Several days without eating...
Several days without eating is what Miguel, a college student who is struggling financially, has to experience while in college. When this project first started, financial empowerment was connected to physical money and banks. But, after some interviews I found that financial empowerment came in many different forms.
Human Centered Design
I started off by thinking about what financial empowerment meant. I used sticky notes and a sharpie to quickly get my thoughts out. In the first part of the process, I thought that financial empowerment came from the way people interacted with banks. So, I was mostly focused on banking and the different ways people handled their income. I focused on the different ways people used banks and other financial institutions. I also focused on tools used, such as mobile apps or kiosks.
The next step was to conduct some interviews. I used my network to find people who identified as Latinx. I also approached banks to find people to interview. I prepared for the interviews with open ended questions that focused on how they interacted with banks and financial services. The interviews ended up telling me the different ways people survived during financial hardship. One of the interviewees named Miguel, a first generation college student, witnessed his parents struggling financially. This inspired him to go to college and earn a degree to find a good paying job to help them out. He felt stuck between choosing to work to earn money to live or only focusing on studying so he can finish school on time. So, he does not work. But not having income means he does not have money to buy food. He goes several days without eating or only eating mashed potatoes. During financial crisis he was willing to sacrifice his health if it meant he could get a college education to find a job to help his family financially.
After the interview with Miguel, I took critical quotes from his interview to work on an inference. This would help me brainstorm concepts for Miguel's problem. I shifted from focusing on Latinx’s interacting with banks to accommodating Latinx’s and the sacrifices they have made to be financially stable. Using the inference, I concluded that Miguel is willing to sacrifice his health for academic success. The next steps was to work on concepts.
I asked, how could studying help students become healthy? After a few concepts I decided to go with the Grub Hub. The Grub Hub would be a space on campus where students could study and eat freshly prepared food for free. That way students wouldn't have to feel like they were sacrificing one for the other. After coming up with the concept it was time for prototyping and testing.
Prototyping & Testing
For my first prototype, I focused on bringing the experience to life to see how the user felt during this experience. With the first user, I attempted to put him under academic induced stress with math homework, then offered him food while he worked on math. The user felt that he did not have to take time away from eating or studying. After this prototype, I needed to take it to students in their study environment.
For the second prototype, I quickly created a couple of posters using illustrator. I taped them on myself and a tote bag. This was to let students/users know I had snacks for studying. I then went to the campus store to buy healthy snacks to give out to students. I stood in front of the entrance of the library. I spoke to students heading to the library to study. While giving students healthy snacks I also took the time to interview the students about studying and food. I found that many students were heading to their study sessions hungry. They told me that the snack was going to help them focus on their studying since they would not have to worry about eating. With this prototype I was able to see first hand how food affected students and their study sessions.
For the third prototype I created a list of sacrifices and carried a box of healthy snacks. I talked to students on campus about what they had sacrificed for studying. If their stories were similar to my list, I offered them support in a form of a snack. Students shared with me about the sacrifices they made which mostly focused on giving up time with their family, friends, and significant others. What I wanted to see was a student’s genuine reaction to the support I was giving them. I wanted to know how they felt and what this support would mean to them. Ultimately, I wanted to see if this concept was worth designing. Students were surprised and felt happy about the support. They said that they felt that someone cared about them on campus.
After prototyping and testing, I reflected on the users and my prototypes. I found that aside from food and studying, it is important that the environment in the space creates a community that allows students to gain emotional support. This is important because of the emotional response students had. They said they felt that someone cared enough about them to help. Help can also be offered to students by providing them resources on different ways to be financially secure during the school semester. I also decided to change the name of the space to Bites & Books because the other name is used for an app. The next steps would be for me to find sponsors to provide food and volunteers to help provide this service. Also, partnering with groups on campus to offer resources to students struggling financially. This project explored the different definitions of financial empowerment. In the beginning I focused on banking but I soon found that Latinx students are finding financial empowerment through education. It is important for me to use design and community involvement to find solutions to these problems.