Safe Harbor

June 2016 | 3 days

Team: Benjamin Grandy (Designer), Sair (PM), Wendy (PM), Thinley, Sofio, and Ashley.
Deliverables: User Interviews, UX Artifacts, Visual Design, Logo, Style Guide, Clickable Prototype

Won a hackathon at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit for an app that helps victims of domestic abuse find shelter.

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The theme of this Global Entrepreneurship Summit weekend Hackathon was issues and problems facing women. The first day we brainstormed all sorts of issues including access to Healthcare and Childcare, education, maintaining safety in foreign environments as well as helping children that are abandoned at birth. However, the issue that kept coming up again and again was the scourge of domestic abuse.

Team: Our team was six people. Other people had specialties in business development and project management. I was the only designer/ developer.


We used the double-diamond methodology, which starts with deep research, which then leads to insights. From there we established the problem definition, brainstormed possible solutions for solving the problem, and from there focused on core user needs and built a prototype that could best address these needs.


Along with learning about heartbreaking statistics online, we had phone interviews with victims, a case manager and shelters host, and tried to understand the perspectives of all people including the perpetrator and the police.

On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. More than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.1

Since you opened this webpage, an estimated 0 people have been physically abused by an intimate partner in the US.

On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hot-lines nationwide, representing half of all calls.2

Emergency accommodation is limited to shelters and their availability is not accessible online by case managers.

In Santa Clara County alone, domestic-violence shelters can take in just 63 people at a time and turn away nearly 2,500 requests annually.3

Insights: We identified different types of abuse — abuse can be physical, verbal, financial, emotional & psychological. After identifying these issues, we created a 'threat-scale' from low to extreme to consider what sort of interventions might be appropriate in different cases. We also created an empathy map to connect with victims and a user journey to understand the current process. We then brainstormed a potential Feature Inventory and prioritized what we should focus on for a minimally viable product.

After day 1, I led the team to create many UX artifacts - a journey map, an empathy, map, a system map, user flows, as well as mapped out categorically the insights from our research. We understood the problem in increasing depth, we created the idea of a threat scale. However, when we looked around at other teams they were much further along building the prototype.

We learned about the context of the situation - that the victim is worried that the perpetrator will come after them. We realized how important it was to design a system that could help victims without giving a potential perpetrator the opportunity to abuse such a system. It's not obvious how you can screen whether someone is truly a victim or they're a perpetrator trying to track down victims. It's extremely important that the information of the Safe Harbors is not made public or available to perpetrators.

Pivot: Therefore, we decided to pivot and make Safe Harbor a tool for case managers, rather than victims. Being victim-focused left a vulnerability wherein the perpetrator could chase the victim, spy on them, and use the app against them. Instead, a tool for case workers gives the victim a layer of protection and helps the case workers be more effective, who are the linchpin in the system. The network currently available between case managers, shelters, police and victims is very outdated, slow, fragmented and broken. Safe Harbor aims to improve this system.

Problem Definition: There is a real need for greater access to shelter beds to protect victims of domestic abuse.


After our research, synthesis, ideation and feature priorities, I built a prototype. Safe Harbor offers victims of domestic abuse shelter by connecting them to volunteers willing to offer space in their home. The design thinking and the branding evoke a calming, relaxing, safe atmosphere. It is very snappy with few extra features as in many cases the victims are in high-pressure life or death situations.

Worked with an outside design agency to make this logo. The steering wheel captures the idea of changing course and subtly embedded in the logo are homes.


Domestic violence is a terrible crime with too many people suffering needlessly. We need to do more. Being the last to build the prototype seemed to be our weakness early on. In the end, it was our strength - having built an app on the deepest foundation of research. This was why we won the Hackathon.


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