sarah uhlarik

Direct Apption

Social Change & Communication







Rosey H.

Shelby H.


Sep. – Dec. 2020

Executive Summary

The idea of “Direct Apption” is based on social change communication. How can we effectively use social media as a tool to create social change, and mobilize both socially-conscious individuals and seasoned organizers? In lieu of continuous social unrest due to the Coronavirus pandemic and protests for racial equality, more and more people are seeking to (safely) connect with like-minded people in their area and around the world.

This social media app focuses on communication and relationship-building, disseminating information about present-day movements, and keeping members up to date on local protests or rallies in their area. An “action mode” also provides a tactical tool to support organizers during protests, demonstrations and other direct action events. Security is an important feature of the app, emphasizing keeping user data private and providing information to users during protests that will allow them to remain safe.

Preliminary Research Summary

There isn’t a social media platform that incorporates all of the things people want/need. People are using Snap-maps to find protests. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among other sites, are used to spread awareness and ideas. Meanwhile, there’s still a lack of community and reliable information on social media platforms.

Competitor Analysis

Target Audience

Our target audiences fall can be classified as follows:

  • - Organizers of demonstrations, protests and other direct action campaigns
  • - Cause-related organizations
  • - Activists
  • - Socially conscious individuals who could be interested in getting more actively involved

Our target users are all socially conscious, care about local/global issues and are interested in bringing about positive change. We see cause related organizations as primary users, as well as individuals who organize or participate in direct action campaigns. We also plan to target people who care about issues, have not personally participated in direct action campaigns or events, but who could be open to getting more involved. Our users have access to digital devices and the internet, and are comfortable using apps which involve satellite navigation, messaging and file sharing. Our users may live anywhere in the world.


Our stakeholders would be existing causes and direct-action campaigns. They are the experts regarding the local or global issue they’re addressing and are already working towards reform, policy change or another action of some kind.


Since these groups are already established, they likely have resources for individuals, scheduled protests/marches, ways to get further involved and more.


Through preliminary research and conceptualizing our target audience, our team came up with three personas that represent the differing motivations behind using an app such as ours. We made sure to focus on a diverse group of individuals including varying backgrounds, motivations, frustrations and technical capabilities.

Persona 01 – Donny L., 32


Lives in Chicago; works as a high school algebra teacher who makes about $50,000 per year.


Donny is a member of a social justice group that fights for educational equity. He mostly helps coordinate communication with members and also attends and helps facilitate demonstrations.


Since there are so many places to post information, Donny spends a lot of time going back and forth between conversations with his team and posting information on upcoming demonstrations to various social platforms.

Technical Capabilities

Donny is very tech savvy. He uses Slack, Twitter, Facebook and Signal as his main apps to post and receive information.

Persona 02 – Ada W., 26


Lives in a midsize Midwest city while finishing up school to become a physician’s assistant.


She is very passionate about women’s rights and universal access to healthcare. She’s also super supportive of the BLM movement. She has a strong desire to become more involved but hasn’t found the right opportunity, besides sharing things on social media.


With school and work she doesn’t have much time to search for events near her, and often hears about marches/protests too late to plan around her schedule.

Technical Capabilities

Since Ada is often super busy, she mostly receives news updates via Twitter. She’s active on social media using apps like Instagram and Facebook.

Persona 03 – Jaiya S., 21


A graduate student in the UCLA community development and social justice program, living in LA with her boyfriend.


Jaiya is passionate about racial justice and fighting systemic racism. She is also dedicated to supporting women’s rights.


Jaiya is not happy with the tech tools her team uses to communicate internally and externally. While she acknowledges that communication within her team is difficult when they become spread out during protests, she’d rather keep her head up than be distracted by texting or using a device.

Technical Capabilities

Jaiya is extremely tech fluent. She runs a team that uses slack for internal communication and signal for communicating during direct action campaigns.


We are a design research team researching how to best support activists and organizers of direct action campaigns, and we’re looking to connect with socially conscious groups and individuals who can help us to understand the challenges of creating positive change.

Pre-Interview Questions

1. Are you an activist or an organizer?

  • How we define Activist: An activist is a person who regularly participates in advocating for social change. This could take many forms, i.e. demonstrating/protesting, writing letters to representatives, lobbying, educating others, doing outreach (i.e. a local youth group went door to door in immigrant neighborhoods explaining in Spanish why census participation is safe and important), or participating in campaigns.

2. If yes to either – go to Activist or Organizer questions

3. If no – are you socially conscious and interested in getting involved in activism?

  • How we define Socially Conscious: someone who philosophically or ethically agrees with a cause and wants to start participating in any of the ways listed above.

4. If yes – go to Socially Conscious questions. If no – terminate interview.

Interview Outline

Central Problem Statement: Not having a central, organized way to effectively communicate and find information about various social justice events such as marches, protests, activism opportunities and more.


Objective: To provide a platform that allows for group organizations and individual activists to communicate information about social justice events and allows users a tool for researching different topics and ways to get involved.

Introduction: We are a design team researching how to best support activists and organizers of direct action campaigns, and we’re looking to connect with socially conscious groups and individuals who can help us to understand the challenges of creating positive change.

User Interviews

The main method of research was conducted through stakeholder and user interviews. These interviews’ purpose was to discover what potential users are looking for in a social media app including what current apps are lacking, what information is most significant to causes, and potential problems an app that tracks locations could pose to a movement.


We sought to determine whether organizers of demonstrations and protests are satisfied with the technological tools they use to coordinate and communicate during events. In our research, we spoke with six activists who have over 80 years of combined experience with direct action.

Affinity Diagram

Cognitive Walkthrough

User Setup Flow

App Functions

Home Page

The app’s home page includes videos/live streams at the top, recent news/postings, and recent and unread messages. Within the “Post” module, there are options to post updates via type, pictures and video to the user’s feed. Rather than posts showing up to the user’s feed in chronological order, content is tailored to what the user wants to see according to an algorithm that works according to what the user chooses as their interests while setting up their profile, who the user is following/connected with and what the user has previously searched in the search bar.


Embedded within the post feature is an option that allows the user to choose who is privy to see their posts. The options are: “Everyone” and “Group” with a dropdown menu showing groups the user is a part of.


Clicking one of these posts takes the user to more information including comments, likes and the option to share directly to social. There is a note to indicate that the information hasn’t been verified. This is to help prevent the spread of misinformation. Users can flag something if they think it needs to be reviewed or even removed.



The messaging module serves as a main feature. The majority of our interviewees said that they like and use slack most often for communication within their group or organization. They like that specific groups can be formed along with sending individual messages.


The messaging module serves as a main feature. Upon selecting the messaging icon, the user will select groups or recipients, then type their message in the body. At the bottom of the message body, a user can choose to upload photos or video before clicking “send” to disseminate their message to the recipients. Our messenger offers chatrooms categorized by topic, private groups and direct messaging. Given the foreseeable sensitive nature of the topics being discussed via the app, all messages will be encrypted.

Organizations & Individual Pages

It was really important to us that our app have a robust educational component. Here users can search for causes or organizations that they care about and click on the search results that come up to learn more.


Each organization will be verified before being allowed to create a profile. This is like a mini, mobile website where the organization or group can add information about their cause, mission, link to other information, share about upcoming events, and more. There’s even a donate page call-to-action at the top for those who are looking to support monetarily.


Events & Event Pages

Another pain point for our users is not knowing when certain events are taking place. Of course there are times that protests emerge with no prior planning, but our events pages gives the user the opportunity to search for events based on their location. The user can save events and view them all together on a calendar.


When an organization or group wants to create an event they have access to different templates and guides for how to create, manage and run a successful event. Options become available to set the date, time, location, add information, invite people, monitor any messages that come through and more.

Active Mode

What is Active Mode?

Active mode are all of the features needed during direct action, or forms of protest to achieve an organization’s goal. Active mode features include: internal communication (messages, broadcast and live stream), Power Saver, Auto Scrubbing Function and GPS Safety Modes (check-ins, Red Alert and utility icons on map). Located at the bottom center of a phone’s screen, “Active Mode” is activated by a single touch.


Active Mode provides specific features to support communication and coordination during direct action such as demonstrations and protests.


Active Mode Features

Group Check-in: Designated team members can “check in” with a time stamp and optional GPS reading. All members’ status is automatically consolidated to the devices which have this feature enabled.

Messaging: This exists outside of the main messages feature of the app, to send a quick note to group members or individuals. You can also activate red alert from this page.


Broadcast: Using literal walkie talkies is common among organizers attending small demonstrations. Similarly, organizers will use bullhorns to communicate with a large number of people. Because these tools are not always effective, we have developed a “broadcast” or walkie talkie function. Using this function enables the user to choose which contacts or groups the broadcast will go to. Once clicking on the feature and selecting recipients, the user will talk directly into their phone. Once the message is finished recording, the user will press the “broadcast” symbol.


The receiver of the message will get a notification alerting them of a broadcast, which they will have to accept as either an audible message or a transcribed text.

Red Alert: Red alert is a feature to indicate some kind of danger or trouble. It can be used to notify your team or group that you’re being arrested, that there’s a dangerous situation up ahead, or it can be used to alert your team that someone is injured and in need of medical attention. There’s an option to type or record a message and include optional media and your location.


After being pre-determined in settings, activating red alert notifies the selected contacts that the user is in danger and sends their location. The Red Alert function can be activated via touch by selecting the Red Alert symbol or by voice command through saying “Red Alert.” The emergency contacts will receive a Red Alert notification and will feel a vibration as well as hear a “dinging” sound.

Live streaming: Live streaming lets record and send video to their followers or group members in real time, which can also be saved as a “story” for users to view at a later time. Live streaming also comes with a scrubbing feature that will act as a filter to blur faces and locations in the background, so if the member live streaming is in a vulnerable space such as a protest or rally, identities will be protected. Within a user’s settings are options that enable them to have photo/ video scrub on or off automatically once live streaming is selected.


GPS Safety Features: The main way GPS is used is through Red Alert and Check-in. Both of these are optional in all applicable settings. Our research indicated that not everyone is comfortable having their location available to strangers (even if they are apart of the same group or organization) or the authorities.


Our team considered some optional GPS features such as notifying users as to where different resources are located at a protest, rally, demonstration, etc. Icons corresponding to the resources will be tracked during the event including a water icon representing where to find people with bottles of water, a first aid icon identifying the location of people with medical help and a caution icon to illustrate where something dangerous is happening such as the arrival of police, counter protesters and general violence.


Another feature we discussed is the option to include using GPS to search for a buddy to walk with back to public transport, ride-share services or individual vehicles.

Active Mode Settings

Automatic Image Scrubbing: Quite a few of our interviewees discussed the immense need for security. You don’t want your media falling into the wrong hands or be used against you. So we included the option to have all photos and videos scrubbed of their metadata, recognizable faces and identifiable information.

Power Saver: Similar to “Low Power Mode” in iPhone’s Settings, when “Action Mode” is activated within the app’s settings the app will reduce access to all other features of the app, saving battery life.

By limiting the functions of the app, Active Mode increases device battery life. If events last for many hours, it is a good idea to bring a portable battery charger.


According to Wikipedia the word “activism” is defined as efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social,

political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society toward a perceived greater good. While what most of us are privy to see are images and videos uploaded via social media from large protests with hundreds of voices shouting the same chant in unison, activism exists whether or not it’s broadcasted. Activism is the community garden owner growing produce for their food desert community; activism is the man that mentors young boys on the weekend who otherwise do not have a father figure; activism is the group of teens who volunteer once a month to pick up trash in their neighborhood. People’s “small” acts of good make a big impact.

In our research, we discovered that there is a need for an app which supports both individuals who want to get more involved in supporting change, and organizations to be more safe and effective in their activist work. Every day, we see headlines about new and ongoing struggles against injustice here in theUnited States and around the world.

We hope that our app leverages technology to further positive change, and to connect people in meaningful ways. When you can go onto an app or site and be in contact with millions of others who have the same goals as you, it makes our position in the world feel less small – as if our objectives are achievable.

Our research is a testament to that. When you can go onto an app or site and be in contact with millions of others who have

the same goals as you, it makes our position in the world feel less small – as if our objectives are achievable. Our research is

a testament to that.