Welcome!

Make newcomers feel at home in the Netherlands

welcome hero image

Client

Welcome app Nederland foundation, a charitable institution in the Netherlands. Partners: Refugee Talent Hub and VluchtelingenWerk.

Role

UX research, facilitation, interaction design, usability testing and interviewing.

Introduction

Welcome! is an existing app developed by the Welcome app Nederland foundation. Their mission is getting as many newcomers as possible to feel at home in the Netherlands by developing a platform where all parties (newcomers, locals, businesses, municipalities and social initiatives) come together.

It’s a single place where newcomers (mainly people with a refugee status) can meet locals, join or host events in their area, ask all their questions, and start feeling at home. Locals and organizations can, on the other hand, host or join events and answer questions from newcomers. When creating an account, the user can choose to set it up as a local or as a newcomer, which tailors the experience accordingly.

When we met the people at Welcome!, they were facing a new challenge. Their initial focus was on helping newcomers to socialize, but since work is such an important aspect when it comes to integrating in a new country, they needed to add work- and career-related functionality and events to their app.

By integrating work events, courses and programs, the Welcome! app could become a complete ecosystem where newcomers find ways to integrate not only socially, but also professionally in their new country.

The challenge

How might we add work-related events, courses and programs to the Welcome! app and make sure the experience is intuitive?

Starting point - the app as it was

We started by looking at how the existing app was structured and mapping out its information architecture. By doing so, we immediately surfaced some UX issues.

The app featured different kinds of events people could create and join but, once joined, these events would end up in different screens and there was no centralized calendar where a user could have an overview of their upcoming or past events.

For example people could join lunches to socialize with newcomers and locals over food, but these kind of events would be stored in the user’s profile, while other events would end up in a schedule within the Events and activities section.

information architecture

Starting point - the app as it was

We started by looking at how the existing app was structured and mapping out its information architecture. By doing so, we immediately surfaced some UX issues.

The app featured different kinds of events people could create and join but, once joined, these events would end up in different screens and there was no centralized calendar where a user could have an overview of their upcoming or past events.

For example people could join lunches to socialize with newcomers and locals over food, but these kind of events would be stored in the user’s profile, while other events would end up in a schedule within the Events and activities section.

Welcome! app as it was

Testing and interviewing

The initial client brief was to add work-related features leaving as much as possible of the existing structure of the app untouched to simplify the implementation. So we started working in that direction and created quick prototypes including the main screens and flows. We then conducted several rounds of interviews and usability testing with current and potential users based on different iterations of our prototypes.

A lot of our initial findings had to do with information architecture and wording issues. For example, we initially kept the existing Connect screen as a container for social events and simply added a Work screen for career-related events. When testing this setup, people were confused about what kind of events would be listed in the Connect screen, and what the difference with the Work screen could be.

Another finding was that the Companies for integration area, which showcases Welcome! partners, was often confused as a place where people could find jobs or work-related events hosted by some companies.

Other labels and titles in the app caused quite a few furrowed eyebrows. For example when seeing the label Ask questions, people wouldn’t know what kind of questions could be asked and who they would be asking them to.

interviewing and testing

At a later stage, an interesting insight made us aware of our own biases. Since our effort was centered around work-related features, the client and us were overestimating the importance of these new features and placing them very high in the hierarchy.

Further on, by interviewing more current and potential users, we realized that for a newcomer the priorities and needs when moving to the Netherlands had more to do with overcoming the cultural shock, socializing and even learning Dutch. This also relates to the fact that, while at the refugee camp, newcomers have to wait for their refugee status and work permit before they can even start looking for a job. These insights made us reconsider the hierarchy and bring the social elements back to the top.

Benchmarking

When interviewing people, we also learned that they make use of a variety of other apps to socialize, find events and look for work. The apps that were mentioned the most were Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup and Eventbrite, so we looked at those apps when designing our flows to make sure that the experience would be familiar.

Looking at these apps, we could notice that the presentation of events was very different from ours, as they tended to show a scrollable selection of events for each category. That is in place for two very good reasons: Showing something is more powerful and self explanatory than asking a user to read a label and guess what that something will be. But also, letting people discover content already from the home screen makes the app way more engaging.

We also noticed how other apps group all kinds of scheduled events in one logical place, so that the user has a full calendar of what’s upcoming in one view. The same goes for events the user is hosting.

benchmarking

Benchmarking

When interviewing people, we also learned that they make use of a variety of other apps to socialize, find events and look for work. The apps that were mentioned the most were Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup and Eventbrite, so we looked at those apps when designing our flows to make sure that the experience would be familiar.

Looking at these apps, we could notice that the presentation of events was very different from ours, as they tended to show a scrollable selection of events for each category. That is in place for two very good reasons: Showing something is more powerful and self explanatory than asking a user to read a label and guess what that something will be. But also, letting people discover content already from the home screen makes the app way more engaging.

We also noticed how other apps group all kinds of scheduled events in one logical place, so that the user has a full calendar of what’s upcoming in one view. The same goes for events the user is hosting.

ideation workshop

Ideation workshop

Once we had a clear idea of the user’s priorities and the structural issues we had with the current implementation, we decided to run an ideation session involving the client to try and reshape the information architecture and display features and content in the correct order and priority.

After an introduction where we went through our findings, the actual workshop started with a a crazy 8s exercise where we diverged and ideated individually. This was followed by a series of converging activities culminating in a group sketching exercise where we got together and created basic wireframes of the most important screens.

Our solution

The proposal we presented, based on our research and workshops, involves a restructuring of the information architecture as well as rewording of many labels and titles across the app.

Welcome! app as it was

Home screen for newcomers

The newly designed Home screen includes some of the most important features of the app. Users can explore some of the available events, but they can also ask a question to an expert or start a casual conversation with a local.

The split and wording of the Ask an expert and Chat with a local features make it clear what they are about: the word expert clarifies the professional nature of the advice, while the word chat and the set of available options for the Chat with a local functionality clarify the informality of this option.

personas

Home screen for newcomers

The newly designed Home screen includes some of the most important features of the app. Users can explore some of the available events, but they can also ask a question to an expert or start a casual conversation with a local.

The split and wording of the Ask an expert and Chat with a local features make it clear what they are about: the word expert clarifies the professional nature of the advice, while the word chat and the set of available options for the Chat with a local functionality clarify the informality of this option.

home screen before our redesign

Home screen for locals

The local view of the home screen involves a call to action to create an event as well as a chance to answer questions from newcomers.

Events

The Events screen (formerly called Connect) is restructured and it now includes three main tabs: one where users can find events, one where they can see a calendar of all upcoming and past events they joined, and another one for the events they are hosting.

In the Find events tab we are making use of progressive disclosure by showing, for each category, some events the user can explore rather than hiding them behind a button and label. The user can dig deeper and see all events for each category by tapping on the See all links.

personas

Events

The Events screen (formerly called Connect) is restructured and it now includes three main tabs: one where users can find events, one where they can see a calendar of all upcoming and past events they joined, and another one for the events they are hosting.

In the Find events tab we are making use of progressive disclosure by showing, for each category, some events the user can explore rather than hiding them behind a button and label. The user can dig deeper and see all events for each category by tapping on the See all links.

Wording

As our user research highlighted, some of the major issues that affected the usability of the app had to do with wording and naming. Therefore we reworded labels throughout the app for better understandability.

Here are some of the labels we changed.

Add event → Create event

Events and activities → Social events

Companies for integration → Our partners

Ask a question → Chat with a local about…

Need Help? Chat with us → Ask an expert

Takeaways and learnings

In this project more than in any other it became clear to me just how much wording can impact usability. As designers, we tend to focus on the shape and size of the elements on screen and their interaction, rather than the words we are displaying. Wording is often the territory of someone else in the team or in another department (e.g. marketing).

However, copy needs to be tested and iterated upon, and designers are not only naturally inclined to those activities, but they are also generally good at simplifying things, and that includes wording. Since right now very few teams include a UX Writer, I believe it is the responsibility of the UX Designer to test the copy and suggest improvements.

This is something that happens to me on a regular basis, but it was even more true for this project, since it had to do with newcomers struggling with relatively new languages as they are trying to integrate and feel at home in their new country.

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