ACLU: Crisis Center

Crisis Center

Protecting the civil liberties of individuals that are in urgent need of help.

9 week case study | UX + IxD + Animation

The Crisis Center is a hub on the ACLU’s existing website that is the keeper and deployer of legal resources.

The Crisis Center

The Crisis Center is a hub on the ACLU’s existing website that is the keeper and deployer of legal resources for individuals in urgent need of help in protecting their civil liberties. Individual crisis pages are adaptable to changing circumstances and provide people with help that ranges from quick tips to potential in-person legal representation.

01. Strategy

Passive & Reactionary

The ACLU is the preeminent organization providing legal services related to the advocacy and protection of individuals’ civil liberties. Currently they focus their numerous resources, both human and informational on precedent setting cases. Thus, they are not well equipped to respond quickly and efficiently to individuals in moments of crisis.

"Since we can't take on every worthy case, we usually select lawsuits that will have the greatest impact, cases that have the potential for breaking new ground and establishing new precedents that will strengthen American freedoms.” - ACLU,

Current Experience

The current ALCU website is extremely static. It has has over 40,000 pages, but most of them are geared towards educating visitors or attempting to bring in donations. This approach is not conductive to a quick visit or to someone in need of assistance.

Imagine the scenario of ICE agents banging on your door, asking to enter your residence. Let's say that you are aware of the ACLU and quickly search Google in hopes to find their website. You land on a page heavily focused towards recent updates and donations, then assume they must have some sort of contact information. Eventually, after landing on a map of the United States with the state chapters highlighted, you may come across a phone number or a legal intake form. This phone number you find is not meant for emergency scenarios and often you will be met with an answering machine. The ACLU, although powerful, is not equipped to help an individual who may be in need of help.

Conditions of a Crisis

To help us narrow who we are designing for, and what type of scenario they may be in, we had to identify what we were considering to be a crisis in the context of the Crisis Center. We identified 4 conditions that a scenario may have.

01. Civil Liberties Infringement

There is reason to believe that you or someone you know has had their rights or liberties violated.

02. Government Authority Figure

The rights or liberties have been violated by some level of law enforcement eg. Police officer or ICE agent.

03. Detainment/Arrest or the Risk of Either

One is at risk of being detained or arrested by said law enforcement official – or it has already happened.

04. Situation is Time Sensitive

Some sense of urgency and a time constraint to which action needs to be taken.

How Data Can Help

The Crisis Center would not only bring value to individuals going to it, it could also act as a data source for the ACLU to help them identify crises at any scale. There is an opportunity for the ACLU to work from the bottom-up; by directly collecting data from more individuals reporting on their site, the ACLU could better identify potential cases to litigate as well as coordinate information with their partner organizations and volunteers.

We spoke to the ACLU's digital team and they acknowledged that up to this point they have had a linear thought process around documentation mechanisms, legal intake, and Know Your Rights content by siloing them into separate categories. The value the Crisis Center has is that it brings them together to strengthen their collective impact.

"Thus far we’ve had a very linear thought process around documentation, legal intake and Know Your Rights content as separate things. Bridging them together was not something we had previously considered” – Jenn Sturm, Director of Online Engagement, ACLU

Entry Points

In order to reach the Crisis Center, we realized that it is highly unlikely that a person’s first step in a crisis situation would be to go to the ACLU website. Therefore, the focus of our first sprint was discovering natural entry points. During the week-long sprint, our main focus was on how people would discover this content. We recognize that the amount of time that someone has to access help was a major constraint and what good is this content if it isn’t easy to access in a timely manner?

Through research and user testing, we found that the first thing someone would do when in a crisis situation was call a family member or a loved on. During this call, the person in need of help is looking for advice or instruction for what to do next. Unfortunately what to do in a scenario like this is not common knowledge to everyone. This led to the identification of a critical realization that we are not only designing for the people whose civil liberties are being violated in that moment, but it extends to anyone they may contact for help in the process. Therefore, reaching out for help can not only be from the point of view of the victim, it must be possible for a third-party.

Regardless of who is searching for help, searching on Google was the clear default action that was taken. How can we surface this content on Google in a clear way, not buried deep in the ACLU's website?

Currently a majority of traffic to comes through social (their twitter is legendary), but we sought to expand that beyond an audience that already knows and follows the ACLU by looking at discovery beyond conventional social traffic.

As a result of the sprint, we focussed on these 3 main entry points.

Flexible & Inclusive

To offer the most value to the most people, the Crisis Center has to be highly adaptable to the wide spectrum of crises that may occur. Types of modules and their behaviours were determined by designing for specific scenarios that fit at various points along the entire spectrum of civil liberties crises.

Crisis Scale Spectrum

The Initial Executive Order: The Muslim Ban was the starting prompt for this project, but we realize that there many other types of crisis that currently exist and could exist. Crises involving people's civil liberties will always exist, this system must be flexible and address the needs that may arise in the future.

Neutral & Abstracted

Early in our design and user-testing process we identified that the perception of this content was seen as news articles due to the use of images. This is a major problem because during a crisis situation, news articles are published at an alarming rate and often saturate Google results. We need these resources to cut through that noise and easily stand-out. Also, images have the risk of sensationalizing these scenarios and could potentially contain graphic material. To combat the correlation between news and images and causing unnecessary trauma, we took a Illustrative approach to the crisis pages.

We found an amazing illustrator, Jing Wei who has actually done illustrations for the ACLU in the past. Her work is neutral and abstracted so it is flexible, and almost has cathartic effect to it.

02. Core Values

Focus On The Individual

Although the client that we created the Crisis Center for was the ACLU, we began this project designing for the people that need help in these types of crisis situations. Our goal was to enable individuals to take action on the injustices they experience on a daily basis by providing all of the resources that the ACLU has to offer.

Future Proofing

Addressing the longevity of this system was a value that we constantly referenced throughout the 9 week project. The ACLU will be equipped and ready to respond to unpredictable needs of unprecedented crises in the future.

Modular Flexibility

The modular approach that we took enables different modules to be activated and cover everything from volunteer lawyer sign up to live news updates. This arms the ACLU with a CMS system that allows them to adapt and stay nimble now, during the current political climate, and into the future.

03. Designing for Specific Scenarios

Although the Immigration Ban was the initial prompt, to ensure that this system addresses the needs of any other situations within the crisis spectrum we designed the different touchpoints and flows for a Police Encounter and a ICE Home Raid. We selected these scenarios because they represented the different characteristics that we needed to design for to truly make this system flexible and adaptable.

Police Encounter ICE Raid

Social Discovery

Extending our sprint on entry points in week 2, we looked at the different behavioural patterns of people on social media after crisis-type interactions with law enforcement, border security and other government authority figures. Because these behaviours vary widely on social media depending on the context, point of view, access to help, and other variables; to narrow the scope we categorized the potential touchpoints within social media into public & private discovery. We highlighted 2 opportunities in which the ACLU could become more accessible and reliable as a protector of civil liberties for the individual.


Public Post

When posting to social media about an incident to share the story or crowdsource help, a Crisis Centre link shared by a friend would quickly communicate the page’s specificity and value through a short link description.


Private Message

For a less public communication setting, the ACLU could offer assistance by partnering with Facebook Messenger, where the existing pattern of in-conversation prompts could provide instant access to relevant crisis pages.

Some organizations are already working with facebook to offer prompts within conversations. Uber being the pioneer of this, we see opportunity for offering value beyond simply booking ride.

Crisis Landing Page

When designing the home navigation, it was important for us to communicate and encourage progress. We decided to create 2 different directional interfaces and do multiple rounds of A/B user-testing on people with varying levels of mobile-app familiarity in order to find out which one was more successful.


Know Your Rights

An immediate path to help can always be found at the top of a crisis page. With police encounters, a “Know Your Rights” section is also featured to provide quick legal tips that were previously buried on the ACLU’s existing website. This content was not centralized and confusing to navigate based on one specific situation.


Help in the Moment

ICE raids are situations in which timely-presented digestible chunks of information could prevent wrongful detainment or arrest. Working from an existing behaviour, the ACLU has printable "Know Your Rights" content that you can keep in your wallet. To make this information more accessible, “Know Your Rights” cards could be saved to camera roll, ready to reference in moments of urgency.

Question Section

To simplify and minimize the complexity of filling out different types of information, we designed a lightweight reporting flow focussing on one question at a time. We did this to help direct the person through these overwhelming forms and help pace the entry of information which can be daunting. We found this successful after testing a paginated long scroll approach with the freedom to go back, review, and change answers.


Prompted Recalling

A question section helps a person recall the important details of an incident by using specific language and situational prompts. The ACLU stresses the importance of “writing down as much as you remember” in the event of a police incident; however, that recommendation is the extent of their guidance.


Pointed Questions

When reporting a violation in the case of an ICE Raid, pointed and direct questioning – based on the law – is used to determine whether or not the ICE officers’ actions were legal, and can interpret the situation and discern if further action is required.


Data Collection

For the ACLU, the process of a person directly filling out information on their site provides a benefit; by accumulating this data, the ACLU has an opportunity to smoothen the transfer of information with unaffiliated pro bono lawyers and can also use it to spot red flags that could lead to better identification of potential precedent setting cases.

Result Page

After reporting an incident to the ACLU, it was important to provide the victim or person reporting with any documentation or resources that could help them with the next steps of this process. The ACLU can’t offer a lawyer or take immediate action on every case, but they can offer an option to download summary of your report and access to any trusted organizations that do pro bono work specifically related to their case.


Downloadable Report

Since the ACLU cannot offer a staff lawyer for every case, a summary of a person’s report can be made available, annotated with details that help them understand the legality of their situation. Additionally, this report acts as a written copy of information that is important to remember and could be used in the future.


Lawyer Referral

The ACLU’s network includes a vast number of partner legal organizations that focus on advocating for the protection of civil liberties. In the event that the ACLU cannot offer a staff lawyer, they could anticipate the type of referral needed and provide relevant resources.


Auto-Fill Complaint Forms

Rights violations from police often go unreported, since it is not particularly desirable to submit information to the agency responsible. The Crisis Centre could act as a midpoint, providing a link to the department’s online police complaint form and auto-filling as much duplicate information as possible.

ACLU Dashboard

We acknowledge that having a complex system to manage all of these different types of crises was necessary. The Crisis Center Dashboard is a collaborative hub where ACLU staff can update, manage, and create new pages in response to a rapidly emerging crisis. While some crises are less subject to change, they still should be easily adaptable to changing laws and circumstances.

Next Project: Settle