When going through the infant adoption process, there are many hurdles a couple has to go through in order to create their family. Bookcase is a platform for families to share their adoption book (a collection of videos, photos, and stories to share who the couple is to prospective birth mothers) and aims to simplify the process of starting a family by keeping parents in the process.

Lead Designer

Northwestern Graduate Thesis Project (March 2019 to Dec 2020)

Rapid Concept Testing
Research Synthesis
Digital Prototyping & Testing
Adobe Illustrator
After Effects
Experience Prototyping & Testing

After adoptive parents submit their book to adoption agencies, it is difficult to get feedback as to how they're doing and they feel powerless to do anything to help.

The Adoptive Parent's Journey

Just as no two kids are the same, the adoption process is different for every couple.However, there are a couple of common emotions that come up. For those who aren't familiar with the process, I've compiled Nancy and Jackson's story from the experiences of the twelve couples I interviewed.
Looking at the journey as a whole, we can see the excitement for starting a family here in blue, and the stress of not having a family in red from start to finish.

As you can see, the stress continually increases overtime while the excitement is constantly dragged down from the start. Looking at this, I understood that I would not be able to completely solve all of the emotional issues that go into adoption but I could have a significant impact on the WAITING PROCESS, so I focused in on specifically book creation and what could be changed around that.

The Social Worker's Journey

In yellow above you can see some of the key touch points in the social workers process. After they talk with the adoptive parents, their journey is mainly characterized by organization. They have to collect the different files (mostly physical sheets of paper), coordinate the psychologists and the fire department for the different requirements the adoptive parents have to fulfill while signing up. Finally they collect, edit, and share the final copy of the book that adoptive parents submit.

Then, they switch into outreach mode, trying to find birth parents through advertising, planned parenthood, hospitals, their agency website etc. until they find a person looking to give up their child.​

They then have a conversation with the birth parent, verify that they are in fact pregnant and assess the health of the child. Once that is checked, they give the birth mother access to the books that fit with her baby and wait for her to make a decision. The social worker finally starts contact between the birth and adoptive parents, and act as an intermediary until the child is born.​

On average social workers handle 20 cases at a time, but it can range up to 50.  Across the case load, the social worker is working simultaneously with adoptive parents, searching for birth mothers and as an intermediary once a match has been found.

The Birth Parent's Journey

In red, we can now see the birth parent's Journey. After finding out she is pregnant, the birth mother dives into research of potential options. She ends up contacting an agency who gets her started on prenatal medicine, as well as getting tests done to ensure the health of the baby. She then gets access to people's books and reads through them, often times having in-depth discussions with her care network as to who the right parents might be. Finally she tells the agency a family she likes and gets connected with them.



A tool for book creation and updating that allows adoptive parents to stay in the loop through the adoption process, with actionable tasks moving them closer towards starting a family.

Bookcase is a 3 step tool, that encompasses the 6 design principles of being friendly, empowering, fair, warm, secure, and informed.


Book Creation

The first element of Bookcase focuses on the creation of the book in the adoption process. In order to change the waiting period, we have to also change the information that is being shared and present it in a way that is easily understood and created.


Book Browsing

The second element focuses on how birth mother's will use the book and how to encourage them to interact with it. By promoting and allowing for organized decision making, we can help the birth parents make decisions they feel good about and collect feedback for the adoptive parents.


Book Feedback

The final element of the book is the feedback system, giving data to the social worker who can then share specific and actionable insights with the adoptive parents every month, keeping the birth parents involved and making the waiting process active instead of passive.
This service blueprint breaks down the information being transferred between what stake holders when with Bookcase.

What's in a Book

In order to create the book, I had to define what information to share. The information that goes into the book can be completely different from agency to agency and state to state depending on agency rules and state laws. The overarching rules are that it needs to communicate who someone is, while maintaining privacy (avoiding specific towns, colleges, last names, etc.).


Profile Image

First is the main profile image. This should be something fun and can be a gif because a splash of movement draws the eye.


The Love Story

Next is the love story because the birth parent wants to know their kid is going to a happy home. Making it a video helps to showcase the couples personality.


Letter to the Birth mother

The letter to the birthmother is one of the most important details as it directly addresses the birth mother and is intended to discuss why the couple wants to be parents.


Hobbies + Interests

Hobbies and Interests are important because some books say the decision is entirely made on a small detail like enjoying the same movie or having had the same childhood dog.


About The Parents

A lot of times people find it hard to talk about themselves and why they are great, so I have couples record themselves talking about each other and why they like the other person. This has been shown to feel more genuine and leaves a better impression on viewers. Their basic personal information is also important to getting a sense of a couple.


Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters show what other people feel about an adoptive parent. Social workers suggest having people of the races from which you are willing to adopt from write these letters to show that the child will have people in their lives like themselves. Asking for a rec letter based on a person's background can feel disingenuous for parents so there is an important balance to be struck with asking real friends and showing diversity.


The Extended Family

A good understanding of the family dynamic is important for the birthmother because the relationship to the family shows what kind of family the child will have. Emphasizing the time spent with family can also feel forced for some couples who live far away, but there is a pressure to seem like the perfect family.


Parenting Style

While it's important for the birthmother to see how her child would be raised, this part is really difficult for couples who haven't had a child yet. Already having a child actually increases the chances of being chosen as adoptive parents, but it will be important to give resources to new parents when it comes to this section of the book.


Home Tour

This section is still very new and not always requested, but it is highly valued by the birth mother. Adoptive parents, for home visits with a social worker, need to have a child's room planned in their home. These rooms can often times sit empty for years which adds a a physical reminder of their inability to have a child.


Life Style

Finally sharing their lifestyle is very important to the adoptive parents. It feels personable and easy to share.

Book Creation

Here is the interactive prototype of book creation. The creation page breaks down the different information letting you know how far a user has gotten in a section and the difficulty of creating that content based on how other adoptive parents have felt. There is also a break down of information shared to the public (love story, letter to the birth mother, hobbies + interests, about the individual parents, and generalized location) and shared to only people who have registered with the agency (recommendation letters, what their family is like, parenting style, a home tour, and a description of their lifestyle). Finally there is information that is only shared when the birth mother has narrowed her choices to 2 or 3 options and is trying to make the final decision.​

The information is broken down by what information adoptive parents felt most comfortable sharing balanced with the information birth mothers felt was most important to making the decision. Because it was difficult to talk to a lot of birth parents about their experiences I had to do a lot of secondary research around their experiences, talking to surrogate parents, job recruiters, and college admissions officers to get a sense of how they judged different profiles and made decisions on who they liked best. In the end, the most important consideration in choosing adoptive parents were the small, personable details and the basics, while recommendation letters were hardest to share.​

By only sharing certain amounts of information, we are able to make the book feel more secure. ​

The new format of the book also includes a lot of video content. Not only does this help communicate more of the couple's personality, but the built in video editor helps people create content easily and quickly. While some people might still have their own higher end cameras and what not, by providing editing tools, like a teleprompter with the script you've written as you record, makes the process overall more equitable and fair.​

Lastly, because the book gets published digitally, the adoptive parents have the ability to update it as their lives change. Because the wait time can be so long, this digital format is designed specifically to empower adoptive parents to make regular updates with feedback over time from the social worker about overall performance.

Book Browsing

Public Browsing

The birth mother's first interaction with the book is when she arrives at the agency's website for the first time. There she has the ability to browse through the different families, but only see publically available information. The limited functionality of reading and watching the videos allows a birth parent to get a sense of a couple and potentially reach out to the agency if she likes the couple.

Registered Browsing

Once registered with the agency, the birth mother gets a handful of additional registration codes to share with her support circle, like the birth father or her own parents.  She can get their feedback on potential parents.


First they can click anywhere on a profile to drop a heart for someone they like. These hearts are then recorded and can be returned to in the decision making process as well as help organize profiles in a favorites list in the birth parent's profile.


Any registered browser has the ability to comment on any aspect of the profile to return to later, to facilitate the discussion with anyone else involved in the decision making process, or even bring with them to the first meeting with the adoptive parents to help make a decision.


The registered user can favorite a book. This puts it in a stack of other favorited books in the discussion page. There is also an option to mark as not interested to gray them out in future searches.


Then with all of this information, the registered user can go to their profile and see all of the actions taken by themselves and any other registered user.

Book Feedback

The purpose of all the work to this point has been to receive and collect feedback. The book creation, and understanding what information should be presented, all informed what kind of actions the birth parents could take when looking at the books. Those actions then dictated the kinds of anonymized data we could collect on how content is being received.​

The data collected includes mouse position, and heat maps over a section of the page, the number of people that left a page on a particular section, and more. All these different kinds of data are accessible only to the social worker, who is then able to do the comparison with how well other parents are performing. This way we keep the adoptive parents out of the direct-competition-feeling while still being able to provide feedback. The social worker takes this data and decides whether feedback fits into 1 of 3 categories: a quick fix, a longer conversation, or not useful information.

Quick Feedback

Continuing with Nancy and Jackson as an example, at just over 2 years into the process, they reupload their love story as now they've adopted a dog and it's a big part of their life they want to share. Overall the video is doing better than the previous one, but the software highlights a section where there is a surprising large drop off in viewers on the video. The social worker is then able to quickly scroll through the video and find that there is a loud audio error at the highlighted moment. They shoot a quick email to Nancy and Jackson, and the issue is quickly corrected.

When feedback is a simple action, it can be sent over email to the adoptive parents with feedback that they are doing well and this new edit is performing better than the last one. Positive feedback is key in keeping morale up and helping people understand and accept the negative feedback.

Longer Conversation

When looking at Nancy and Jackson's individual profile performance over time, the social worker notices something odd. Jackson's profile image (which highlights his career) as well as his career is getting a significantly below average number of likes with registered users. The social worker realizes that Jackson's career as a firefighter, and constantly putting is life in danger, is decreasing his likelihood of being chosen. The social worker then has 3 options depending on how well they are performing despite this drawback.

First, they can have Jackson decrease the amount his career is talked about in his profile, making it less prominent. Option two, they can add in a section addressing any concerns about his career. Finally, if this issue is turning away a lot of people and making them not be chosen a lot, the social worker can suggest potentially even changing his career.

Not Useful

When looking at the performance of Nancy and Jackson's family tree, two family members have a lot of people leaving the book after seeing their profiles. Jackson has two fathers, and unfortunately because many of the people who give up children for adoption are religious, having gay family members causes them to leave. Prejudices like homophobia and racism are areas that the data could show, but after talking with parents, they only wanted to know what was actionable. The social worker then wouldn't share this information with the adoptive parents because it couldn't help them in the process. Hearing this would only cause unnecessary stress for them, so it remains unspoken.


Now with all this information, the adoptive parents can stay involved and active in the process. The social worker can provide them feedback once a month on how they are doing with at least one actionable item they can do. If there aren't any changes to be made, they can send them discussion questions based on types of child they marked as a maybe or ways they might start thinking about updating their book.
This repeated cycle of input and feedback can increase the excitement of having a child while also decreasing the stress about not having a family.
Realistically I believe that these spikes of stress where agencies call looking to see if a parent is willing to accept a child in their maybe category can be decreased with an understanding of how they are performing. The overall stress decreases because they are informed about the process. The excitement also regularly increases whenever there is a task to do to improve book performance.

​I believe this solution would work well as a licensed software sold to different adoption agencies. While it would take some convincing to aggregate the data across agencies, we could finally get a look into how decisions are being made around the world. The process is currently completely black boxed and any information would be extremely helpful to agencies in the future.