Riz Zaki

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After the Flood

Refugee identity & the psychology of climate change.


Timeline: June -August 2017

Role: Project Manager / UI Designer

Skills: Sketch, Marvel, User Enactments, Wireframing, Qualitative research, Coding, Interviewing / Protocols

Team: Anna Frederiske, Chitman Singh, Jen Ewing, Winnie Zhai




World Bank asked SCAD to study how climate change might impact millennial's future (2027). After the Flood, is an experiment on how millennials respond to and place themselves within global climate change. The experiment was in the form of a user enactment simulation of a hypothetical refugee camp. We created a  digital identity system to help the participants immerse themselves in their new context. Our findings were delivered as a report to the World Bank. 

From this research, I further developed the digital identity concept with the insights gained from the experiment. Identity is a key enabler to both development and to the World Bank's efforts to quanitify economic development.



Vision Statement:
Digital Identity


We consider the ID2020 digital identity project proposed by the UN and the World Bank. In a joint effort with Accenture, Microsoft and the UN, ID2020 aims to create a digital identity tied to biometrics and secured using blockchain technology. With an alliance of key member states, the UN hopes to create a robust identity system that exists without material objects and works across borders. Our proposal includes the addition of a resource guide and messaging system tailored to refugee contexts.

“ID is foundational for political, economic, and social opportunity, yet … over 1 billion people are unable to prove who they are. A digital identity that puts the individual at the center can provide political, economic, and social opportunity..”

-The World Bank





Rising sea levels, natural disaster and drought might lead to a refugee crisis within the United States. This is especially true in the coastal South. 

Our experiment identifies the refugee camp as a domestic environment.   


To understand how people might react to and process the personal consequences of climate change, we created a user enactment + boundary object in the form of a digital refugee ID



What if millennials had no agency in determining their consumption behaviors and domestic environments?

How would millennials respond to a refugee camp environment and resource rationing? 


Digital Technology & Crisis


Internet Access

Internet access is one of the most critical resources within refugee camps. Smartphones and tablets are often the only connection refugees might have to the outside world and other family.  


Do they even have smartphones?

While it is a commonly held bias that refugees from war-torn countries might not have smartphones or tablets, this assumption is incorrect. Electronics and solar panels are cheap and can be found in even the most destitute situations.   (UNHCR)


Research Plan


The boundary object

Boundary objects are artifacts, notes maps that help diverse groups of people have a common dialogue. In this project we created a digital refugee ID and rationing system to help participants and researchers  explore the possible human consequences of climate change.  


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Built environment 

A simulation of a refugee camp is set up to create an immersive experience for participants. We acted out a simulated rationing line where one participant was refused rations.

Ration boxes
Crank lamp
Lighting effects
Sound effects
Government uniforms
Large Tent
Sleeping Bag

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Research Process



Participants are led through a briefing presentation and given their personal digital IDs. They are told about their new situation and surroundings. 

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Survey + moodboard

Participants are asked to answer questions concerning their position as a refugee in the midst of a climate crisis and being displaced from their homes. The survey is a priming, contemplation and immersion exercise.

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Rationing simulation

Food and water rations meant to last a week are distributed to participants, while some are purposefully excluded to simulate the experience of running out of materials at the campsite.

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After the experiment, participants are interviewed about their impressions of the simulation, as well as their thoughts concerning climate change.

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The results of our affinitization and coding resulted in this table broken down by categories. The codebook came directly from interviews, surveys, moodboards and simulation notes.

The codebook provides a structured map of our notes and insights. 



Research Findings



Millennials might have contradictory feelings about the role of government in a crisis. Most participants expressed conflicting emotions of hope and trust in the authorities, and a simultaneous distrust of both their capabilities and motives. A balance must be maintained to ensure civil order.

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The gap between knowing and doing

When discussing what participants plan to do to address climate change, there is a wide gap between understanding and taking action. Most participants were conscious of the grave threat but felt powerless as individuals. This comes from not understanding specific dangers and lacking concrete actions. Climate change is a vague intellectual threat.



Identity & agency  

Participants felt consistently uncomfortable with the lack of control presented in the camp. A climate refugee crisis would have profound impact on millennial identity, and sense of agency. 



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The Digital ID Card

The design of the digital ID card was instrumental to how the participants placed themselves in their new context. 





“It’s going to sound strange, but it's almost comforting to be like, "Hey. I'm verified. I'm good, guys." Kind of in a way of belonging, so then you're not completely displaced.” (P3)

“First I wouldn’t ever think of myself as a refugee, …Just the way I’ve been brought up in the world so far, I don’t - I just always think of refugees as someone kind of far away and not really relating to my everyday life.”(P5)

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Ideation: Improved Digital Identitiy   

Our first iteration for the digital ID card was to immerse our participants in our experiment. The UN, Accenture and Microsoft announced ID2020, a project to employ biometrics and blockchain to create secure globally accepted digital identities for displaced persons. The ambitious project aimed to create a database of IDs shared across member states. Accenture and Microsoft suggest using blockchain smart contracts as a security measure and to give users the ability to share their personal information in a safe way. Refugees are particularly susceptible to losing or having insufficient identification. According to its website digital identity is: 

  1. PERSONAL: Unique to you and you only

  2. PERSISTENT: Lives with you from life to death

  3. PRIVATE: Only you can control your own identity, and you can selectively choose what to share and with whom

  4. PORTABLE: Accessible anywhere you happen to be through multiple form-factors

The ID2020 project gives real-life technological and logistical specifications to the digital identity concept used in After the Flood
As of February 2018 ID2020 does not have a working, user-facing interface and remains a backend proof of concept. I expand on the testing conducted in this experiment to create a user facing digital identity application. 


Rejected proposal: Support networks 


Problems Addressed:
1. Participants experienced a profound loss of agency, community and support in their new environment. 
2. Participants did not know who to contact and where to go for some critical needs such as medical services, government offices, rationing stations. They want to understand where they are and everything around them.
3. Being among strangers and anonymous government agents was a deeply dehumanizing experience for many. This might lead to difficulty acclimating and assimilation into a new environment.

Creating support networks among migrant, displaced and refugee camp communities. Such networks might provide connection for people who speak specific languages, religious services and connect camp members with critical services.

Issues with Concept:

The main problem with this concept is it does not articulate how and why certain members within a community might match up. This is also very efficiently solved through Facebook groups already in such camps. 

Concept not chosen

Concept not chosen


Proposal: Mapping and messaging resources  


Problems Addressed:
1. Participants experienced a profound loss of agency, community and support in their new environment. 
2. Participants did not know who to contact and where to go for some critical needs such as medical services, government offices, rationing stations. They want to understand where they are and everything around them.
3. Being among strangers and anonymous government agents was a deeply dehumanizing experience for many. This might lead to difficulty acclimating and assimilation into a new environment.

Creating a secure system to map relevant services and government offices. This information is readily available and gives participants information about their spatial context and the types of resources available. 

Critical government offices and representatives could also potentially be available through messaging service. This could be accomplished with limited staff supply through the use of chatbot agents. 


Users are very uncomfortable with government services chatbot. However, they find the mapping service comforting.  The messaging service was chosen from this proposal. 


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Proposal: Control of sensitive data


ID2020 blockchain security and verification 'stamp' technology can allow refugees to claim a high level of control over the kind of sensitive information they can share.  

When submitting forms, the mobile interface can be more effectively utilized to quickly fill out applications and track and submit sensitive data.  

Problems Addressed

1. Participants experienced a profound loss of agency, community and support in their new environment. 

2. Government bureaucratic process can be opaque, ambiguous and a source of great anxiety. 

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ID2020 vs. Current solution

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Initial Wireframes

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Final Prototype


The boundary object chosen to begin a dialogue with the participants was their very own digital ID which they used to obtain their rations. The ID on their own devices was a manifestation of their own future selves as climate refugees. 

I further developed the digital ID concept after the ID2020 project was announced by Microsoft, Accenture, the UN and the World Bank. I created an individual user interface based on the specifications established by the project.  

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Digital identity

Digital identities tied to biometrics can be radically more secure and available than ones tied to physical objects.  This is a concept for a user-facing interface for the ID2020 project.   





Universal security 

Such software might rely on NFC or wireless communication to establish security. These technologies are not standardized and  unreliable.  
This concept includes an animated particle cloud pairing method created by Apple.

This allows authorities to easily verify IDs as genuine and can be simply scanned with any camera. 


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Blockchain + Verified documents 

Accenture recommends the use of blockchain smart contracts as a security measure. This would allow agencies to send secure documents and verify responses. This would be useful for forms, work visas and official communication. 





Mapping resources

One of the main issues for displaced people is finding critical resources. This feature of the concept would be useful for people being integrated into a host country.

Relevant government offices, clinics with people speaking their native language and other crucial services  would be displayed and searchable in a map.  

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Secured sensitive data

Data can be received and sent using blockchain smart contracts and users can track the sensitive data that they send.