Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation‘s Vacant Property Task Force was in need of improved information and documentation processes, as experienced volunteers aged out, new volunteers were difficult to onboard, and Detroit wanted to expand VPTF’s success in their community throughout the city.


Fall ’19 semester


  • Joanne Kim
  • Tianyue Yang
  • Marcus Thomas


  • Contextual Interviews
  • Affinity Analysis

My Role

  • Project Manager
  • UX/IS Consultant
  • Research Synthesis and Analysis

the Stakeholders

Grandmont Rosedale is a community of historic Detroit neighborhoods hit very hard by the housing market crash of ’07. The GRDC is a community run non-profit that runs a number of programs, volunteer groups, and workshops with the goal of improving their community.

The VPTF was founded as a coalition shortly after the housing crash in an effort to prevent tax foreclosure and reduce blight in members respective neighborhoods.

Who we met

VPTF Volunteers
GRDC Leadership

What they do

Prevent tax foreclosure and combat blight in their community.


A desire and commitment to improve their neighborhood.

Making sense
of it all

My team conducted background research on the history of the GRDC and the impact of the housing market crash on Detroit prior to interviews. We gathered data through interviews with six VPTF members as well as the GRDC’s Community Engagement Manager.

Then we analyzed our data to produce high-level findings and provide recommendations to improve information and documentation procedures.

Key Insights

With these findings, my team decided to focus on accessibility and portability, recommending both digital and analog solutions.

Users need

  • Elevated digital presence.
  • Updated Vacant Property Toolbox Handbook

Users want

  • A website
  • Improved outcomes for fundraising efforts


  • Improved communication and collaboration

The Affinity Wall

We broke down our interviews into single “affinity notes”, pouring over them looking for meaningful clusters. As we developed these clusters, we described the common thread in a sentence, and made that the heading. We followed a similar process, grouping clusters and identifying the common thread until we achieved a pyramid of information that tells the story of the GRDC, the VPTF, and the community in which they reside and serve.

Hundreds of sticky notes with writing on them of different colors stuck to a wall.
Our completed Affinity Wall

Findings & Recommendations

We derived several important findings through our background research, artifact survey, and affinity analysis. The VPTF has been so effective that it is on the verge of dissolution. And yet the volunteers and their experience have become integral to the past, present, and future work of the GRDC, that a transformation of volunteer roles may be in order as the VPTF revises their mission.

Our research suggests that the VPTF should focus on the deployment of a website and updated vacant property toolbox in order to document and preserve the processes of the VPTF.

Elevated Digital Presence

The VPTF Program needs a webpage. Through our interviews and observations we learned that the VPTF appears ready to create a home for itself on the internet.



Paper Trail

VPTF has used a number of pamphlets and flyers over the years to share information resources with neighbors and new residents.


Model for Detroit

According to interviews as well as recent events discussed in the local news, the mayor wants to use the VPTF as a model for his city-wide blight removal initiative.



VPTF success means less vacant property to report. The work of the VPTF has become documenting their process and optimizing the format.

GRDC’s website has no menu for it’s programs like the VPTF because they don’t have their own webpage. Instead what we see is a redundant ‘Contact Us’ button.

We recommended making a web-page for each of these programs to improve accessibility and highlight the important work being done. Move ‘Contact Us’ under ‘About Us’ and create a menu option for programs.

Update Vacant Property Guide

While a web-page could serve as a digital VPTF guide that the GRDC is seeking, we found that this solution would be of little benefit to those who aren’t as tech-savvy.

In addition, a physical guide is something that can be distributed to new residents and volunteers, passed out at community events, or utilized by other neighborhood associations.




Over the years, VPTF members have tended to be more comfortable with paper resources, but didn’t keep a digital copy to update.


VP Toolkit

This was a collaborative handbook created by organizations throughout Detroit. But as conditions improved, now only VPTF is still around to maintain it.



Some members of the VPTF do not use digital technology.



Volunteers expressed a desire to have a guide to distribute to new residents.

In the short term – A Business Card

A card like this can serve as a physical manifestation of the kind of mobile-first design considerations we often have to make regarding information prioritization and architecture. The card is a quick and easily distributed resource that prioritizes contact information and links to the VPTF’s most used tools. This can be carried by volunteers to hand out at a moment’s notice, displayed at the register of local businesses, or passed out a community events, as the need arises.

For the long term – Update the Vacant Property Toolbox.

We advise that a digital version of the physical handbook be preserved so that new editions don’t have to be created from scratch. Outdated versions can be archived on the VPTF web-page, and current versions can be viewed on the web, or downloaded as a pdf document and printed out for distribution or personal use. There’s an advantage here in that the GRDC can make use of company branding for greater exposure as being the sole contributors to the new VP Toolkit. This can further elevate their status and the impact of the VPTF’s work, particularly as the toolbox is utilized in other Detroit neighborhoods and beyond.

Improve Fundraising

The VPTF is central to strategic planning at the GRDC, but many of the past fundraising projects have been a high effort for little to no return.




While the VPTF is central to strategic plans at the GRDC, many of the fundraising efforts in the past have been high effort for little return.



Often residents would prefer to simply give money to the org rather than buy something like a holiday wreath.



The founding members of the VPTF are getting older, and are looking for more efficient, less physical ways to raise money.



Money used to be used for buying boards to board up vacant houses. Less vacant houses means less need for money to buy boards.

Recommendation: Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding leverages the power of social networks by engaging connections made not only by the organization, but also the connections of the organization’s members.

What sets crowdfunding apart from more traditional donation pages is the more personalized touch. Crowdfunding often comes with pictures or short videos that highlight the impact of the org or in some instances, illustrate the problems that needs solving.

Crowdfunding is the best way to expand a nonprofit’s donor base. Similarly, peer-to-peer fundraising may also be utilized. Essentially the same as crowdfunding, it puts volunteers in control of producing and promoting the campaign, which can either be ongoing or have a set deadline/amount.

Strengthen Collaborative Efforts

In our recommendations above, we elaborated on our key findings and provided recommendations on what our client could do to optimize documentation and reporting procedures. What follows is a recommendation for how.




Some members of the VPTF talk over others and don’t respect other people’s ideas.



Consistent sentiment among stakeholders was pride in the impact of the VPTF.



The mission was to make the VPTF redundant. Now, there’s a desire to reevaluate rather than dissolve.



There are divergent ideas about where such a reevaluation might lead.

Design Thinking diagram from UX Hints (formerly UX Cheat)
Recommendation: Co-design

Co-design is very similar to participatory design, which advocates for changing not merely the systems, but the practices of system-design and building, to support democratic values at all stages of the process.

Stakeholders can participate in and employ the iterative strategies designers use to come up with and build on ideas, and co-design is a strategy that is proven to work at scale, from international campaigns, to open source projects, and even in small team environments and agency work (Casali, 2013).

The GRDC building has a fantastic space with which to facilitate neighborhood workshops (something which they already do) or design jams to ideate innovative solutions to neighborhood problems.


We ask “how” because we don’t yet have the answers we seek. “How” helps participants explore a variety of possibilities instead of diving right into what we think the solution should be.


The usage of “might” emphasizes that our ideas are only possible solutions and that we shouldn’t be too attached to initial ideas that spring to mind.


“We” is critical to the overall co-design strategy as it immediately implies and reinforces that the solution will be found through collaborative effort.

I recommended co-design as a means of optimizing a website and guidebook content while reinforcing group cohesion and community interdependence. Soliciting ideas from VPTF volunteers are a major part of team meetings. Taking a closer look at how to develop HMW questions and facilitate brainstorming sessions can make these meetings more fruitful and productive.

Over the years, some of the most innovative design thinking experts from IDEO and Standford’s have developed best practices that GRDC can implement to provide structure to ideation sessions and meetings including but not limited to the VPTF.


Our research and analysis yielded information regarding VPTF’s procedures, concerns, and team collaboration. We translated these findings into clear, executable recommendations that the GRDC can implement in both the short and long term.


Web Page

Provide the VPTF with an elevated digital presence and a hub for past and present documentation by the volunteers.



We recommend crowdfunding as an effective way to expand VPTF’s donor base and improve overall fundraising.



Co-design fosters greater collaboration and ownership in the team’s decision making process.



We suggest these strategies be used to optimize a team-wide effort to update the VPTF’s outdated documentation.

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