Strategic Alignment & Improving Home Safety

Client: Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy (JHCIRP)
Task: Adapt the CARES (Children ARE Safe) Mobile Safety Center to address home safety concerns for both children and older adults
Challenge: Create a tool to educate households in Baltimore City about injury prevention practices for home safety
Team: Angela: Environment designer – Japheth: Graphic designer – Karen: Graphic designer – Me: Experience designer – Ted: Graphic designer

Current iteration of the CARES Mobile Safety Center

Current iteration of the CARES Mobile Safety Center

EXPLORATION: Immersive learning

Keeping children safe at home is at the forefront of every parent’s mind. Unfortunately, many parents — especially first time parents — don’t understand all the risks in a home. Which is exactly why JHCIRP created the CARES Mobile Safety Center. A 40′ truck, the center provides first-hand learning experiences for parents, children, and caretakers. CARES helps people to learn about potential risks in the home and how to prevent them.

The CARES staff approached the Center for Design Practice with a question,

Is it feasible to expand our mission and services to include home safety for older adults?

We kicked off our research with some exploration in empathy, taking note from OpenIDEO’s Aging Empathy Exercise. With bound knees, cotton-stuffed ears, and taped hands, we were made immediately aware of mobility, perception, and safety issues. To gain a deeper understanding, we partnered with the CAPABLE study to shadow occupational therapists on their home visits. I met Ms. Nancy (not her real name), an 83 year-young grandmother, living in North Baltimore. I saw first-hand how adaptive people can be; piling newspapers on chairs to make standing easier; using a 30′ phone cord because she didn’t like the cordless.

We bolstered our immersive research with focus groups at senior centers, audits of CARES’ current offerings, and secondary research on local data from the U.S. Census and injury reports from NIH (not easy to do in the midst of a government furlough). A media audit helped us gain insight on how older adults are engaged, or more often, not engaged.

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CHALLENGES: Bridging the divide

Older adults, unlike any other loosely defined audience, is the most varied and broad of any population. True to form, they come with a unique set of design opportunities. Not only are their safety concerns different from children’s, their cultural implications brought entirely new challenges:

  • A sense of powerlessness to make changes themselves
  • 55 + y/o is a broad spectrum of aging experiences
  • Some older adults may resist identifying with the messages
  • Pride and/or embarrassment may prevent them from asking for help
  • Information retention may be a barrier to learning
  • The CARES van may not be an appropriate vehicle (pun slightly intended)
  • The CARES van layout may be prohibitive to anyone with mobility restrictions



A dynamic somewhat unique to Baltimore, many families in a single home can include a large generational mix — grandparents raising grandchildren, adult children tending to both parents and children, or various members of extended family taking care of each other. Between our research and insights, we returned to the CARES staff with the recommendation not to target children and older adults. 

Instead, we redesigned a strategy for the whole Mobile Safety Center experience with the idea “Safety is for everyone.” With consideration for feasibility and time, our recommendations were broken into separate components the CARES staff could implement slowly, without interrupting their services along the way: 

  • Embrace a more direct name: Mobile Safety Center (MSC)
  • Treat the MSC experience as a “training” for Risk Reducers
  • Empower audiences to bring a sense of ownership to the experience
  • Develop a quiz to identify learning opportunities and begin tracking metrics
  • Activate unused white space with vinyl decals to reach visual learners
  • Distill learning materials to lesson-specific cards for each learning station
  • Each participant can create a card deck specific to their safety needs
  • Redesign the layout to better emulate a Baltimore home for context
  • Facilitate an exploratory learning experience to include the expanded audience
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