Service Design/Social Innovation



Affordable Housing ReDesign for Pittsburgh

Transition Design "is a new area of design research, practice and study that proposes design-led societal transition toward more sustainable futures." 

Note— For a full, in-depth, chronological documentation of this project's process visit my Medium post.

Senior Design Research Studio: Taught by Stacie Rohrbach, Stuart Candy, and Terry Irwin 

Our goal is to gain insight into approaches and methods that aid the study of factors affecting the harmony between ourselves and our environment, and to apply these to designing services and social innovations that help transition societies to sustainable futures.

Noah Johnson, Adella Guo, Carolyn Zho, Hae Wan Park

Using the lens of Transition Design, design new services or social innovations to address Pittsburgh's affordable housing crisis.

Spent several weeks using Transition Design frameworks and exercises to research affordable housing on both a local and national scale, fully understanding the issues and creating insights and empathy with the many players in this space.

Synthesized all insights to fully understand affordable housing in Pittsburgh and all its pain points, finally focusing on re-design of Section 8, the government-subsidized housing voucher program.

Worked collaboratively and iteratively to develop a concept that attacked the current hardships that lead to being on Section 8 as well as the hardships of living with Section 8, including stigmas surrounding the program on the sides of both tenants and landlords. 


We developed a research tool to understand the dynamics between landlords and renters resulting in the design, named "Section 8+" which included two physical packages: a Tenant Package and a Landlord Package.

Tenant Package: To eliminate the confusion and anxiety tenants feel upon moving to Section 8, we designed a packet containing a reassuring overview to tenants as soon as they dip below the Section 8 threshold, along with a comprehensive list of pre-selected apartments for rents including those with lower rents in higher income neighborhoods. 

Landlord Package: Sent to landlords receiving a Section 8 applicant with the goal of attacking the long-term stigma surrounding Section 8 tenants by giving landlords everything they need to know about what it meant to house someone on the program as well as a complete profile of the tenant and their rental history.

Research Tool: Developed a research tool that tested the impact of the Section 8+ design. This tool revealed how the stigma makes the current state Section 8 program inefficient and harmful to all sides and revealed that the Section 8+ solution greatly minimized that. 

The research tool is an interactive activity consisting of three styles of apartment housing, three personas with three rental applications. Users were asked to assume the role of a landlord and were shown three different potential renters along with their rental application and asked to identify which applicant they'd choose as a tenant.   

The tool showed that the majority of test subjects rejected tenants with the standard Section 8 packet attached to their applications because they felt it was difficult to understand and intimidating.  However, when that paperwork was replaced with our redesigned future-state "Section 8+" packet, a much greater number of landlords chose the Section 8+ participants. 


Data Visualization



AIGA Design Census Data Re-Visualization

Bringing census data to life through AR

To visualize a perspective on the data from the 2016 AIGA Census.

In 2016, AIGA produced the groundbreaking AIGA Design Census, giving designers, for the first time, a holistic understanding of the current state of the industry. Each Team was challenged to choose a perspective to visualize the data and bring it to life.

Our team chose to focus on the correlation between salary and identity across its many facets (gender, ethnicity, region, type of design profession and average salary).  We used a collaborative, iterative process that involved analyzing and parsing data, visualizing, mapping and printing at immense scale (4’ x 15’) for engagement and intrigue and finally creating an augmented reality user interface to provide an engaging experience for the user to explore the results of the data.  Created multiple iterations at each step and re-designed, refined and re-printed the immense-scale map several times.  It was necessary for the team to develop code to parse data and map out the data interactions.  

The combination of the data chosen, the size visual layout of the relationships and the ability for the user to engage via augmented reality created a highly engaging user experience.  It also led to many discussions as the data showed a wide discrepancy in earnings across regions and also across ethnicities, something that would not have been clear from simply viewing the data.

Noah Johnson, Lily Kim, Kevin Gao, Lucy Yu, Angee Attar

Watch our video here.


Social Innovation



Introduction to Design for Social Innovation:
Clairton, "City of Prayer"

A communicative social intervention created for a small city along the Monongahela River.

Class Co-taught by Costa Rican social designer Silvia Mata-Marin and Google Span 2017 speaker Dimeji Onafuwa, the class consisted of inspiring lectures from masters like John Zimmerman of CMU's Human Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).

Collaborated with a team of two other students, one masters and one undergraduate designer, to create an intervention for Clairton, a small and misrepresented town in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Situated along the Monongahela River, Clairton was a thriving steel city in the late 1950s, which has been in decline ever since as steel companies and their employees left the city. Clairton currently exists in a state of neglect with much of the city's infrastructure decayed, in disuse, or abandoned. This combined with a particular block of abandoned and burned houses gave Clairton the reputation of being a "ghost town", lacking much representation beyond that.

Our team ventured to Clairton to immerse ourselves in the city and gain a deeper understanding of day-to-day life in the city. We met and spoke with numerous business owners, residents, as well as the Mayor of Clairton, Richard Lattanzi. You can find a presentation of our journey to Clairton here.

We identified the main issue to be communication within the community. Most of the city's population are 55yr.+ and not digitally connected, creating a lack of connection between residents. A major issue specific to the city was the low impact of news effectiveness.  These fundamental communication issues created divides between different religions, ages, and especially races within the city.

In addition to facing a coming shutdown of the city's Emergency Medical Services, as of December 2017 Clairton lost it's only local newspaper, driving the final nail into the city's broken system of communication.

After speaking in depth with Mayor Lattanzi and other residents and business owners, we knew our solution had to be feasible, implementable, and effective. With no spare time or resources in Clairton, we knew it also had to be simple, low-effort and low-overhead.

We gathered many insights during our visit and synthesized them to generate three initial concept areas for an intervention seeking to improve communication among residents of Clairton.

  • A "Physical Meeting Space" This type of community center was determined to be too prohibitive for the city's elderly population and lack of a 'city center' in which to locate it.
  • Football Team: Developed various solutions to build on the strong reach and impact Clairton's High School football team who turned out to be a unifying connection between residents of different demographics.
  • Use The Church Network: Developed solutions to build on the strong network of the large number of churches in the city, and their existing importance as hubs of communication. 

Our solution was a single newsletter, distributed bi-weekly in Clairton churches. The newsletter would serve as the one place to go for all information residents want to know ranging from important news from the Mayor and local community figures, to the score of the last Clairton Bears game.

The newsletter was created using the infrastructure that already exists in the Clairton Mayor's Office which meant it was easy to produce and update in-house. It would be funded in part by a donation-based collection box at the churches, and also by funding from Mayor Lattanzi for printing, distribution, and any out-of-house creation if it is necessary.

We used the medium of a newsletter to achieve our long term goals of building community spirit through a common base of knowledge communication, and improving communication enough to help the city of Clairton be able to afford a true newspaper again.