New Americans Project

New Americans Project is two service recommendations on how to connect the American citizenship process with access and awareness of financial services. Our big challenge was to navigate two separate systems, find points of integration, and bring delight into the experience.


New Americans Project is one of a series of projects in collaboration with DESIS Lab's Designing for Financial Empowerment family of work. We worked to connect the citizenship process with financial services through the New York Public Library system and NYC's Office of Financial Empowerment. What might the two systems have in common? What kind of user needs both services? How might we leverage informal support systems?

After some weeks of immersive research with the library, financial, and citizenship services, we synthesized our preliminary findings into a stakeholder map, personas, journey maps, precedents, and other materials. From here, we were drawn by two big insights that drove our project into two directions. One one hand, we found that informal communities is an important pillar within the lawful permanent resident (LPR) population. These informal communities are bonded together by shared languages and cultures and play an essential role in disseminating information, building trust, and harnessing participation. This lead to our first concept: New Americans Circle. On the other hand, we also found the levels of shame and discomfort regarding disclosing or seeking financial information. This limited possible contact with available services, because LPRs are hesitant to speak to a financial counselor, especially with their language barriers. This led us to our second concept: New Americans Kiosk.  See our full report to read detailed information about this project.

New American Circle

For our first recommendation, we created a service that leverages how trust and information builds in a community. This service elects community leaders who have successfully navigated the citizenship process to co-lead informal gathering at the library with citizenship and financial experts. We call them New Ambassadors. During this time, LPRs meet one another in an informal setting, conduct group problem solving sessions, and work towards citizenship and financial stability in one setting. To avoid burdening the library with extra costs, staff, and responsibilities, we designed an event kit that takes 15 minutes to set up. Through the use of visual design, the space facilitates itself, and could run smoothly without an official staff or leader. 

Communication Strategy

For finding participants

Our strategy is to tap into the NYCitizenship process and citizenship clinics hosted by the libraries. Ideally, the goal is to find individuals who are eligible to apply for citizenship without too many serious red flags, could use help with their financial situation, and is not fluent in English.These are the individuals who will benefit the most from the New Americans Circle program.

For finding New Ambassadors

Our strategy is to use the library’s CBO network as well as pre-existing library programs such as ESOL and Civic Test classes. The goal is to find individuals like “Responsible Rita” who want to commit to helping others get through obstacles they once faced. This role is volunteer only, however, it is a leadership role that demonstrates great qualities for a resumé.

Augmentation for libraries


Our event series is easy to replicate in all libraries. The only constraint is space and resources. Otherwise, our kit is ready to go, complete with instructions, props, signage, etc. The ideal library is one that balances the need for space (Brooklyn Public Library) with a community atmosphere (Jackson Heights Library), and has a patron base that is largely populated by immigrant communities.

New Americans Kiosk

By conducting interviews with experts and secondary research, we developed a deep understanding of our target users and the financial empowerment services which are currently available. The lack of awareness regarding these services and the stigma surrounding the discussion of one’s finances were the main insights that drove the development of The New Americans Kiosk. Inspired by utilitarian and private interfaces such as ATM machines, we created a digital service that runs an initial, private diagnostic of your financial health. With an easy to select and print menu, users can walk away with a personalized set of information from a private interaction in their own language.

Some key insights:

  1. Not all financial counselors speak the LPR's language
  2. Many of our target users lack technology literacy, but are familiar with booth interfaces such as the MTA kiosk
  3. There is a stigma around asking for any kind of financial help
  4. Even when people are willing to ask, it's difficult to know what to ask

We tested a preliminary version with adult students from an ESOL class in the public library, some who are in the citizenship process. The results were exciting, as people enjoyed using the colloquial language of the digital service and creating their avatars. 

To integrate this into the citizenship journey, the kiosk can be placed during any citizenship event, or on a tablet in the waiting room for an individual citizenship advising meeting. See our latest prototype here!

DESIS Lab: Designing for Financial Empowerment
NYC Office of Financial Empowerment
Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs
Brooklyn Public Library

Melika Alipour
Noah Litvin

Design researcher
Graphic designer