rethinking Canada’s refugee application forms

► On Vimeo

The Pitch

Settle is a digital platform that helps displaced people apply for refugee status in Canada. It was a 7 week project for an interface design class.


Journey Mapping
Interaction Design


Taylor Ward
Robyn Goodridge
Sean Leach
Chris Elawa


Opportunity for Real Impact

We knew we wanted to address the ongoing refugee crisis with our 7 week project. However it would be impossible to do a meaningful project addressing the crisis as a while because of its incredibly complex problem scope.

The refugee journey is long, complex, emotionally fraught and spans multiple contexts. We sought to find a well defined opportunity along that journey that would lend itself to a specific, measurable intervention. The process of filling forms to apply for refugee status once landed in Canada presented itself as an opportunity to intervene and alleviate some stress in this taxing journey.

The Problem

Through speaking with people at different settlement services, we identified a major yet not immediately obvious problem in the journey – the process of filling out application forms for government protection and official refugee status. Through further research we found that this problem is two fold.

1. Filling government forms sucks. Unless you are someone who sees beauty in the information design of complex government forms this is probably up there on your list of least enjoyable things. Furthermore, specific to refugee status forms, there is a great deal of redundancy in the forms, language barriers to content with, documents to gather and even various people to consult along the way.

2. Accessing these Canadian government forms online is a nightmare. We found numerous different sources explaining the process, all in slightly different, often circuitous ways. Broken pdf links, and a lack of digital filling options further adds to the complexity.

Real People

Because our intervention was targeting friction in the form filling process we desired to fold an understanding of potential users into our design process. It can be hard to remember that there are real people with stories, experiences and proficiencies when tackling the refugee crisis that is largely discussed in numbers and statistics.

Through research with settlement service agencies as well as other secondary research we created three distinct personas that allowed us to empathize through our design process.

Of the three personas Akram drove the design the most


Mapping The Journey

We mapped out the journey a displaced person takes to obtain refugee status in Canada. Within that larger journey we focused our efforts on deeply understanding the period after arrival in Canada until the case hearing in which a decision is made. We then mapped out specifics of the form filling process, keeping in mind the various actors

overall journey with pain annotated painpoints in black
in depth form filling journey

Form Teardown

In order to redesign the form we had to deeply understand the form. To do this we did a complete teardown of the forms. Our goals were to understand the overall flow, find repeating patterns that could become units and identify points of redundancy.

Forms shouldn't have to be complex to be credible

Final App


The Settle onboarding process would use the typical information gathered during onboarding to not only set up the app but also prepopulate relevant forms.


The aim was to create a ‘happy path’ through filling the forms based on our teardowns. This path would have the least amount of redundancy, without forcing a linear process.

One aspect of the interface that we did heavy user testing on was the navigation patterns on the dashboard. We found that people appreciated the vertical scrolling dashboard because it felt like a checklist however it offered less information upfront and would create deadspace once a few forms were filled.

We ultimately opted to layout the cards horizontally so that they could be scrolled through and understood to an appropriate level of detail without tapping into any. This layout also allowed us to internationalize the design to work with languages that have other reading directions.

Filling Forms

Each form includes multiple types of responses and actively responds to previous inputs.

The Paragraph

A gnarly ux problem we had to solve was the long form responses on some forms. These had to be written in paragraph form and in english. In these fields the app would provide simple writing prompts that appear sentence by sentence. The interface mimics messaging/sms – a pattern people are comfortable writing incrementally for long periods of time on mobile.


While filling a form the scroll bar doubles as progress indicator. The scrubbing affordances allows people to jump ahead since forms are not always going to be filled linearly.

Getting Help

Getting help while filling the current paper forms is extremely tedious. Settle offers contextual help that includes a longer description of the specific of the question as well as translation feature and a way to share the question with one’s legal counsel.


Although Settle’s main context of use is as a mobile app due to our user insights around device access, the forms themselves need to be submitted in hard copy. The web interface allows review of the filled pdfs and printing options.

The term “refugee” is a circumstance, not an identity. Settle humanizes a process that currently complicates an already difficult situation by providing applicants with a clear, guided path towards protection.
another one?