Re-Imagining a Gov’t Checklist into a Community and Lifesaving App

Design Thinking, Ethnographic Research and Empathy can help create stronger citizen preparation and more robust storm response. We can use new technology and partner with big business to empower our citizens and prepare them for before, during and after the storm.


I created this project to challenge students to redesign the FEMA app and website with the idea that newer technology like portable/emergency cell towers, one-button ordering of emergency supplies from online retailers and ethnographic insights gleaned through articles from hurricane survivors can help us re-think the FEMA app as a Life-saving and Community App.

This research also allowed my students to work in groups to use card sorting to rethink the site map at the beginning of the project. We then move to individual work to concept and from there to use the UX framework to begin low-fidelity wireframes to high fidelity prototypes built in Adobe XD.

This project culminates in a UI/UX process book that encapsulates and displays the experience of collecting all research with final presentations of designs for phone, tablet and desktop users. Adobe XD links are provided with each student’s work.

Project Time

11 weeks

U.S. Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard rescue Houston residents as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey continue to rise, Aug. 28, 2017. More than 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard have been called out to support local authorities in response to the storm. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West)

The Ethnographic Research

The research starts with finding a minimum of 30 stories from storm survivors in magazines and newspapers from any recent hurricane event. In the articles they are learning to empathize and then try to use design thinking to help create 50 potential solutions to their issues. Can their new app concept help people survive and thrive?

Competitive Analysis

Students downloaded apps from sources like Red Cross Hurricane Prep and Flood Apps, and other 3rd party apps. They also downloaded the Amazon, Costco and Walmart Apps for the one-button ordering of disaster supplies.

Student Julio Cerveras used the stories about storm survivors and stock images to create his Proto-Personas.


These personas come from actual stories within the storm survivor research to help students find empathy with real life people and situations and keep them in mind as they are trying to design solutions.

Students pair up to review card sorting for navigation categories.

Card Sorting and SiteMap

It starts with FEMA’s information but the research and needs of the User help students brainstorm ideas modify and deepen the sitemap to help to show how the app can help start bringing the community together.

Low-Fidelity Sketches

By visualizing the layouts of the app experience, students start to convert their sitemaps into mobile layouts. The focus here is on hierarchy of information and consistency from page to page.

One-Button ordering screen with sliders that quickly enable the user to select family size, time for supplies to last, price, etc…

One-Button Disaster Prep Ordering

Early on, I realized that this was a big component missing from my research when I began this project. Many citizens were simply not prepared for a losing services with extended flooding and loss of services.

Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club would be part of the ‘one-button’ ordering experience where storm preparation supplies could be used as insurance for and accepted through the app. Users could pick the best price and delivery date as a bid from these services through the app.

If the storm missed your area, the app would prompt the User to see if they wanted to donate the unused supplies for people in need. The supplies would be picked up by the same delivery service and a credit could be received on the User’s taxes as a donation to FEMA.

The final class presentation for the Winter 2019 class.

The final class Presentation

The 11-week project culminates in a book that summarizes the entire process of research, ideation, proto-personas, sitemap expansion, sketching, XD for both mobile and tablet experiences and finally writing about the entire process of their UX journey.