. "How might we best help users give back support to the community? ("

The Optimal Flow

Worthy of their Time

Making the most optimal task flow presented several design challenges:

  1. Getting the user to go to a workshop.

  2. Adapting when we don’t know how receiving is the user.

  3. Balancing smartness of the user with choice and control.

We designed the flow based on the idea of confidence. If HIERR is confident of the User's tech proficiency, the user goes through it easy breezy. Otherwise, the HIERR prompts the user to take the help of the In-person or guided documentation, they do all the heavy lifting.

Instead of designing for the right answer, We designed a flexible system optimized for learning and optionality.

Inspiring confidence

If the new experience was to do the heavy lifting on behalf of the user, the guided documentation needed to inspire confidence and show how the user learning experience was being taken care of.


A key design challenge was to consider how much emphasis should be given to this always sensing state.

The idea was to present the overview of the documentation is to persuade users to focus on communicating on their hardships, rather than being frustrated by the process— since HIERR would take care of that.

This meant the documentation needed to inspire confidence for the majority, and those who wanted to assert control needed to know how to use the self-guided. It also meant that when we couldn’t optimize on the users behalf, we needed to occasionally ask the documentation for help using moderation guide.

In an age where everything demands your time, Ikea manuals give your time back by making fast, calm and effortless building. Using this concept we made Self-guided documentation for faster learning and participation.

How We Got There

Green Leaves

The Launch

Three weeks after our involvement in the project, the client promised to continue to evolve and polish the visual design and finesse the finer functional details as the site was being built. Seeing most of my work brought to life was great. On March 17th, 2023, the presentation and the deliverables were given—an impressive achievement by the team, considering that it was a completely new design and re-organizing from scratch.

Screen Shot 2023-03-14 at 7.54 1.png

Peer Board


Self Guided Documentation


Moderator Guide Documentation

The Impact, Positive results and much more to do

We are confident that these materials will help HIERR achieve their goals of helping the people of Hawai’i share their stories and making the State of Hawai’i more resilient in the face of the next pandemic or natural disaster. We shared a mockup of what a multilingual version of the User Guide could look like.

We want to thank the team at HIERR: Lauren, Scott, and David. We appreciate the opportunity you’ve given us. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you all and we wish you all the very best.


Thank you everyone for your time and attention.



Improvised Concept Design by Christopher Rini

Sandbox Hackathon

From Ambiguous to Obvious.... Coming Soon!

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