Fireside Disability App
Connecting individuals with disabilities to others, goods, and services.
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My Role
CPO, Lead UX Designer, UX Researcher
Project Duration
4 Months
Awesome Team MemberS
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Social isolation isn't fun.

If you're reading this, you probably experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and remember how isolating it was. Fortunately, our feelings of loneliness may disappear once this pandemic ends, however, this might not be the case for millions of people with disabilities in the world.

Studies show that 40% of persons with disabilities report feelings of loneliness and as a social species, no human should deserve to feel like they are the only person on this planet.

This is what we plan to change with Fireside.

A Detailed Look Into Our Start-Up Journey

From left to right: Cameron (Computer Science Major), Kevin (Political Science/Econ Major), Connor (Econ Major), Josh (Mech. Engineering Major), and Natalie (Psychology/Management Studies Major).
GOAL: Identify a focus.

When my team and I were challenged to build a start-up from scratch to investor pitch within 4 months, we didn't know what to expect. We knew we wanted to create something to help persons with disabilities, but we weren't sure on what or how.

We began our quest by using multiple public surveys to cast a wide net, inviting respondents with disabilities to describe pain points that they may face. Our methodology for this initial step was to collect as many data points as we could and then analyze the information we gathered for commonalities to narrow our focus.

Insight: I think that having a broad topic was beneficial as it allowed us to explore multiple challenges as well as find interests that aligned with the group, which bolstered dedication and team motivation. I saw other groups struggling as some were not as passionate about their topics and I just want to say I am very thankful for my team and their interest in a topic I'm extremely passionate about.

Early Insights

GOAL: Analyze our data and find common pain points.

From our 29 survey respondents, we identified that persons with disabilities felt an absence of a disability network, community, or support system with most respondents expressing experiencing feelings of loneliness.

Although this was a step in the right direction, we wanted to investigate further.

Problem Identification

GOAL: Verify identified pain point.

We knew that because of our specific topic, using online surveys would not provide us with the type of information we ultimately needed. As such, we began reaching out to local and international disability organizations as well as respondents of our surveys for potential interviews.

We targeted individual users because we wanted to find specifics on how loneliness impacted them and as for disability organizations, we wanted to investigate available resources as well as if there had been any program adaptations for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Insight: Although I should have expected it, I realized that having connections is quite useful in the initial stages of start-ups as I was able to connect with disability organizations and advocates I was previously in contact with to gather information. This significantly sped up our research process.

Background Research

GOAL: Interview users and investigate deeper.

Over the next few weeks, we successfully conducted 34 interviews with persons with disabilities as well as disability organization representatives from local and international communities.

Interviewing people was extremely useful for our data gathering process and it was amazing being able to speak to so many disabled users. In each interview, we would inquire about their background and allow them to speak freely on their pain points. We would then dive deeper by asking the reasons or emotions behind each choice they described. Hearing their stories further inspired me to push towards a solution that would help them all as well as helped me to better view and understand their perspectives.

Insight: What worked the best for my team and me was reaching out to our communities and connections for interviews. However, it was surprisingly difficult reaching out to disability organizations through cold emails. I personally believe that it was mainly because we were not local residents due to our study abroad status, but there is no telling what factors (such as COVID or lack of staff) may have prevented them from replying. Additionally, I think we should have focused on specific targeting, rather than blanket emailing. By doing so, it should significantly increase the chances of them replying. Looking back, I wish that we had sent out more specific emails because we would potentially have had more responses and therefore had more information to help us shape our designs. After all, user research is vital to our success and impact.


GOAL: Compile research data.

By interviewing dozens of potential users, we were able to better understand their daily routines, pain points, and attitudes regarding disability and isolation. Through non-leading questions, observations, and a long series of "why?", we were able to confirm our initial hypothesis of feelings of isolation.

Our interview results found that all types of disabilities had one common struggle: the lack of a strong community or local connections. These factors often led to isolation or feelings of loneliness reported by users.

"I didn't have anyone to talk to. No one I knew truly understood what I went through."

Almost all of our interviewees expressed the strongest feelings of isolation in the early stages of their diagnosis. This was because in the beginning of a diagnosis, individuals go through what we call the "learning phase". This is where they don't know much information about their disability and spend hundreds of hours trying to research more about their condition. During this phase, individuals experience increased feelings of fear of the unknown, concern for their medical wellbeing, as well as nervousness about the future. This is also when the user is most vulnerable and isolated because they have not yet established a support system nor have found out the methods which may help alleviate their condition.

Additionally, we also discovered that users had difficulties finding resources or support such as finding medical devices or local medical health professionals when the initial symptoms appear. This led to us focusing on building a community for persons with disabilities.

How can we reduce feelings of loneliness for persons with disabilities?


GOAL: Ideate!
"How could we reduce isolation?"

We began our design phase by having everyone brain dump ideas onto sticky notes and after a short period of time, discuss and combine similar ideas. We continued this for two rounds until we decided on a web and mobile app consisting of three core features:

  1. a community forums and direct messaging system,
  2. an event tab for creating and finding local events, and
  3. a marketplace selling disability or non-insured medical products

Each feature accomplishes our goal of connecting persons with disabilities and improving their quality of life. With our product, we aim to build a community space not only online, but in person as well. We will also help improve the quality of life of users by introducing them to specialty products and a safe space to discuss and learn about their disabilities.

Of course we all initially had hundreds of amazing ideas, from a medical insurance connection tab to even a disability Tinder, but by keeping in mind our constraints of limited manpower and time we narrowed our product down to the bare minimum.

After finalizing our ideas, we went back to our interviewees and asked for their input on the core features. Pleasantly, we were met with overwhelming positive support. We knew we were on the right track, but now we had to make this into reality, specifically a business and an app.

Insight: One thing that we had to keep in mind over and over again was to have our product "specialize" in a specific area. This is because it would be disadvantageous for us to try to tackle a multitude of challenges with the limited manpower and time we had. As such, we needed to cut excessive features that provided minimum impact. As a designer, the ability to pass on ideas one thinks are "perfect" in favor of fulfilling customer needs and company constraints is a skill that is necessary for the benefit of the team.

Business Plan

GOAL: Make the product financially sustainable.

As we are a business, we needed to find a way to be profitable or at least sustainable. Our initial ideas were through advertising and a cut of sales on our marketplace. However, we soon learned that this was not enough. We connected with and spoke to local entrepreneurs and investors in Denmark and Germany, learning quite a lot. After researching similar apps and learning from our meetings with entrepreneurs, we finalized on 5 sources of revenue.

"You must make money to keep helping people."

They are:

  1. taking a percentage of sales on the marketplace,
  2. sell advertising space through a pay-per-click model,
  3. offer boosts that will help promote an event or product,
  4. operate with a freemium model, offering additional features to subscribers, and
  5. market our app as a Business-to-Business-to-Customer* (B2B2C) product

*Switching to a B2B2C marking plan means we will focus on selling to insurance companies, healthcare professionals, and medical facilities who will then give our product to their customers.

Our market analysis shows us that 1-in-4 people have some form of disability which equates to around 61 million potential users in the United States alone. Our competitors on the market are social media giants such as Facebook, Reddit, and Discord, but we differentiate ourselves through the verification of and connection with medical health professionals as well as a moderation system based on volunteers approved by the community, rather than "first come first serve" with the community moderation formats of our competitors. Needless to say, we put persons with disabilities first and will provide a safe space for persons with disabilities.

Insight: We never expected our product to go down the route of B2B2C, but this led to one of the significant realizations I had from speaking to these entrepreneurs and investors. This realization was the importance of networking as much as I can to find mentors within industry who have the experience that I may lack. By learning from these mentors, I can increase my industry knowledge faster and avoid costly mistakes. If we didn't speak to these entrepreneurs, I would never have learned about the concept of B2B2C!


GOAL: Design a functional and effective solution.

To begin drafting our app, we first conceptualized the different functions on each page of our mobile app. To cover the core 3 features, we decided on 5 pages in total: a direct messages page, a forums page, an events page, a marketplace page, as well as a calendar page. From this, we created multiple user flows to map out paths that our users could take.

Afterwards, we began sketching low fidelity concepts of our page on paper and used these to "test out" our app. After playing around with the format and features of each page, we decided to create a higher fidelity design through Figma for testing.

Insight: Mapping a user flow was useful for isolating the use cases which our users faced and helped us better incorporate the needs of our potential users. Having the map also helped us plan out our interface, eliminating the unnecessary content as well as figuring out the basic navigation of our app. I do think it was a great idea to create a detailed mapping of the navigation options, but I wish we had taken more consideration of how the user flow map visually looked, because we relied on the content within the user flow rather than utilizing the map as a visual guide. By making the user flow visually reflect the app and not rely on a tiered formatting system would have helped us explain our prototype from a higher level overview to users and investors.

Prototyping and MVPs

GOAL: Gather user feedback and market interest research.

To take our ideas to the next level and gather user feedback, we created four minimal viable products (MVPs): a hi-fidelity mockup, an advertising flyer , a website, and a product video. These MVPs were designed to gather user feedback as well as gauge product interest.

Hi-Fidelity Mockup

GOAL: Test user feedback and interactions with mockup.
"This is what I wish had existed earlier!"

We transformed our user flow into a hi-fidelity mockup for demonstrations to users and investors. Although we didn't have enough time to fully flush out the detailed prototype on Figma, we produced a basic working version which was vital to our research and iteration process. Through the use of a visual guide, we were able to gather information from users about which features worked for them and how we could tweak our app. We iterated our prototype three times, adding features such as a calendar page for our users to quickly analyze upcoming events they were following as well as an emergency medical support button. Overall, we received significant positive feedback from the users and disability organizations we demoed the prototype to.

Insight: I think the biggest thing I will take away from this project is the idea behind rapid MVP prototyping. As someone with an engineering background, I had already known about rapid prototyping, but it never occurred to me to deploy early stage prototypes to the user base to gather information. It’s quite intriguing when 85% of the entrepreneurs I spoke to tell me to ship the product as soon as I can to gather user feedback and prepare for potential pivots. By doing so, it leads to a final product that the customer wants and has a true use for. It also goes to show that the perfect idea in a designer or entrepreneur’s head may not be the answer that people are looking for. Although we didn't have enough time in the class to deploy our product, I can absolutely see myself implementing this strategy in any project that I work on in the future. From designing apps to a disability product, I know that I can now make a better solution for users.

Flyers and Advertising

GOAL: Gauge public interest in our product.

As part of our business research, we wanted to investigate our potential interest outside of our disability community connections. As such, we ventured out into the streets of Denmark to speak to members of the public. We received positive support, but did receive comments about a similarly existing system in Denmark sponsored by the government. As our product was designed for the American market, we were reassured that such a need existed and a solution worked for communities in Denmark.

Insight: I have to say it was quite nerve-racking approaching random strangers in a country whose language we barely spoke, however I learned so much from speaking to random people who gave us wonderful ideas and supported our mission. As Denmark has a strong healthcare and social system, it was amazing to hear the medical stories of individuals we bumped into and how Denmark provided for them. I hope that one day, the American medical system can provide similar elements of support in the future. As an introvert, this experience taught me the value of stepping outside my comfort bubble and the potential of gaining valuable knowledge from human interactions, rather than Googling online.


GOAL: Collect user registration data and website traffic analytics.

We created a website for interested parties to subscribe for future updates as well as get more information about our product and mission.

Insight: I learned how important and useful it was having a core source of information you could point people towards as it allowed us to generate more media attention through the sharing of our website from our network. We would explain our ideas to our immediate connections and they would ask if they could share our website with people they knew that would be interested, which led us to securing 3 additional interviewees. If I had more time, I would add more visual demonstrations of our app and add specific examples of how our app could be used to better visually explain our concept. I feel that if we had increased the visual appeal, we would have had more traffic through word of mouth.

Product Video

GOAL: Explain product through a visual presentation.

Finally, we created a product video to advertise our app and explain our product solution.

Insight: I've never worked with stop motion animation, but the one thing I took away is that stop motion animations are significantly more complex and time consuming compared to traditional filmmaking. I have to say that I have a new appreciation for stop motion animators, especially those who create full feature films. I can't begin to imagine how long something like Kubo took. I know the next time I work on a stop motion animation, I will absolutely triple the time I think I need.
Product Video
Introducing Fireside!
Connecting people with disabilities and medical conditions to others, goods, and services.

Fireside is a free-to-download community building and marketplace app that supports and connects individuals with disabilities and medical conditions to others, goods, and services.

Fireside’s community feature gives you the opportunity to meet others in the disabled community through forums, get recommendations for local services from other users on the app, and learn about local events coming up. Also, Fireside serves as a marketplace where you can browse assistive technology products as well as different service listings from various providers in your area.

Fireside’s mobile platform provides our users with a safe and moderated community and marketplace run by fellow users, an opportunity for independent exploration, and access to local healthcare support.

Final Pitch Recording