The Buddy Book

The Buddy Book is a handbook for helping K–12 refugee students in San Diego integrate into American life by giving a list of fun and helpful activities they can do together.

handbook cover
Check it out!

Project Summary

Made under Design For America (DFA), an organization that uses design for social innovation and good, using the DFA Process: Identify > Immerse > Reframe > Ideate > Build > Test.


With a problem space of K–12 already selected for us, the team began searching for inequalities in the San Diego education system by following our team-lead’s suggestion of looking for problems refugee students may face. We contacted some experts and local organizations to form relationships with them as community partners.

Once we became more familiar with the K–12 refugee student problem space, we generated and organized broad How Can We (HCW) statements in 6 categories as guides for Immersion.

Screenshot of reaching out
Reaching out to potential partners for the project.


Community partners shared already-existing solutions, such as soccer as a way to transcend the language barrier and volunteer-run tutoring programs, which influenced the handbook’s development.

The team compiled all of our newfound knowledge from various interviews and Refugee Students Needs Assessment Report 2015 (San Diego Unified School District).

HCW wall (the wide one)
Our insights organized by different categories (Family, Administration, Educational Needs, etc.).


Based on our findings from the Immersion phase, our solution had to meet certain expectations that indicate its success and impact.


We all agreed that our design would be effective if students gained a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, recognized what resources they already have and where/how to find others, and felt more comfortable in school.

Successful Impact

We also knew that our designs would successfully impact the students’ lives if they became more sociable and successful with their studies, were not afraid to ask for help, actively participated in their community, and felt like they belong.

Guiding Questions

The team also narrowed down and refined the HCW statements to reflect our progress. These 3 statements became our guiding questions as we progressed with the project:

HCW desk
Our How Can We statements, where we asked ourselves questions to better understand the context of refugee children learning in American classrooms.


After finding the questions we wanted to answer, we brainstormed and thought up ideas including:


We soon refined our favorite ideas that fell under common themes of Peer Systems, Guide Books, and Fun Activities through discussion and synthesis:

Synthesizing Our Options

The team decided to make a handbook that would help older refugee students mentor their juniors by bonding together and learning more about San Diego and American culture through fun and interactive activities. Combining both ideas saved time, met our goals, and answered the refined HCW statements.

ideas notebook
Ideas I proposed to the team during the Ideation stage.


One half of the team focused on making real content, while the other half I was on handled the graphic design. We started listing traits we wanted the handbook to look like and chose “Friendly” and “Welcoming”.

comic book
One inspiration. We wanted our handbook to be as accessible to even young children as this comic book.

Each activity was first presented with a brief introduction and then led off to a quick summary, instructions, critical thinking discussion questions, and a big picture explanation of how the activity benefits the users.

handbook format sketches
Notes on how we decided to format the handbook.

Tisa Pro was chosen for the body text because it’s a light serif font that’s easy to read. Niveau Grotesk was used for the title and larger text due to its sharp, yet jovial nature.

sample page format
The sample page draft of the handbook. I wanted to focus on creating a base template for the team to work on.

The color palette was inspired by an interview with Haim Saban, creator of the Power Rangers and former child refugee.

power rangers
Cover picture of an interview with NPR that inspired the final color palette. Art by Andrew Holder.

My experience with Illustrator made me in charge of defining the base template. I started with a sample page to gauge the balance between the fonts, colors, and shapes. Then I made a golden section spread to make an empty template for the team to use.

golden section spread
The golden section spread I used for the handbook’s layout. The color palette was consistently arranged in every content page at the top right corner to create a visual index, so the reader could keep track of which section they’re in.


We were unfortunately unable to test the handbook due to everyone leaving. Our next steps would have been testing with our generous community partners and having follow up interviews so we could refine our solution or try another solution.

handbook cover
The final prototype, printed for DFA’s final presentation night.

Ideal Next Steps

After testing, we would've begun creating or finding original assets to illustrate the activities due to potential copyright issues. Sites such as Pixabay gives us a rich variety of creative commons licensed images to choose from.

Another step would've been printing the pages into an actual book for further testing with children, or at least digitally mocked up on a website such as FlippingBook. This way the experience could be tested and observed with a more accurate artefact (compared to a digital pdf).


My first long-term project taught me design outside the classroom is unpredictable and requires time and commitment. I am grateful for experiencing real-world design work, the valuable teamwork moments, and learning about and trying to make a difference for an underrepresented community. This project showed me that social issues can be addressed by the genuine collective efforts of dedicated human beings over a period of time.

Final Deliverable

Buddy Book