Helping newly migrated students navigate the wildfire season of Washington

Emberace is a two-part experience for University of Washington students to build awareness around the impacts wildfires have on the self and surrounding communities.
Emberace was built through UX research, rapid iteration and prototyping, followed by user testing.


Gayathri Kasilingam
Matthew Fang
Emily Shu


Sept 2022-Dec 2022
( approx 10 weeks )

What did I do? ✌🏻

I ideated & c0-designed
Brainstormed potential solutions, filtered them and tested top ones through effective prototyping

I did a lil' Research
Conducted generative research on smokefires and evaluative research on the prototypes

I edited videos & animated

I designed the UI screens and animated the smoke globe prototypes and concept video animations.

I learnt package design & took. care of brandingCreated visual identity of 'emberace' to communicate its essence. Inculcated the same into the care kit's package keeping in mind its functional constraints as well.

But, Why?

Wildfires and climate change are mutually exacerbating. Experts estimate a global increase of extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030 Most migrants are unaware of the health impacts caused by smokefires and its impacts.

  • Wildfire season is becoming more frequent and severe. in 2020, WA state fires destroyed 180 homes

  • 31.3% of UW's incoming freshman are migrants, and most of them know nothing about the wildfire season.

  • Smokefire causes health issues including cough, asthma, heart attacks, strokes, eye dryness and even fatal issues for sensitive groups

First, what's the existing awareness? 🧐

The aim of this project is to gain an understanding of how people who have just moved to Seattle (with little to no experience with wildfire season) handle smoke and wildfires, their existing awareness, knowledge, and concern.

what were the goals we
had in mind during research?

We had a group of Washington migrants, mostly university students, with varying levels of wildfire experience take an interactive survey to evaluate their existing awareness, knowledge, and concern on wildfire season and smoke.

  • #1

    How much existing knowledge and awareness do new Seattle-lites have about wildfire season and smoke?

  • #2

    How much does smoke affect their quality of life, and how much do they care about those impacts?

Click to see our  Research plan & Survey

Some common themes we discovered.

These were the common themes that emerged while analyzing the insights from our research

Desire for changed behavior

Participants want to be more proactive about poor air quality, driven by different motivators.

Tech plays a role, but does not motivate action.

We asked participants how using technology to check the air quality affected their behavior. It had no behavioral impact.

Barriers to awareness

internal barriers like forgetfulness complacency, not identifying as a sensitive group. External barriers like lack of organizational resources (e.g. university onboarding)

Reliance on social networks

Social networks make participants aware of wildfire season and poor air quality

Use of physical cues

Participants use physical symptoms, sight, and smell to identify poor air quality.

Perceptions before moving

Many participants had either a lack of awareness or misperception about Seattle’s wildfire season.

Well, it all boils down to...

We distilled these two insights by merging the themes.

Many migrants don't act due to unawareness of smoke's health effects and absence of immediate physical symptoms.


Migrants become conscious and more aware of their concern for air quality once a dialogue on the topic commences.

- Freshman, University of Washington, from Pittsburgh,

Exploring solutions through design ✍🏻

ideating and coming up with crazy ideas → Downselecting the best

This further led us to
experiment with

'Design Principles'
to downsize ideas.

Our design challenges and research insights inform the five design principles.

  • Changes mindset

    Initiates change in mindset to encourage user awareness and preparedness for wildfire season

  • is Experiential

    Creates an experience, preferably using physical/visual cues to be more impactful to user

  • Benefits multiple Stakeholders

    Simultaneously benefits more than one stakeholders ( healthy and sensitive groups ) so that we arrive at holistic solutions

  • Requires Low effort

    Requires low user effort so that they are more likely to engage with design

  • Leverages existing resources

    Use existing stakeholders/entities to motivate user awareness and engagement

Grouping and further narrowing refined ideas

Changes mindset

Requires Low effort

We noticed there were many overlapping ideas. For organizational purposes, we grouped them by themes.
After discussing, we found the design principles "Low effort" and "Changes mindset" to be the main priority as they were very much in sync with our findings. Based on this, we shortlisted the themes.

Final choice was...
Onboarding Kit

Relevant stakeholders:
Incoming students, at-risk groups with lack of resources

Interactive onboarding experience, which overcomes the barrier to awareness for migrant students

Desired Outcomes:
Raises awareness about the available safety precautions and how one can care for sensitive groups

Context: UW Dorm halls

Changes mindset

Requires Low effort

Leverages existing resources

Storyboard for Onboarding Kit

Yet, it had one big challenge:
How to ensure its not just a one time thing?

To Solve this, we incorporated a Personal memento!

We came up with two memento options

Smoke Globe Vs Virtual Plantie

Smoke Globe
A smoke globe is similar to a snow globe, but contains climate/AQI info and fills up with smoke when there is a wildfire around your location.


Virtual Plantie
A smoke globe is similar to a snow globe, but contains climate/AQI info and fills up with smoke when there is a wildfire around your location.

Watch concept videos 🎥

Running it through students to find the best memento option

We ran our both memento ideas with users to get inputs on how the memento will fit into their everyday lives and enhance continued awareness.

User Research Participants interacting with the handmade prototypes



Finally, we choose to go with the smoke globe for the following reasons:

Daily Interactions: People will be more likely to interact with an object that provides data that is embedded within their daily lives. By adding weather, AQI data, we made sure people can take a look of it everyday.

Trigger: If the visuals of the object deviates from its normal state, it will more likely grab the user’s attention. The smoke filled up in the globe acts as this deviation.

Communication of Information: The combination of a quantitative measure (e.g. AQI) and visuals associated with human connection is effective at informing users about the impact of wildfire season. The smokeglobe has a digital screen showing this information

Follow-up action: Users are more likely to follow up on an altruistic action if it is easy-to-integrate into the user’s life and is perceived as impactful. The 1$ donation we planned was mindful of both student’s lack of money and time.




( yup, its a snowglobe + smoke )

The smoke globe is a weather device that provides weather and air quality data. Unlike a weather app, the globe uses visual cues to denote conditions outside, and physically interactive - particularly during wildfire season.

Let's put 'em all together, shall we? 🥣

Final outcomes


Storyboard for Care Kit 🎬

Since this is an experiential activity, we wanted to storyboard the process so the whole team agrees on the step by step progress

and, this is the care kit.

The care kit was a whole package with different elements, each has a specific purpose

and, why did we include these?

  • Packing wildfire cleanup supplies for evacuees

    When returning home to clean up, the care kit will be less of an after-thought for evacuees.

  • Collaboration with other students

    When working others, students found the kit-making experience to be more enjoyable and less awkward.

  • Writing letters to evacuees using prompts

    Words of encouragement cultivate compassion. Prompts are required as without any guidance, students were unsure and uncomfortable about writing the letters.

Storyboard For Smokeglobe 🎬

Since this is an experiential activity, we wanted to storyboard the process so the whole team agrees on the step by step progress


I majorly contributed for the Smokeglobe's
UI Designs, Digital Prototypes & Animations.

The follow-up action is to encourage
continued altruism.

User Flow

UI Components

Lifecycle of the smokeglobe ⏳

Let's put 'em together, shall we?

Default state
Mapping weather and air quality data with visuals
Weather data makes the globe more embedded into user’s daily life. Moreover, Users easily connected visuals of cities to communities.
Wildfire state
Globe gets filled with smoke to alert the user of wildfire
Smoke visual captures attention and is a clear association with wildfires.
Shake interaction
Interface prompts user to shake the globe, the smoke slowly clears by shaking
After the smoke is fully gone, the UI leads to the upcoming screen. The shake creates a fun physical & memorable interaction!
Prompt to Donation
User is prompted to tap-to-donate to wildfire relief, and turn the smoke into snow!
We found that this follow-up action required minimal effort and time, which students valued.
Its snowing!
On donation, the smoke turns into snow!
When addressing serious topics, users wanted experiences with a more positive spin.
The follow-up action is to encourage continued altruism.

How to make it better in the future?

We believe the care kit activity can extend beyond just University of Washington students are fit into many other contexts

  • Providing a means for care kit recipients and students to communicate post kit-making activity

  • Extending the globe experience to be in public areas to increase awareness

what did I learn? 🙇🏻 (the hard way)

Trust the process

My experience in design has taught me that it's important to have faith in the process and make informed decisions along the way based on well-researched information.

Fail early, Fail fast.

During the course of the project, I came to understand that design involves not only recognizing effective solutions, but also acknowledging ineffective ones. I also learned the importance of being open to change and not becoming overly attached to specific ideas.

Use team's strength

As my first project with MHCID, I was able to help in areas that my team members did not have much experience in and they helped me in areas I was not well versed in. It was an amazing learning opportunity.

Back to home ⏎

Intended Impact

Our intended impact was to create an experience for UW freshman students to be aware and prepared for the wildifre season

  • Freshman are aware and prepared for the wildfire season, hence are able t

  • Affected Eastern washington people can have good

  • students can be well prepared


Please view case study in web for optimum experience, thanks!

IntroductionDesign challengeResearchIdeationFinal outcomes- Care Kit- SmokeglobeTakeaways