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Designing an Easier Path Through Adoption Paperwork

As students at the Austin Center for Design, we were tasked with creating double-bottom line businesses that drive both revenue and impact.


When it comes to basic human rights, the first one we landed on was that of family. It led us to an interest in LGBT adoption and curiosity as to what kind of pain points people experience when building their families. We quickly discovered a problem that seems mundane but is painful, pervasive and solvable: paperwork.

Ask anyone who has adopted—paperwork is a headache and amplifies the vulnerability, frustration, and emotional turmoil that people already undergo. Currently, adoption paperwork is agency-specific, analog and, ultimately, time-consuming. Documents are scanned, mailed, faxed, lost, forgotten, and never in the right place. Adoptive parents are burdened by lugging heavy stacks of paperwork to places like the DMV, airports, on road trips, and anywhere else they might need to prove their parenthood. Take a look at the image of a users’ to-do list below. He and his partner re-write this list each morning. Four out of the five tasks relate to paperwork management.

It seems obvious to offer a digital alternative, so we drew up a concept and then went out and tested it with adoptive families.

Here are the two big questions put to the test of our pilot: do people feel secure managing personal documents online and is there something comforting about physical paper that adopting parents wouldn’t want to give up?

First: security. When we asked users if they already house secure documents online, they at first said no, then realized that they are emailing unsecured PDFs on their smartphones daily. The iOS app, as its currently envisioned, will have the most recent and up-to-date security measures.

Second: validity of digital paperwork. The answer here, according to the adoption lawyer we spoke with, is a bit more complicated. There are certain documents demanded in original, notarized form by the courts. There are other documents that are often shared in scanned form. The new politics brought to question by developing technology are still clearing these waters. (For instance, did you know there are now online notaries?) The person who brings this app to life will have to keep their fingers on this pulse.

When drawing up the app, we wanted to keep a clean user interface with basic document sharing functionality so that at all times users felt empowered and not overwhelmed. There is a lack of control families feel when adopting and we want to infuse the idea that they are more than capable of managing this.

The concept, app, and business model are designed—based on user need and testing. It's ready not just for LGBT couples, but all prospective adoptive families. With the potential of growing into a much bigger system, the responsibility of fully building the app and the business is too much for where we are in our lives. Thus, we are being responsible parents and are looking for a healthy and happy home for our baby.

So many late nights during this process culminated in realizing the reality: nobody is doing this. Will you?

Click here to connect with the designers to help build the app.

Top image via Shutterstock, other images courtesy of Melissa Chapman.


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