Kelly Mccomas


Service Design for Resilience

Project Overview
In a service design course, my cohort of 23 partnered with Hopelab, a social innovation lab that creates tech for young adults. We  designed the service ecosystem that would connect young LGBTQIA+ folks to a non-crisis support chatbot designed by Hopelab.

Team - Cam Beversluis, Kelly McComas, Diana Jeong Ro, Lily Smith
Dates - January-March 2020
My Contributions
Researcher - I conducted research interviews and concept evaluation sessions with 6 potential users and experts.

Service Designer - I developed sketches and service prototypes of our concepts as we increased the fidelity of our ideas.

Client Liaison - I took point on communicating and coordinating with our client, Hopelab.

The Problem

Access to Resilience Support

Project Milk is Hopelab’s early-stage effort to develop a non-crisis support chatbot for young queer users. 

In order to collaborate across our studio of 23 designers, we divided the service ecosystem into segments for each team to address. My team of four focused on in-person peer-to-peer interactions.

Problem Statement
How might we design a product-service system in which queer youth can discover, engage with, and share a support chatbot while learning positive psychology skills?

The Solution


Our service, called Unpack, provides LGBTQIA+ users with tools designed to help them build confidence and meet welcoming peers in a new city. We found that many people in this situation face emotional barriers such as insecurity and social anxiety and social barriers when they don’t know anyone in their new community. We designed for these obstacles.

The Research

More Than Their Identities

We spoke to five queer students to learn about their concerns and the obstacles they face. We learned that many of our users found supportive communities not through queer-first groups like campus organizations, but by connecting with other LGBTQIA+ folks through shared interests. We decided to use this insight to design for a particularly challenging moment many queer youth face: the move from a college campus to a different city after graduation.

"I want to be seen as me, not as a bi person."
- K, recent university graduate

The Process

Prototyping to Learn

We built prototypes of a service (explore a later iteration here) that newcomers to a city might use to connect to the resources they’d need. Our learnings informed the service we designed: Unpack.

We weren't precious with our ideas - the team showed users sketches of our Wayfinder tool at low fidelity (far left above) to spark conversation and questions. We also asked folks to co-create an ambassador profile (second from left above) to understand what was important about the program to potential users. For later iterations of our digital tool, we screen-recorded user interactions as they narrated their thought process. This helped us prioritize the information hierarchy in a way that would make sense to users.

The Features

A Care Package for Your Big Move

Two key features of Unpack (detailed blueprint below) are the Wayfinder web tool for navigating resources and an ambassador program to connect newcomers with inclusive local community members.

1. Wayfinder

The Wayfinder is a web tool that connects users to resources, such as the Project Milk chatbot and ambassador program, based on the affective & emotional barriers they are facing. Users concerned about emotional stressors can be directed to the Project Milk chatbot, while those who want to build social ties can begin the process of connecting with an ambassador.

“I think these are the big things - what’s there, what do I do, finding a roommate…that’s lovely.”
- L, potential user
The Wayfinder guides users to tackle one barrier at a time.

2. Ambassador Program

Unpack also provides users access to local queer peer ambassadors who volunteer to welcome new folks and provide social support.

We learned that young people in a new city worry about being intrusive, which can prevent community-finding. Potential ambassadors are locals who want to give back and build inclusive queer communities in their city.

“It's like the person who is friendly to the new kid in elementary school… It could solve a lot of the anxiety about finding a new community.”
- D, potential user
Ambassadors are volunteers who give back to the queer community by welcoming newcomers.

Defining the Service

We built a service blueprint for Unpack to help us plan the way stakeholders and users could interact at various touchpoints.

Future Work

Expanding & Validating the Unpack Service

1. Build Ambassador Network

Work with CenterLink and participating centers to develop infrastructure for an ambassador network and pilot a trial of the service.  

Team Unpack
2. Test for Success

Test the usability of the Wayfinder tool to better assist LGBTQIA+ young adults in identifying and overcoming barriers to finding a community they love.

3. Expand Unpack's Offerings

Continue to research and test other resources our service could provide, such as events, a roommate finder, and neighborhood guides.

Key Takeaways

Getting Cozy with Flexibility & Ambiguity

1. Set a Client Cadence

This was my first experience taking the lead on interfacing with clients. I needed to be flexible and communicative so we could understand and build upon Hopelab’s work.

2. Navigate Creative Teams

Working as a studio of 23 designers taught me a lot about how to manage creative conflict and be productive as a team. Breaking out into smaller groups based on individual strengths was an effective strategy.

3. Fail Early and Often

Working on an open-ended, early-stage project with Hopelab meant forming hypotheses and making decisions without certainty about the right approach to solving an ambiguous problem. I learned to trust the design process and embrace failures as a valuable part of that process.

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