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User Experience Design for Nonprofits

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DesignMap helped us make more progress on our donation strategy and website design in a few short weeks than we had made the entire previous year working alone.

 – Ian Johnstone, Gun by Gun

There are many experience design firms in the Bay Area with excellent product design and strategy capabilities. A search for human centered design’ on Amazon leads to 560 books that will teach you the methodology. So at DesignMap, when we think about what we bring to the table as a design studio, it has to be more than just a human centered design process. It’s about creating design that matters, with designers you can trust. What does that mean, in reality? Knowing how to adapt the design process to meet the realistic needs of our clients, especially when those clients are a small nonprofit staffed by just three people who work for free in their spare time.

Gun by Gun is a nonprofit founded by Ian Johnstone, a tech entrepreneur who lost his father to gun violence at age 10. Gun by Gun works to reduce gun violence in America through gun buyback programs, and since 2013 the organization has raised more than $100,000 to create more than 1000 gun free homes. But it takes an enormous amount of effort to organize a full scale gun buyback campaign, and Ian and his small team run Gun by Gun in their spare time. What they really wanted was a new way to increase the impact of their organization that wouldn’t cost the nonprofit a fortune to implement.

Luckily for us, DesignMap met Ian and his team through BarnRaise an annual hackathon-style event that pairs design agencies with nonprofits in need of design help. Since creating design that truly matters is fundamental to our company’s core values, participating in this event is something we prioritize every year. 

Our engagement with Gun by Gun started several weeks before the BarnRaise hackathon. We met Ian and his volunteer team to understand the mission of Gun by Gun, discuss opportunity areas, and decide how we could make the most of our time together. We conducted 10 rounds of user interviews to better understand people’s beliefs and attitudes surrounding gun violence. We did a competitive analysis of other gun violence nonprofits and a comparative analysis of successful nonprofits in adjacent verticals. Even though Ian and his team are experts in their space, this work provided valuable new insights about donor mental models and the online donation experience. As a result, Ian and his team got clarity that the best way to increase Gun by Gun’s impact would be making the donation experience more engaging for first-time donors.

Preparatory research ensured that when we got to the design phase, we focused on designing the right thing.

The DesignMap research helped us change our perspective about how to fundraise. Before we thought it was a good idea to ask donors to fundraise for a gun buyback in their state or hometown. After the research we realized people are happy to donate money anywhere in the US, as long as that money goes where it is most needed.  

Ian Johnstone, Gun by Gun

With a specific goal set, we were able to spend the two days of the hackathon ideating and working on tactical design solutions. Using a Google Venture sprint model, we facilitated a workshop that included a team of DesignMap designers, the Gun by Gun team and several workshop participants from the general public. And since workshop facilitation is something we do on a regular basis at DesignMap, we were able to facilitate an experience where all participants felt empowered to share their ideas and work cohesively as a team despite having just met one another the night before the hackathon.

Slideshow of hackathon images
The only problem with the hackathon was too many good ideas and not enough time to build them all.

One of the toughest challenges of the hackathon weekend was picking just a few ideas to implement out of the dozens of good ideas that were generated. But at the end of the weekend we had created, prototyped and tested three separate ideas for how Gun by Gun could make a more compelling first time donation experience that would result in increased donations.

  1. A rapid response marketing kit, including new email templates and messaging, that Gun by Gun can use after a mass shooting incident to engage with potential donors.
Gun by Gun email template
We created a new email template to help the Gun by Gun team rapidly respond to mass shooting events.
  1. A social media campaign, including a new design template and messaging, that Gun by Gun can use to tap into the power of personal storytelling for increasing awareness.
Gun by Gun social media campaign
We created a social media campaign to heighten awareness about gun violence.
  1. A new homepage design, including new messaging and a different donation model that focuses on small goals and small group fundraisers to reduce gun violence.
gun by gun homepage
We created a new homepage based on a new fundraising model, which itself was based on insights from our exploratory research and user interviews.

The Gun by Gun team was able to leave San Francisco with a clear path forward for improving the donation experience. Moreover, the DesignMap team was able to spend a few additional days after the hackathon finalizing and optimizing the new homepage design to the point where it could be easily implemented by a front end developer. This handoff was important because in all our engagements, no matter the length, DesignMap always strives to provide actionable final deliverables.

Clients often ask us what’s possible to accomplish during an engagement as short as a few weeks. They usually don’t believe us when we describe how it’s possible to go from discovery research to informed strategy and actionable designs in that amount of time. In fact, we’ve done design sprints that are similar to the Gun by Gun project for clients in industries as diverse as banking, healthcare and security software. In the end, we find what makes for a successful project is adapting the design process to meet the organization’s needs and goals in the timeframe they have.

DesignMap helped us make more progress on our donation strategy and website design in a few short weeks than we had made the entire previous year working alone. I am 100% confident we will meet our goal for increased donations – and that in turn will cause a tangible reduction in gun violence.

 – Ian Johnstone, Gun by Gun

Designer

Nina Gannes

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