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Collective Action

Research, UX, Visual Design

About | A platform for initiating, customizing and facilitating effective community activism in response to live triggers events like changes in policy, pending permit applications, new research or breaking news stories. Speak Out allows activist individuals or advocacy groups to design and deliver customized calls to action to concerned citizens that are appropriate to the trigger event at hand – like writing a personal letter to a local legislator.

Team | Two person team – myself & Michelle Cedeño

Contributions | Concept development, research, branding, UI design

Tools + Methods | Stakeholder mapping, in-depth interviews, Adobe XD, Illustrator, Photoshop

Time Frame | Four weeks


A Platform for Initiating and Facilitating Timely and Targeted Community Activism

Speak Out for Allegheny Air is a platform for local activists and advocacy groups to facilitate customized community action campaigns in response to emerging events like proposed changes in policy or permitting, breaking news, or recent research.



Initial Desk Research

Our exploratory research began with a deep dive in to the science, social understanding and local history of air quality issues, which was then synthesized into key insights, problem defining questions and design principles.


In-depth Subject Matter Expert Interviews

We then conducted in-depth interviews with three subject matter experts on air pollution, advocacy, and concerned constituents. This research phase was focused on depth rather than breadth.


Nikole Schaeffer, ECS

Chief Outreach & Innovation Officer at the Environmental Charter School of Pittsburgh.

“Parents are highly motivated and potent potential advocates, they just don’t know where to start”.


Mark Dixon, Blue Lens

Activist and documentarian currently working on a new film about air quality in Pittsburgh.

“There’s a need for tools that catch policy makers and politicians off-guard.”


Rachel Filipini, GASP

Executive Director of GASP (Group Against Smoke and Pollution)

”It feels like we’re working from scratch every time (we need to launch a new campaign). Always having the same structure, that’s a luxury.”


“Finding the right opportunities and the right audience is really important… There’s no one way to [participate as an air quality advocate] – its very dependent on a particular issue, and timing.”

– Rachel Fillipini


Facilitated Ideation

We then used insights gained from our exploratory research phase to ideate on possible interventions. We went for quantity over quality, weeded out the wacky ideas, and then affinity mapped stickys to arrive at a potent site of intervention – improving effective citizen engagement in policy issues by producing a tool that allowed users to quickly and productively take part in a way that is timely and directed.

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Researching the Current State User Flow

We then dug into a specific example of a recent trigger event that might be grounds for action for concerned citizens. We found that GASP had been organizing informational events in response to breaking research, and despite having an actively engaged audience, did not have an effective call to action or means for facilitating such actions.

The outdated, difficult to navigate, government webpage bulletin where concerned citizens find out what permits might be currently pending and ready for comment (left), GASPs current educational events that as yet do not facilitate a solid call to action for attendees (right)


Deconstructing Existing Toolkit

We pulled apart an existing citizen toolkit that was nebulous and unwieldy to identify actions that could be facilitated through a more user friendly medium.


This is only part of the very robust but overwhelming Pennsylvania Citizens Toolkit provided by the Environmental Integrity Project in order to understand how an everyday citizen might engage.


Citizen Action System Mapping

We then synthesized the toolkit research into a systems map that demonstrates how a potential advocate would engage meaningfully in the system.


Researching Letter Generating Tools + Early Sketches

We then canvassed a variety of research generation tools that varied in their level of user guidance – some tools asked a single question at a time to build a letter for you, while on the other end of the spectrum, users were prompted to write letters without any placeholder or prepopulated text.

We then sketched out a ‘goldilocks’ UI that gave the user the ability to lean on default text, prompted them to personalize it, and provided concise information to help them do so.

(left) digging into existing “letter to the editor” writing tool kits and sketching a custom interactive version (right) doing the same but for “letter to legislator”


Sketching + Prototyping

We then began to sketch web and mobile wire frames based on our preferred letter writing system.

We then digitally mocked up structure and flow using Adobe XD, added content, and iterated on the UI based on client feedback.

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Visual Identity

Once our wire frames were built, we then explored visual identity options including branding, color palette and styles. Below are some iterations of the Speak Out logo.


Current State System


In the current state of the system, trigger events turn into strong signals from local advocacy groups, who suffer from diminishing returns when potential advocates don’t know how to engage with the problem.


Future State System


In the future state system, advocacy groups like GASP can use the tool to elicit an effective and directed campaign effort in response to trigger events.


Personas & User Flow

Our tool has been designed to target two user groups – concerned, time-pressured parents and professionals, and those who have more time, energy and political investment, but are unsure about how to engage with issues of air quality.

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When trigger events such as breaking news or research, new policies or permits, or political change, would trigger advocacy groups like GASP to customize the output (letter to editor, social media posts) and the recipient (specific local legislators, media or private corporations), so that users are able to quickly and effectively direct their efforts at the right time, to the right people, through the most effective channels.


Why this intervention?

  1. Builds on existing system and addresses it’s current pain points.

  2. Supports use by time-pressured people who need their hand held to navigate personalized messaging to people in power.

  3. Mobilizes potent potential advocates to take directed action during critical moments in time.


Next steps

Next steps would include conducting evaluative user testing to evolve the UI and in-depth user interviews to better understand their context and constraints. I would also consider producing a service blueprint for GASP to gain more clarity about their own internal workflows, and how that might evolve to better facilitate change.