UX design, interface design, primary and secondary user research
Critical Making Project, Spring 2017


Safezone is a wearable that allows protesters to assess their safety and the status of their location with a quick glance at their surroundings. Protestors wear a pin and wristband with LED indicators that signify whether their location is "safe/neutral", "unsafe", or "dangerous" in real time. Using the bracelet, protestors can also report their personal feelings of safety. The accompanying app indicates the status of the predetermined protest area and allows real-time crowd-sourced incident-reporting akin to Waze. 

Furthermore, when worn by multiple individuals in a crowd, protesters will be able to see a sea of color that shows the area’s safety status and builds a sense of solidarity. 

This project was part of my Critical Making class, where we sought to design a "novel object for a protest." I served as the designer for the group. 





To better understand protests, our group attended the Oakland Women’s March in January and the Anti-Hate Speech Protest at UC Berkeley in February and recorded our observations. We also performed semi-structured interviews with protestors to better understand why they attended protests, their personal concerns, and potential pain points in how marches and demonstrations happen now. Finally, we conducted secondary research on commonalities of successful protests online.

We discovered that safety was a key concern for would-be protestors, especially those with children. One interviewee, a father, said that he was always on alert and looking for possible signs of trouble during the entire march. Despite their strong desire to take pictures and document their experience, their need to be constantly alert superseded that urge. Another interviewee who strongly supported many causes but didn't attend many protests cited safety as a deterrent.

We also found that the feeling of supporting one's causes, and the empowerment and community experienced at protests werepowerful motivations for attending protests. 

Key Insights:

  • Individuals attend protests for the cause, the sense of community, and to be around many passionate people with common values
  • Solidarity and unity of protesters is a key factor in successful protests
  • Safety is a primary concern for individuals who already attend protests and individuals interested in attending protests alike
    • Threat of danger dissuades attendance from moderates who care but don’t protest.
    • Safety prevents some protesters from fully engaging.
    • Protestors were cognizant of escape routes in case of danger
  • In a large protest, it is difficult to know what is going on outside of your immediate surroundings
  • Protesters confused about where the crowd is going, where it is safe to march
  • Peaceful protests can quickly turn violent

Design Goals:

Based on our research findings, our primary design focuses were promoting safetyincreasing solidarity, and improving protest attendance



We set out to design a LED-based wearable and accompanying mobile app that would use crowdsourced reports to map out safety conditions in protest locations. The color shown on the device would represent the user’s safety situation. We decided to use green, yellow, and red color indicators on the wearable as a simple way to determine a form of relative safety around them based on the colors they could see on fellow protesters.

We initially decided that the app should be able to record the user’s location, communicate the general safety of the vicinity, and allow the protest organizers to set up the area for demonstration, or march route. If there was a blockage in the intended march, including police barriers, the zone can be marked as dangerous and protestors can know before they get near the blockage.


Feature definition during our ideation phase.


Based on our research findings, our primary design focuses were promoting safety, increasing solidarity, and improving protest attendance. Our focus on safety and transparency led to two design goals: intuitive reporting and quickness-of-use. In the app, this created two major interactions--internal reporting and event reporting.

Internal reporting focuses on the individual's personal feelings of safety, while event reporting focuses on external events and incidents that occur in a protest. By focusing on these two, we pared down user flows. 

Early user flow sketches.

Protesters could also see if a zone is particularly dangerous due to other safety risks like a fire or armed individuals. From our observations, we know that situations and safety during protests is very localized and can change rapidly, so we looked for how existing apps obtain real time information and use it to their advantage.

We discussed Waze and its use of crowdsourcing in collecting real-time traffic updates for users and the value it’s provided to drivers. The use of simple icons to quickly report features at your location was also something we wanted to use, as protesters need to be off their phones as much as possible for safety reasons, and should only need to glance and interact with phones periodically. To prevent misuse of the app to report false information, we decided that reports should require some form of validation before going live in the app.  

Our in-class critique revealed confusion surrounding the application, so we used the feedback from the demonstration to update the app images to improve user understanding and incorporated the images into an InVision prototype. Major iterations were adding a "neutral" option for self-reported safety within the app and decoupling the personal safety reports and event reports.


Usability Testing

We created a tappable prototype in inVision to do usability testing with several individuals who had attended protests before. In response to feedback we collected from testing and from class critique, we identified some points of confusion. We added a "Neutral" option in addition to "Safe", "Unsafe", and "Danger" for self-reports and improved text readability.

A major flaw was with how we categorized our incidents. Initially, we assigned safety values to them with the intention of making reporting faster by providing a visual aid that corresponded to the event's safety threat. However, the ways we constructed our categories and assigned values to them created ambiguities for people using the prototype for the first time. For instance, "injury" was initially categorized as a dangerous event, but injury occurs on a variable spectrum, as evidenced by one user who said they may want to report an injury but was reluctant to do so because it might cause unnecessary panic. Some of our categories were also interrelated, such as "fight" and "injury". Though we categorized "police activity" as an unsafe event, we quickly realized that police activity could be positive, such as arrests and crowd-control, as well as negative, such as accosting protestors. We also overlooked potential events like non-injury medical emergencies and people giving speeches. Testing provided extremely valuable feedback that revealed flaws in our categorizations.


Final Designs

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 1.30.18 AM.png

Though ideally our team would have done more research like word association and card sorting to create more mutually exclusive, completely exhaustive categories for protest events, due to time constraints, we opted to color the icons uniformly in blue to imposing our group's opinions about safety onto our users. Without differentiated button colors, however, some of our icons became very similar, and introduceD ambiguity for the user. 


Next Steps

Our efforts to make a harmonious and assistive protest-inspired device was not without important ethical implications. In particular, connectivity and privacy issues must be explored and further developed to make the product more reliable and safe.

For example, one of the criticisms we received was that cell phone service was commonly unreliable due to large crowd sizes during protests. Additionally, while our aim is to promote peaceful protesting, the information of the people who use our device may be misappropriated and used for malicious purposes. We also would focus further on designing safeguards against misuse from anti-users. 

Though there is much room for iteration and major categorization refinement, working on Safezone was an incredibly interesting experience in designing to build trust by way of promoting safety and increasing transparency in a scenario often elicits alertness and concern.