Design / Events / Immigration / Philly Tech Week

Design Slam 2019 sketches digital and analog solutions for Philly immigrants

Designers of all stripes answered the question, “How might the Office of Immigrant Affairs more effectively educate and connect immigrant communities to resources in Philadelphia?” during PhillyCHI's annual event.

PhillyCHI's 2019 Design Slam. (Photo via
Given no restrictions, how would you use design to change your city for the better?

Designers of all stripes — strategists, programmers, UX designers — gathered on Drexel University’s campus for Design Slam last Wednesday evening. Local design and user experience organization PhillyCHI has hosted the event for 13 years, including during Philly Tech Week.

The long-running collaborative event centers on problem solving: Ten teams made up of four competitors have 60 minutes to design a plan for a problem posed by a local org — this year, the Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA). After the mad dash to create, teams have four minutes each to effectively pitch their plan.

“Five years ago, Design Slam started solving real problems, not hypothetical ones, and we found that really changed the event,” said judge and former PhillyCHI chairperson Brian Crumley. “We found that using real-world problems brings passionate people out of the woodwork. You get unique perspectives.”

For Design Slam 2019, OIA submitted this problem: “How might the Office of Immigrant Affairs more effectively educate and connect immigrant communities to resources in Philadelphia?”

OIA’s Orlando Almonte gave a presentation outlining the mission of the office and problem that the teams were assigned to tackle; for one, many immigrant residents have limited English proficiency, which can make communicating with them about city services difficult.

“OIA is the big winner in this,” said Upma Singh, a previous winner and longtime PhillyCHI organizer. “They can take all these ideas and see what works for them.

“I’d love to see more service-oriented design,” she added. “There are a lot of barriers to access in immigrant communities. It’s not just as easy as downloading an app.”

The six judges, including Almonte and five longtime PhillyCHI member and former Design Slam participants, judged the teams based on creativity, feasibility, sustainability and overall presentation.

Each team focused on finding Philadelphia’s immigrant populations where they live, with several different variations on “neighborhood ambassadors” coming up during the presentations. One team suggested movie nights and another suggested reaching out to students as community ambassadors. One team described their goal to be “connecting people in a way that empowers them, rather than burdens them.”

And only one team suggested an app.

The designers focused on solutions that acknowledged the complexities of reaching diverse groups who may have little reason to trust local authorities. Every team looked for ways to create face-to-face interactions and form bonds of trust among neighbors.

(Philadelphia is known as a sanctuary city, a term for which there is no one definition, but does mean that city law enforcement doesn’t hold residents in custody with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer alone; Almonte described Philadelphia as a “welcoming city.”)

The judges voted for a plan called the Welcome Ambassador’s Network, a dual digital and analog outreach program that involves “getting out into the community in real time.”

A new category, People’s Choice, was added for 2019. The winner of the popular vote, determined by a text-in vote, was the Great Immigrant Bake-Off, a plan to host a citywide baking competition in the style of the series “The Great British Bake Off.”

The plan could be complicated to pull off, but it might just be what the city needs.

Companies: PhillyCHI
Projects: Philly Tech Week

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