Free the Children is an international charity that empowers communities to lift themselves out of poverty using a holistic, sustainable five-pillar development model. One of their initiatives is an area of their current site called “Track your Impact” it’s purpose is to help build a simple, engaging experience for customers to interact with Me to We and Free The Children — by “tracking their impact” and the difference they’re making in the world with their purchase of a Me to We product direct or through retail partners, including Boathouse, PACSUN, Walgreens, Staples, Nordstrom. Every item purchased from Me to We carries a Track Your Impact code that connects an impact relating to Free The Children’s 5 main development pillars — Education Water, Food, Health, and Alternative Income — to the community receiving that impact.

They approached us with the idea of evolving the current Track Your Impact into a mobile and web experience that is compelling, simple, and active. Their ultimate objective was to build a loyal and trusted community of engaged consumers. The problem with the current app, was while they had large success with the sales of participating “Track You Impact” products, the percentage of people taking these products and using the website to track their impact was very small. Because of this, they wanted us also to offer alternative thinking and analysis around a potential move from Track Your Impact to an active Choose Your Impact model.

Team —

While we all contributed equally on the project, there were areas we each lead the others with our own expertise.

Constraints —

Because of the scope of this project, time was the most difficult constraint as we had two weeks to put together mid-fidelity wireframes of the re-thought out concept. Time also caused difficulties due to the enormity of Free the Children/Me to We, it was difficult to get our hands on some information in a timely fashion to help us as move forward with area’s of the project, this forced us to do a lot of research on our own.


Strategy —

Our strategy was to spend a little extra time in the research to develop a strong foundation of information. This would help us make more educated decisions as we built things out. In order to make sure we were asking the right questions, we developed an initial questionnaire with the idea of refining and building on it as we started to narrow in on the problem areas of the project.

We also did a great deal of organizational and domain based research. We discovered while there are quite a few charity out there with the one-for-one concept, no one was offering an experience like this for their contributors.

In order to uncover some problem area’s, we did some brain storming as a team. We listed each of our initial idea’s of directions we might take the app. We looked at all the ways we might solve the problem of converting their consumers to users, and how we might ask questions of our users that help us decide what would be the right direction to take. While we went through quite a few ideas nothing felt like it would be enough to convince that customer to go from a line of text on a package, to downloading and interacting with an app. This was a main stumbling point for our team from the beginning.

We conducted an MVP map with the features we each wanted to see, as well as the existing features of track your impact. This helped us see the directions that would be a priority, and also helped to get our team on the same page. From here we imagined a very rough map out of the app as we currently imagined it.

As you can see, things had the potential to get very complicated. We needed to make sure we where keeping things as simple and clear for the user as possible. We revisited our initial questionnaire, added and refined questions from these theories in order to have a good knowledge of the users to move to the next stage with.

Research & Testing

To build a strong foundation of information we decided to split our user research into three different tests:

Lucky for us, one of the other student groups had a charity based organization as well. After chatting with them a bit we realized that there were quite a few high level questions we had in common for our questionnaires. We decided if we created a hybrid set of questions and utilized the network between our two groups — the survey might reach a much larger audience, giving us both better results.

For the more in depth questions we conducted 10 one-on-one interviews with select people who fit the criteria of our target audience. We then spent some time compelling all the data into a large diagram so we could pull out the main themes, as well as discuss each of our interviews as a team. We ended up breaking the data into 5 different categories; Social, Acts, Free the Children, Domain and Charities.

Contextual inquiry
Our third test was a walkthrough of current impact app with a few users, in order to see where some of the main problems might be. We gave them the packaging and had them interact with the site, while telling us how they felt about the experience.

Now after this last test, we realized that we had more of a problem with the verbage than anticipated. Users were confused by the term pillars and what that meant, this prevented feeling connected because they could not relate. Track and Choose were also not preforming the way we had hoped. So we brought in a forth test to throw a third option into the mix and see users reactions. With all the information we had regarding the large social reach of Me to We and Free the Children, the idea of using the term “follow” was brought up. A simple button test was conducted. Users where asked three things:

  1. Which are you most inclined to click?
  2. What are you expectations after clicking [selected button]
  3. Overall thoughts?

We started to really see a trend of scepticism develop across all our findings. It would become a constant opinion for our team to deal with as we worked on this project. But I will touch more on this later, as it came in very handy to us towards the end.


Persona’s & User Flows —

We built three key persona’s based off our extensive research. Outside User, Core User & Fence User. We chose to focus on the Core and Fence Users as these presented a realistic area of consumers that would be likely to use this app.

Our primary target would be the Fence user, as they represented the best opportunity for the company to grow its user base. We began to talk about how we might leverage the social media following that we discovered when doing organizational research to entice these users. And to help us get past the barrier of convincing people to download an app; from product packaging. At this point we started to play with the idea of reversing how this user might come to the app for the first time.What if these Fence users where discovering the app via social media, and other app users sharing their various accomplishments with the app? We explored this more by breaking down into detail each of the flows we had from our project brief.

As we worked through these it became obvious that there was one very important flow left out. That of the user without a product, coming to this app for the first time and wanting to explore its capabilities. This would most likely be the way these fence users would be experiencing this app, after discovering it through social media or promoted content. We decided that a great way to help them interact with the app, would be to give this user one dollar to act as a tutorial or sample to see the app in action. This would avoid losing these users as we would have previously when they showed up for the first time without a product code. Once they saw the capabilities via this tutorial, they would be more likely to follow up and look at other products or purchase things online to continue participating.

We decided that this would be the main flow we would focus on building out, as it would cover quite a few of the features we talked about in our initial planning stages, as well as solve the problem of our first time user. All the other flows given to us by the client could be developed easily based off of this one flow functioning smoothly for the user.

Second Middle

Design Studio —

As we moved into the design stage we wanted to keep several things in mind based off of what we learned within our research.

With all this in mind we began to do a series of design studios. The app went through about 7 to 8 different variations over the course of the week.

Road Blocks

We encountered a few design difficulties as we worked through the wireframes, I’ve broken down a few of the more crucial decisions below.

We had some different options for the $1 tutorial going into the design stages, either the app would cost $1 dollar within the app store, option of a sponsored $1 each month from rotating companies or using a “theoretical dollar” to demonstrate the process. In the end, after several versions and tests, we decided upon the sponsored dollar as it aligned best with the business goals and user opinion.

Integrated sign up
The client wanted a sign up process that was integrated and as non obtrusive as possible, it was important to our users as well. We tried out a few different combinations, but ultimately decided on presenting as much information before asking for a sign up as possible. We also locked out key features after the initial tutorial, in order to develop an incentive for signing up.

Map vs. Stages
As we went through our user testing, we ended up testing two different versions. One with a map search feature and another with a menu system of finding your project. As we tested the responses were mixed, while the menu system was clearer to navigate, it took us further away from the feeling of authenticity that clicking around and exploring a globe of projects gives. Authenticity was something that the users needed to feel while interacting with this app. In the end we tried to work out the kinks with the navigation of the map and went with that.

Dashboard 2.0
The user dashboard was another problem we faced, with so much information that needed to be displayed, much of it changing, how would we provide an uncluttered and easy experience for the user? We stumbled upon the idea of using cards, this way the content could be easily navigated, with lots of opportunity to control what the user was interacting with first as well as plenty of places to put sponsored content. This also gave us some great opportunities as we developed the other flows further, which I’ll touch on in the next section.

Final Stages —

Once we had finalized our first time user flow, we wanted to flush out some of the other ideas we had that might expand the app’s usability in order to demonstrate how it all might work together. Here are a few examples:

Last minute changes

The client emailed us a day or two before our final presentation expressing concerns about the app being native and not web based, as they were worried about that being a barrier to users. Luckily the current mobile site for Free the children is designed in a way that lends itself to our design. We were able to make a mock up of some slight changes to illustrate how the app may be available with both.

The main change we had to make, was moving the menu from the bottom bar into the hamburger menu on the right hand side. This emulates the current navigation on and

Wrap up & Lessons —

The client was thrilled with the results and was taking our concept to their loyalty specialized marketing firm based out of Toronto to develop things further. We pivoted in quite a few areas from the original brief, but only ever did so because we were following the user research. A huge lesson for me with this project was how valuable it is to have those numbers backing you up as you show the different direction you’ve taken things. It gives so much more weight to those choices.

As I said earlier, this project was really challenging for our team in many ways, but I think the most difficult was the uphill battle against the overwhelming stigma we discovered against these types of organizations. At times it was really hard not to become bogged down and feel less than optimistic about what we were building and if it would even be useful. In the end though it was the most beneficial thing about this project, because this allowed us to really put ourselves in our user’s shoes and understand the way they were feeling as we designed and tested our concepts. We were extremely hard on our selves with what we were putting together, but the result became something we all believed in and felt would be a compelling and useful application for those to follow the difference they are making in the world. And more importantly, believe in that difference. As a team we are a group of people who cares about the planet and the people on it, so getting past our own cynicism and using it instead as fuel was a great lesson. I’d love to quote a favourite of mine:

We could have designed what they initially asked for and gone through the motions of a pretty simple track your impact task. Instead we followed the research and challenged ourselves to build something useful for our users, it resulted in a far better design than if we hadn’t. That was my main take away from this project.

Next Steps —

  • Translating Mobile web app to desktop web app
  • Develop other flows further
  • Generate authentic and engaging content
  • Develop concept of badges & rewards
  • Sponsored opportunities for partner retailers.

“You will be unsuccessful often, so you are going to have to find your joy in the pursuit of clarity” — Frank Chimero

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