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1st floor, 68 Sackville Street
Manchester M1 3NJ

UN Refugee Agency

Designing self-sufficiency with refugees

A project in partnership with Hyper Island students to design a digital service enabling refugees to generate income online by using their translation skills.


Over 60 million people worldwide are forced to become refugees - income and resettlement is a complex challenge.

We explored opportunities to empower refugees to use their skills to achieve self-sufficiency.

Field research and expert interviews provided key insights that enabled us to design a service that would be accessible for refugees to utilise.

Discovery showed that refugees are entrepreneurs and linguists, who own digital devices including smartphones and strive to teach themselves skills in different areas.


Four weeks of discovery and a design sprint enabled us to test and validate our hypotheses remotely with displaced people in Uganda.

Connecting with UNHCR officials and people working on the ground in refugee camps provided real-time data on internet connectivity and existing smartphone ownership. We narrowed the focus on exploring micro work in Business Process Outsourcing.

Supported by research and insight, we facilitated workshops and a design sprint to develop the business model and strategy for product development.


The context for designing challenged us to find a cost-effective way to test initial concepts and assumptions.

We tested the feasibility and desirability of a translation service with six people in Nakivale refugee camp. the translation service was simulated through the Messenger app – this allowed the user experience of a chat tool as well as the ability to create a moderated remote testing environment.

Once the concept was validated, we created clickable prototypes to share with business stakeholders – companies interested in using translation services provided by refugees.

We created a friendly, professional and inclusive visual brand for U-able. The stakeholders shared different levels of content to be translated securely.

The activities included:

  • Collaboration with refugee camp staff members and refugees to take part in the test
  • Arrangement of a convenient payment method to reward their participation
  • A simple Google spreadsheet with a scripted conversation and content (in English) ready for translation supported the test
  • Clickable prototypes to enable chunking & text management
  • Designed a branded page to represent the service
  • Sales & marketing for businesses to share content for translation


The U-able prototype service connects businesses in need of quick, straightforward translations with linguistically skilled refugees.

The U-able app is designed to work offline, digest information into clear and straightforward bite-sized parts, and include review and feedback features.

The client-facing platform allows clients to upload files for translation and have a meaningful impact on displaced people’s lives while ticking off translation jobs from their to-do list.

The prototype received positive feedback from policy makers and organisations on a global scale.


  • Product design, service blueprint & business model validated
  • Presented to UNHCR in Geneva with positive reaction internationally
  • Attracted attention from The Huffington Post & shown at SXSW
  • Wellcome Trust

    Applying design to increase funding in mental health research

  • Canyon Bicycles

    Customer insight for business transformation

Get in touch

We’d love to hear from you. We’re always interested in meeting new people, businesses and organisations.

0161 236 9898

Find us

1st floor, 68 Sackville Street
Manchester M1 3NJ