A new way for refugees to connect with their new homes

J+E Creative recently took a team of five designers, product managers, and developers to compete in a 48-hour refugee hack in Atlanta. The challenge: use technology to help refugees assimilate and acclimate to their new homes in the US and elsewhere.

Our solution uses the concept of storytelling—and Joseph Campbell's idea that certain story structures are universal across cultures—as a basis for education and fluency. By leveraging pop culture, great works, and bite-sized previews of life in their new countries, 1000 Faces meets the language and culture needs of transplanted refugees while bypassing the limited time and resources of NGOs and native-speakers upon whom they'd otherwise be dependent.

An animated brand design reflects the faces of both the refugee users and the story characters that combine to make 1000 Faces a unique and valuable communication and education tool.

Our approach


Within the hackathon's very-narrow timeframe, we were still able to identify two different target user groups—NGO professionals who work with refugees as well as domestically-settled refugees on both coasts.


  • Most refugees were not able to transfer their professional and career experience to their new homeland because of language and cultural fluencies.
  • Even language-proficient refugees struggle with comprehension issues related to pop-culture, local history, and idioms—and that these knowledge gaps often produced the most embarrassment and most limited social opportunity with native speakers.
  • Refugee populations are often isolated, limiting access to native-speakers.


We quickly iterated a series of designs, starting with the simple goal of using storytelling as gateway to cultural fluency, and adapting it to address other problems as they arose through user research and user testing.


  • Educate refugees about cultural norms and societal common knowledge in their new home country.
  • Provide engaging content in both short and long forms.
  • Provide multi-tiered content for various fluency levels and ages.
  • The platform should allow flexible localization for various languages and cultures in various new home countries.
  • The UI should be designed according to Material design standards to maximize cross-platform and cross-cultural usability. 


Within that first 36-hours of the hackathon, we created a high-fidelity experience prototype and a low-fidelity functional prototype. We tested with both NGO and refugee user groups and  iterated based on their feedback.


  • The experience prototype was built using Sketch and Marvel, for usability testing.
  • The functional prototype was built using React JS, Radium, and Redux for technical demonstration.
  • Users were unanimous in wishing such a solution had been available when they first came to the United States—especially the professional literature and pop-culture feed options.
  • Although a few iconography choices proved less universal than expected and had to be revised, the bilingual UI aided in language education.

using design thinking to find a unique solution to a difficult challenge

While most teams focused on the rapid development of a functional prototype, we intentionally delayed development, focusing on a user-centered design process that delivers more targeted and meaningful solutions. For instance, talking to NGOs and refugees quickly revealed that language literacy wasn't enough. Simple miscommunications about social norms (hugging, for instance, proves a common source of frustration—not everyone is so quick to embrace as Americans!) and pop-culture (superficially, many refugees are repulsed by American pop culture as violent and over sexualized—they therefore miss many of the themes and commentaries embedded in franchises like The Walking Dead and Star Wars).

We synthesized our user research into a priority personal and adoption user journey, targeting the most dramatic refugee crisis of our time:

Our breakthrough was recognizing the cultural fluency and native-speaker-access gaps in most language and education tools.

Persona: Amira & Maya

Amira and Maya are mother and daughter. They are from Syria and have recently been resettled in Georgia. They are both eager and excited to start their new lives and want an engaging way to learn the culture, behaviors, and language in the US and more specifically in Georgia.


  • Adapt to new setting in a fun way
  • A platform that addresses multiple needs at once
  • A way to share valuable information with each other


  • Need a way to connect skill sets in new location
  • Not familiar with cultural behaviors
  • Not able to connect with Americans


  • Different English levels
  • Do not use email
  • Android users
  • Need a web-based solution

User journey: Adoption


Amira’s case worker tells her & Maya about 1000 Faces. They have a shared Android phone and decide to try it out.


Amira & Maya wonder if it will be easy… will it really work… will it be fun… is help available… is the content good… how much will it cost?


Although they’re excited, they are feeling a bit anxious and overwhelmed. They hope the app won’t be frustrating.

Pain point

In the past, Amira and Maya have found translation and learning apps to be unengaging and the content is never right for them.

stories, Big and small, connect us all

Originally focusing on long-form stories and the universal nature of story—especially the Hero's Journey, as described by Joseph Campbell and illustrated in everything from Gilgamesh, and The Seven Samurai, to Star Wars, we designed a platform to introduce users to both the popular and practical content of their new homelands. By providing users access to familiar and exciting stories while simultaneously giving them access to commentary in their native languages, much more than language training can take place. Why a scene might resonate with their new neighbors, or how a certain character is familiar to one from a story back home, creates connections no lexicon can provide.

We quickly realized that many users don't have the time or language fluency to dive right into long-form stories, though. So we also developed a feed that delivers bite-sized cultural content—everything from Opening Day to hugging, Darth Vader, and common but confusing idioms. These cultural nuggets can be appreciated by users of any literacy level and do much to help bridge the most common and time-sensitive cultural miscommunications.

Working rapidly, one designer handled information architecture while another handled visual and content design. This overlapping workflow helped iterate quickly while making sure the development team had everything they needed to start building early on.

Localized splash pages help anchor the refugee user to their new home.

Launching into the culture feed gives users bite-sized nuggets of cultural knowledge about their new homes.

User comments, limited to those speaking the same language, provide commentary on new topics.

Long-form literature can take any form—any new resident of Atlanta needs to know about The Walking Dead and America's obsession with zombies.

And like on the feed, user comments can be added and viewed anywhere in feed, providing context, asking questions, or critiquing.

Professional literature can be enriched with this platform, as well. Simple misunderstandings like Celsius-Fahrenheit can be easily called out.

into the hands of those most in need

Our experience and functional prototypes performed well with users—representatives from NGOs and settled refugees, alike. The simplicity of the concept and its simple bi-lingual user interface were easily understood and generated much enthusiasm.

I wish this had existed when I came to the US. It would’ve made things so much easier!
— A former Persian refugee, now living in Beverly Hills

Ellie Jordan and Jenni Jacot presenting 1000 faces to a panel of NGO judges in Atlanta.

CHallenges and the road forward

Our prototypes focused on a single priority persona and the presentation of just written and visual media. But future development plans would need to expand this scope:

  • Allow for multiple profiles within an account (e.g. mother and daughter sharing one Android device).
  • Popular music and video with transcripts and translations (understanding popular music lyrics is a common form of cultural fluency and language development).
  • Feed content preferences, so users can bookmark their favorite and most helpful items.
  • A browser plugin for a broader range of content annotations, expanding 1000 Faces into a site agnostic service like genius.com.

The 1000 Faces library is designed to offer any long-form story—from localized great works and children's classics, like Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss, to whatever is trending or more critical to a refugees life in their new country.