How Crowdfunding Sites Could Design for Subscription Based Rewards


Kickstarter is a global crowdfunding platform with a mission of bringing creative projects to life. Project backers are offered tangible rewards and one of a kind experiences in exchange for their pledges. Currently, they do not offer long-term rewards for backers looking to patron a project


Currently people can back different projects by pledging a certain amount of money to a project. Projects are only funded if they reach their funding goal by a predetermined date. Kickstarter wants to expand to allow projects that will be funded on a repeated schedule instead of only backing a project once.


On a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter, a subscription-based reward option can create a more engaging & trustworthy relationship between project backers and a project creator.


seamlessly integrated a recurring-payment feature within an already existing rewards-driven site

UX Process for this project and final presentation to client



I began my process by wondering — who exactly are Kickstarter’s competitors? Will these competitors have subscription service reward options? And if so — what would this integration look like?

In order to answer this question, I began by looking at other crowdfunding sites. I quickly ruled out sites like GoFundMe, and Crowdfunder, as they were charity based donation sites. After a day of research, I identified 3 crowdsourcing competitors I wanted to focus on, and did a comparative analysis in order to identify possible features that I might want to adapt into Kickstarter’s design.

What did I find? Two of these direct competitors — Pozible and Patreon — had recurring payment options

But it wasn’t JUST crowdfunding sites that would provide insights into crowdfunding. Since I was going to be implementing a recurring payment option into Kickstarter, I also wanted to look at best practices with subscriptions…

Why do people sign up for subscriptions? How do companies get users to opt for a subscription rather than a one-time offering?

A layout analysis of subscription-based sites would help me to decide how I could potentially integrate the subscription based rewards into the existing Kickstarter site.

Subscription based layout analysis

What I found was that sites compared their subscription levels against one another, showcasing the greatest subscription with the most offerings and priced at the best value.

But this lead me to wonder…what about the users? What types of subscriptions do they favor? Why? What crowdfunding sites have they used? What are their attitudes toward these types of sites? Why?

It was time to conduct qual and quant research.


I created a survey in order to find out about the users — and to assess the participants preferences, characteristics and attitudes towards using subscription and crowdsourcing sites.

This survey not only helped me identify behaviors, but it helped screen for the appropriate users for in-person interviews. I measured this by selecting survey participants who had a series of subscriptions and were familiar with crowdfunding sites.

In Person Interviews

User interviews are tricky. It’s easy to get caught up in asking hypothetical questions when a project brief is about adding a new feature to an existing site. Nir Eyal, creator of the Desire Engine, suggests that when you conduct an interview don’t ask “What do you think of this?” ask — “When was the last time you did that?” This response will generate a user’s actual behavior.

I conducted interviews with 6 participants to help us understand motivations — I wanted to know their pains and pleasures regarding subscriptions.

I had one user who identified as project backer, say that — “I came across a Kickstarter campaign while searching for video games on Google — the fact that the project had a trailer of the game and detailed information about their design and concepts, showed the project’s professionalism compared to others”.

I had another user who identified as a project creator, say that — “My main goal was to make the most popular one being the item funded. I included a few high price original pieces as they seem to be of interest to funders who wanted to contribute more”.


User interviews taught me that project backers were more likely to fund projects with TRUSTWORTHY CONTENT — and creators needed MORE REWARD ALTERNATIVES since they had backers looking to increase their funding.

I also wanted to understand how users navigated through crowdfunding sites. Perhaps this could lead to more findings — so I ran usability tests on Kickstarter as well as our competitor sites — Patreon, Ulule and Pozible.


“Quietly observing users is more valuable and the real reason to go into the field” — Norman

I gave the participants a task. You are looking to back a science & technology project. The name of the project is [I gave them a specific project to find — as I was more interested in finding out how they got there than what they selected] — find that project and select a reward from the list of reward options.

Based on these usability tests, I created users flows for Kickstarter and each competitor site.

From finding a project to selecting a reward — I mapped out the user’s tasks to fully understand where to focus our design on within the site that would prompt users to select a subscription based reward instead of a one-time payment.

I also mapped out hypothetical routes for each site. 1) if a user “kind-of” knew which project they wanted to back [i.e., the type/category of the project], and 2) if a user didn’t know at all which project they wanted to back — to serve as a point of visual comparison, and to see if this would lead us to any additional insights.

Here I found that Kickstarter already had an advantage on competitors sites — logged in users on Kickstarter had a less number of pages and number of clicks compared to other crowdfunding sites.

These user flows also indicated that if a user “kind-of” knows the project they want to back or “doesn’t know” the kind of project they want to back — it would be difficult to get to a specific project page, based on the sheer number of projects currently on Kickstarter.

One of the most important findings through the user interviews and usability testing, was that users were accessing projects through links from friends. I thought perhaps if project creators drove up the social media sharing — it would bring more backers dirctly to their page.

Users were accessing a project’s page from a link from a friend as opposed from the Kickstarter home page

I decided to split the findings into categories — and organize these findings based on the pains, pleasures, contexts and behaviors of our user base.



Using the survey, interviews and user flows findings, I came up with 3 personas (2 backers and 1 creator) to create a reliable and realistic representation of the key audience segments for reference.

Beth the Backer — she represents a younger demographic aged 18–25 yrs. old that will only back a project if it offers exclusive goods & services. She’s more interested in one-time rewards.

Betty the Backer — represents an older demographic aged 26–35 yrs. old that looks for trustworthy projects in which she could have an option to provide continuous support. She’s looking for a subscription reward.

Kevin the Creator — he seeks to create projects that will lead to longterm relationships with backers and unexpected backers to help fund his project. He wants to satisfy both of his backer types [one-time rewards & long-time rewards] so he’s looking for a reward model that could include one-time rewards, and long-time rewards.

Personas for primary and secondary users

I then created a user journey for Betty the Backer — the persona interested in long term funding [i.e., subscription rewards], in order to identify her needs, emotional touch points, and feelings throughout each stage of the backing process:

Persona: Betty the Backer

Goal: Support a friend’s project on Kickstarter

User Journey for Persona A) Betty the Backer

I found that during the reward selection stage — this persona reaches an emotional low. She’s unable to fund her friend’s project on a long-term basis, and has to select a reward that will inevitably contribute less to her friend’s project. I identified this as the area we needed to improve — in order to provide Betty with a good overall experience.

As I began to move into the next stage of our process, we would be sure that our design would always go back and ask the question — is this good for our personas? Does it meet our personas goals?



I did a series of design studios — 6 minute sketch exercises where I would iterate rapidly on design ideas.

Design Studio Sketch exercise: ideating Kickstarter’s website layout, storyboard workflows, and context scenarios



In order to prompt the usability of our design for our client Kickstarter, we decided to create a scenario in which our personas would find themselves interacting with the Kickstarter site:

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon, you’re finally away from your annoying coworkers and boss after a weeklong company retreat! You are lounging at home and have all the time in the world now to catch up on texts and emails. You open your phone and find a text from your best friend Kevin telling you that his project, LiliLite — a bookshelf and reading light all-in-one, is up on Kickstarter! His text says that he just sent you an email with the link to the project and he wants you to open it so you could go and support him!

A/B Paper Prototype Testing & Lo-Fi Invision Prototype Testing

Through paper prototype testing, I collected feedback that had me iterating on my designs.

VERSION I: I began with a pop-up, that would prompt users to choose either one-time rewards or subscription rewards, before they even saw the project page — but one of the testers said “I would’ve closed this, because I don’t know anything about the project yet” — an immediate roadblock and a red flag that I wanted to avoid.

VERSION II: Users in this design were brought directly to the project page, and this time, the rewards section would list only subscription based rewards until the user clicked the drop-down menu to reveal the one-time rewards. I used a ‘hiding’ design technique with this drop-down to encourage users to choose a subscription first — but I had some testers feel uncomfortable with the lack of transparency. And one user said, “The word ‘subscription’ scares me…is there another option?” I needed to use a different name and put both one-time rewards and subscription options on the same page.

VERSION III: This version included all the one-time rewards and subscription based rewards onto a Reward Timeline — when users hovered over a reward a green overlay would appear with the option to select the reward and go to the payment page. But I had users say things like, This is a little annoying to me. Obscuring the text.” I didn’t want the overlay to be another roadblock, so I had to brainstorm ideas to work around this.

VERSION IV: I removed the overlay and this time when users hovered over the reward (either one-time or subscription) — they would see a grey box outline with the minimum payment option — for which they could then click to the payment page. In testing, this design was validated! I had one user say, “Invest $50 or more per month? Cool! Maybe then I’ll look for a bigger subscription to support.”

I moved forward with increasing the fidelity of this design and annotating the wireframes for future reference.

Project Page — Annotated Wireframes

Another feature I tested was on the payment page. Regardless of the reward level a backer would choose, they would still see the other reward options on the payment page before giving their credit card information. Laying them out like this, encouraged users to increase their level of subscription — which during testing — I found that they did.

Payment Page Annotated Wireframes


I created a chart with a gentle assumption, to aid in future feature ideation.

Even the persona who is only interested in limited service and good rewards, will receive instant gratification in our Reward Model Timeline. As the below chart illustrates, the hope would be that the longer a backer contributes to a project, the more involved they will feel, and in turn, the more the creator will engage their backers and the more money Kickstarter will incur. I was able to successfully and seamlessly integrate a recurring-payment feature in Kickstarter while meeting the goals of Kickstarter, the Kickstarter brand, and the site’s users.

Personas goals are reached, creators goals are reached, and Kickstarter’s business goals are reached


TEST DIFFERENT NAMING CONVENTIONS: I experimented with a series of words to describe a project ‘backer’. The intention was to elicit a positive reaction from backers when considering a funding levels — so I used words like INVESTOR, PARTNER, and STAKEHOLDER — with the thought being that a person would be more likely to increase their level of funding if they were being described as one of these things. It would be nice to go into more testing on this.

ADDITIONAL INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT CREATORS: Most of the survey respondents were project backers. I reached out to project creators through Kickstarter and received some great responses which influenced the ideation process, but it would have been great to hear more perspective from project creators.

EXPLORE MORE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE SITES: As one user put it, “subscriptions — yikes”. I would like to take a deeper dive into subscription services and why people feel the way they do about them. It’s a unique offering and I believe it takes a lot of strategy into positioning this type of service. With more time, I would research this aspect more.


Ask the right questions to the right people.

I learned a lot about how to conduct useful user interviews and prototype tests. By asking questions such as “what do you expect to see before you click this?”, we can avoid any bias. This project also taught me the importance of testing with users within a target demographic — I feel that with this project, had I been able to reach more users who were familiar with crowdfunding sites, I probably would’ve garnered more insightful findings which would’ve lead to a more concrete design.

“Sometimes even good ideas need to be killed” — Geoff Teehan

Geoff Teehan said this when he was talking about creating Medium. He also said, “It takes a great deal of perspective and courage to kill something for the betterment of a product.” This proved true on this project. I had an idea I loved but unfortunately, through testing, it wasn’t working. I had to scrape it and start from scratch. I learned not to fall victim to loving one design — because user testing can, and did, kill it faster than I would have ever imagined.