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problem space

Improving the experience of clients of family court. 

our take

Our solutions focused on keeping the first time user informed about what to do and expect


TC Eley IV and Arushi Juneja


This project was sponsored by DHS


The family court is a highly complex system with 5 different divisions -

  • Juvenile delinquency

  • Juvenile dependency 

  • Custody, child support, parental testing and divorce

  • PFA - Protection from Abuse

  • Adoption

For someone coming into the system not knowing specific terminologies of what they are looking for, the system becomes like a maze to navigate through. Poor communication between different departments adds to the confusion

The complexity of the ecosystem and problems faced didn't allow for a sequential process of research-synthesis-ideation-prototyping-iteration, but was a fair amount of back and forth between the different steps 

triangulated research

In order to get a complete understanding of the many divisions, terminologies, processes of the very large and complex system that is the family court, we used multiple methodologies among different stakeholders 


INFORMATION SHARING SESSIONS : We started by getting a download of how different departments work from the heads and key personnel of these departments. The sessions also brought to light the macro problems that make the experience difficult for people from the perspective of people in the system 



  • In person and telephonic interviews with users of family court to understand actual, lived and unbiased experiences

  • With line staff that is the front end for users, since these people deal with the day to day enquiries and micro issues

  • Other stakeholders, including case workers



  • Discreet observations of the space for 2-3 hours each on 3 different days and times of day

  • Observation of dependency and delinquency court hearings

My partner and I conducted the research in a diverge-converge-diverge fashion - Gathering information separately, then meeting to share our findings, and reflect on what we still need to find out, thereby inspiring next research leads


level 1

The initial research gave us lots of individual pieces of information from multiple stakeholders. To make sense of the large amount of data, we started by creating Affinity Maps 

Limited sample size, and relatively large variety of stakeholders meant pattern finding using traditional grounded theory approach would be difficult and unreliable. Hence, finding relationships between the information to give parameters became the deciding factor for choice of synthesis method
The end of this Level 1 synthesis not only gave us key themes and possible directions to work on, but brought to light gaps and further, specific areas of investigation

level 2

Armed with additional information, we sought deeper insights behind what people said and did


For individual desires and complaints people had, we laddered to reach the end value they were seeking.

For example, when a 17 year old girl calls her friends while waiting for a dependency hearing, what is she really seeking?


On the face of it, it appeared that there were many small problems. This could have led to confusion on what is the right problem to solve.

Listing the key big problems, and the reasons why they were happening, showed us how many issues that looked like problems were simply effects/symptoms and not the real problems

the experience framework

On understanding the varied and sometimes contradictory experiences of different types of users, what gradually became clear was the experience is based on certain parameters. We developed the following analysis framework which would help in building personas

for detailed process and key findings view process documentation
problem definition
We focused on first-time users and people coming into the system with simply a problem, not knowing the terms or anything else they need
build a system that keeps the first-time user informed about what to do and expect?
ideation for solutions

My partner and I first generated solutions independently, then came together to share our thoughts to avoid biasing each other. Two things that helped the process immensely -

  1. We combined aspects of our individual work to create stronger solutions - tweaking the thought behind one person's idea, using it to strengthen the other's idea

  2. We practised "Yes, and..." for the entire list of each other's solutions, building them further into better versions of the original 

to know more about the ideation process and all solutions click here
prototyping and iteration

We met the client to discuss our solutions, get feedback and an understanding of which direction would be most useful to them. 


From the several ideas we came up with, we decided to prototype 3 solutions that could work well together as a system, supporting each other, at the same time stand as individual solutions:

  1. Redesign of summons

  2. Interactive kiosk to help understand court process 

  3. SMS service that keeps user updated

1. summons

Problems we were trying to address:

  • Disorganised information in paragraphs

  • Redundant information

  • When users come for the first time, they have no idea what to expect




  • In the upper right corner of the summon there is a three-letter icon in color. This design element allows staff to easily recognise client need and direct them accordingly. Colour consistency is part of a larger system

  • Visual hierarchy allows clear identification of important information - date, time and exact location 

  • Chunked and point wise information allows easier read and assimilation 

  • 2 column format allows for quicker entry of information for person sending 

  • Gives users information so that their expectations of the court more closely match their experience

2. kiosk

Problems we were trying to address:

  1. Language gap between users and staff - users describe their needs in layman language, the staff is trained to understand technically correct terms. Incorrect understanding of problem leads to incorrect information given, incorrect forms filled and lots of confusion

  2. Court is short staffed, and it becomes difficult to handle questions from such a large number of people effectively


  • Use of layman language

  • Step wise guidance, with option to skip steps through navigation bar for users looking for specific information

  • Colour coding - Different problems are coded differently, and this colour is kept consistent in the forms to be filled, indication of where user needs to go, preventing errors

  • Reduces load on staff

  • Possibility of a phased roll out of solution - We recommended a step wise roll out which would allow us to refine the content - starting with a flyer, then a tab, and finally the full kiosk

3. sms service 

Problems we were trying to address:

  1. Uncertainty - Not having any idea about when hearing will start

  2. Feeling of being stuck - Users are unable to leave the waiting area, since they don't know when their hearing will start. This ultimately leads to irritation, increase in perceived wait time, and a negative atmosphere, especially when people are hungry


  • Sends reminder one day prior and day of hearing

  • Allows person to move freely, and even go out of the building, thereby reducing perceived wait time

  • Introduces the kiosk as a resource, supporting another solution

  • Becomes a medium to get feedback from users, signifying importance of their opinion


We presented our detailed findings to the client. Our solutions found great traction with the client, especially the colour coded kiosk and summons. These were then presented to a bigger audience, with stakeholders in decision making roles, in order to start bringing these solutions to life.

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