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In Sep 2022, I had a great opportunity to work for EMMAUS HOUSE (an NGO in Savannah that funded by local and federal grants that provides essential supplies for the homeless). We improved the efficiency and experience of clothing distribution service for volunteers by redesigning the spatial layout, circulation flow, organizing the physical artefacts which ultimately improved the internal and external service quality of the organization. Customers, volunteers and the staff were highly satisfied with the redesigned program, and was successfully implemented.

Project Summary

Project Summary

The Emmaus House Clothing Closet, started in 2014, attempts to fill a vital gap for those experiencing homelessness: acquiring clean and suitable clothing. While the shelter and soup kitchens provide food, many left in-between need goods like clothing, backpacks, and tents. The Clothing Closet, run in partnership with Emmaus House, Epiphany Church, and SCAD Serve, operates every Wednesday morning to serve its clients, as well as has volunteers sort and clean the clothing the day before.

How might we help EMMAUS HOUSE Clothing Closet increase the efficiency of the service and handle the growth in needs and donations?
  1. What are the best ways/channels to increase volunteers and clothing donations at the clothing closet? 

  2. How can we improve the efficiency of the Clothing closet process? 

  3. How can we better serve the clients who come to Emmaus House?

  4. In what ways can we use the Clothing Closet to meet long terms needs, help the homeless population out, and increase equity?


The number of chronically homeless individuals identified in Chatham County is increasing due to the COVID-19. In that case, EMMAUS HOUSE had to offer more clothing and food to people who experienced homelessness.


With rapidly growing needs, the organization faced many problems managing the chaos of process, the shortage of volunteers and the inefficiencies within the warehouse storage management.


After our research and analysis, we concluded 32 improvement opportunities. 


Improvements were identified from several general directions: service process design, space transformation, table design, graphic design and publicity strategy. 


In this project, the core stakeholders includes the homeless people, EMMAUS HOUSE staff, volunteers, SCAD SERV, and Epiphany Church.


The volunteers' experience is the most important factor that EMMAUS HOUSE wanted to improve. 


The homeless community is dangerous and complex to reach out because it is difficult to build trust with people who lack security.

The resources of the non-profit organization were limited hence the scope of the service was dependent on the funding.

Implementing changes may affect the behaviors of EMMAUS house staff, which is likely to bring obstacles.

Project Timeline
Project Timeline.jpg

Tutorial Video

Instead of redesigning the volunteering space, we designed a whole service that includes strategy, space, and all physical and touch points for Emmaus House.
In this tutorial video, we provided the new process we redesigned for EMMAUS HOUSE volunteers so that they can quickly learn how to do the volunteer work.


Contextual Research

System is a dynamic and abstract object for the researcher. It is dynamic because it always changes with the times. And it is abstract as many elements play their roles in the dynamic system. To have a further understand the system, we described it from different perspectives.

1. Geographical Level

The Map on the right shows the homeless camps map in Savannah, which was creted by Mandy Terkhorn in September, 2020. It indicates that:

The Range of Service

It can serve the most of homelessnes because it is on the center of downtown savannah. But it also results to the inequality of resources. More earlier you arrive, more recources you got.

The Community Relationships

It is in downtown community where there are a lot of hotels, squares, historical building, small business and so on.

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2. Organizational Level

From the organizational level, we learned about:

Value-Exchange Relationships

It means that if we want to purchase new equipements, we need to ask money from Epiphany Church.

Possible Support Reserouces

It means that if we want to make some changes to the space, we need to ask for permission from Christ Church, and the director of EMMAUS HOUSE.

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3. Workflow Level

In terms of Clothing Closet, it involves four stages: Awareness, Receiving Donation, Sorting Clothing and Distributing Clothing.

The workflow of service is a endless cycle.

The workflow starts from raising awareness of the community of the shortage of clothing, and it receives donation from different resources, and the clothing would be sorted (Tuesday), and be distributed (Wednesday).

Each stage has influence on other stages.

Each part would have a positive or negative impact on the next stage of activities. For example, the donation process would decide the sorting process.

Empathize with Stakeholders

Knowing people is about gaining an empathic understanding of people's thoughts, feelings and needs by listening, observing, interacting, and analyzing. We familiarize ourselves to the stories of SCAD SERV volunteers, EMMAUS HOUSE staffs, and people who experienced homelessness.


1. In-depth Interviews

For service managers:

Ariana (EMMAUS HOUSE executive director) worried about the how to keep the return volunteers and build a community with other organizations in a long term.

For service executors:

According to the feedback from staffs and volunteers, it is low efficient to finish the order because it is difficult to search for the specific clothes. The climate is hot, which lead to the uncomfortable feelings and let staffs and volunteers feel tried. At the same time, the low interaction with homeless people leads to the low sense of achievement and self-accomplishment.

2. Observations

Learn emotions of volunteers and staff

The first floor hosts the frontstage interactions between staff members and homeless people.

It enables the organization to meet the needs of most homeless people in Savannah.

The second floor hosts the backstage activities including preparation for the clothing orders.

It is near the Camp No.29, 27, 25, 16, 7, 9, 10 and 5. It is more convenient for people who lived near those camps to get resources in terms of life supplies such as food and clothing.

3. Interactive Survey

Our findings:

  • Customers are satisfied with the free services provided by Clothing
Closet, and understand the difficulties of employees

  • Just because it is free and they are considerate, so even if there is dissatisfaction with the clothes received or long waits, customers will not express it

  • However, in many cases, the waiting time of customers is very long, and the accuracy rate of the clothes they get is not high.

Mapping the Service

Mapping Out the Service

After learning about the context and gathering key insights from the stakeholders, we started mapping out the service ecosystem, servicescapes, task flows, framing the insights, looking for patterns, identifying opportunities and developing guiding principles.

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Ecosystem Map

The ecosystem map identifies all the people or organizations involved in the whole service system. Our stakeholders were people who experiences homelessness and Emmaus House who provided the service for them, volunteers who participated whole Clothing Closet service process. Other stakeholders included christ church, the church of Epiphany, the community of St. Joseph, homeless authority. 

'As Is' Service Blueprint

Fail to find



Receive wrong clothes

Clothes are out of stock

From the service blueprint, we can see that:


  • The waiting time is too long for the homeless people from filling the from to receiving the final bag of clothes. The reason for waiting is the low efficiency of order processing on the backstage stage.

  • Some homeless people received the wrong clothes due to the disorganised system at the backstage.

Servicescape - analyzing activity flow

We analyzed the flow of activities in the physical space and decided to focus on men's clothing room because:

  • Most orders comes from men's needs.

  • Staffs and volunteers spent most of time in this room to look for clothing.

Service Workflow

There are 2 main service processes that happened in the Clothing Closet Service after we finished all the research, we started to map out these two main processes including the Tuesday clothing sorting process and the Wednesday Distribution process. Then started to analyze the pain points and opportunities we can redesign these whole processes.



Understanding Painpoints

After identifying the four key phases of The Clothing Closet, we started to identify all the pain points collected during our research to best understand how they interacted with each other. 

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Understanding Dependencies

We then grouped and moved the pain points to understand the way the different phases interact with each other to determine larger insights about their connections.

understanding dependencies.webp
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Defining the design principles
Value Statement

The goal of solution is to improve the service in a more efficient and enjoyable way with more dignity to benefit EMMAUS HOUSE staffs, volunteers and homeless people.

To evaluate the outcomes better, we define the main criteria under each goal.

Opportunity Checklist
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Design Opportunities
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Co-creation Workshop

Co-Creation Workshop 

We made a scaled-down cardboard prototype and facilitated a co-creation workshop with staff and volunteers. The model as a communication tool allowed us to plan the layout of the space in alignment with the needs of the staff. 


Within a week of organizing the workshop, the staff and volunteers of EMMAUS HOUSE acted spontaneously. Following the improvement ideas obtained in the workshop, they rearranged the shelves and the labels on the shelves, enhancing the overall appearance of the environment. Not only that, inspired by the collision of ideas in the workshop, one of the main volunteers also wrote a list of items, which provides important reference materials for our subsequent designs.

Design Deliverables

Design Deliverables

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Interior Design

The brand-new interior design has fundamentally changed the way volunteers search for clothes, changing the original behavior pattern of category as the first level to size as the first level. Small and medium clothes are placed on the right side of the room, and LARGE and XL clothes are placed on the left side. This arrangement can greatly reduce the collision of traffic flow.

"To-Be" Service Blueprint
Form Design
Sorting Poster Design

Put the size first, followed by the quantity, and finally the type of clothing. This design is more in line with the behavior pattern of the volunteers, and this design has also been greatly affirmed by the volunteers, who think it is more convenient.

A large blank area is designed here, which satisfies the needs of the form fillers well, and the volunteers don't have to face messy information.

Designing the status bar here can greatly reduce the communication cost upstairs and downstairs through simple symbols such as checkmarks, saving everyone's time.

This sorting poster is an important part of the improvement of the entire service. Since there was no unified visual standard, volunteers sorted and folded clothes based on their own understanding, which directly aggravated the difficulty of distributing clothes on Wednesday.
Therefore, we designed the new sorting steps, sorting guidelines, and clothing storage guidelines into posters and posted them in necessary work areas. This poster can also be a communicating tool.

In the final stage of the new service, we designed a volunteer feedback and recommendation system to obtain first- hand experience feedback and timely word-of-mouth recommendations. For this purpose, we designed two posters and put them on the cork boards on the first floor.




Compared with the original room layout, the new design scheme based on size has changed a lot. In order to carry out the work smoothly every week, we did not act too hastily. Instead, we started with a small-scale renovation and
implemented part of the design scheme every week as planned. At the same time, feedback and opinions from all parties are collected, so that the final effect can be maximized and integrated into the community, and it has the ability of self-evolution and sustainable development.


Service Process for Tuesday (Sorting)





Redesigning the space for Wednesday (Distribution)

Before, volunteers used to bump with each other because there is only one entrance and they need to go everywhere to find clothes. After, they only go to the specific size area, and there would be two doors open. Therefore, it can separate the flow of people to reduce collisions. Taking size as the first retrieval index can also reduce the scope of information retrieval which would save a lot of time.

Circulation Flow

Shoes and socks are gathered at one place, shoes don't need to be stacked.

Shoes & Socks

Accessories that used to be scattered around the room and stored in a cluttered and discreet way can now be arranged on pegboard for an organized and room-decorating way.


Labels & Dividers on Shelves

Hangers & Round Labels

The original wardrobe used boxes to separate different varieties, but the boxes are not easy to take, and there are many labels with different colors and shapes on a cabinet, which makes the overall vision look complicated.
Metal dividers and unified visual labels are now used.

The original coat hanger blocked the route of movement, and the labels used were also handmade white plates.
Now the introduction of double-layer clothes hangers greatly improves the utilization rate of vertical space, and uses a unified color code to distinguish.

The team repainted the walls, installed light bulbs, laid carpets, and arranged electric fans. This series of arrangements greatly improved the atmosphere of the entire space and effectively improved the comfort of volunteers in the space.

Ambience & Comfort

Manual Book for EMMAUS House

Hope you enjoyed this project! 

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