Research, Ideation, Prototyping, User Testing, UI, Illustration, Branding
Figma, Notion, Illustrator, Photoshop, Procreate
Mutual aid is when everyday people get together to meet each other’s needs, without having to pressure power structures or cut through red tape to make an impact.
Mutual aid is different from charity because it is a decentralized, community-led, and community-organized effort with an emphasis on reciprocity, and mutual respect. This approach is more “shoulder to shoulder” instead of “top-down”. Mutual aid recognizes that at times we all need some kind of assistance and does not pick and choose who is deserving of that assistance.
Mutual aid organizers face logistical roadblocks and barriers to entry in the digital sphere. These roadblocks often occur when mutual aid groups seek to organize and build connections because they are operating on several different social platforms in order to get all of organizational needs met.
The proposed solution outlined in this case study is a multimodal platform that provides two key features. A space for users that are new to mutual aid to find groups to join, and a space for existing mutual aid groups to organize their efforts.
The initial problem statement for this project was focused on the accessibility of resources for people experiencing food insecurity in Seattle. The proposed solution involved creating a compiled list of mutual aid networks, and resources to eliminate inconsistency and create a single space that would make finding resources a simpler process.
As research and interviews progressed the problem statement changed. When talking about mutual aid resources and making those resources accessible, both interviewees had a remarkable number of side comments about the logistics and planning that goes along with mutual aid. This insight led to a new problem that felt more focused and user-based than the initial one.
Two active participants in mutual aid networks shared their experience with organizing aid efforts. These interviews shed light on the pain points that organizers face and validated or invalidated any initial assumptions.
Group information, like social links and mission statements, are difficult to find from group to group.
It is intimidating for people that are new to mutual aid to get started.
Information, updates, and conversations on communication platforms get buried quickly.
Trying to keep everything as simple and accessible for a variety of people as possible is important.
A goal should be to decentralize any communication and maintain transparency so that everyone has access.
Based on interviews with the two participants and the secondary research conducted the next step was to distill that information into a persona & empathy map mashup. these personas highlight two key perspectives discovered — The established organizer, and the newcomer looking to join a mutual aid group.
With an understanding of the user's needs and goals it was time to start looking at some existing products that might provide insights into features, task flows, and pain points.
Slack is user-friendly, focused, and offers a streamlined platform that includes direct messaging, group messaging, channel creation, threads, pins, and tagging.
Slack only works for messaging and offers few organizational features, high volume channels create a feed like experience where information tends to get buried very quickly.
Discord is a messaging platform that is great for the tech-savvy user looking to build or join a community. Discord offers direct messaging, group messaging, tagging, an explore feature, and channel creation.
Discord has a complicated interface and user experience with many small features that can be difficult to locate if you are new to the space or don’t use it frequently.
Meetup provides users with more social opportunities and the chance to join communities and events through an explore and filter feature, group creation, and messaging.
Meetup is not an organizational tool or a messaging tool, there is no way to vet new members, and it is best used in conjunction with other event promotion applications.
The ideation phase included several tools starting with “how might we” statements. This technique addressed opportunity areas before launching into the more solution oriented MSCW analysis. The "how might we" statements guided Pod forward and served as a north start throughout the ideation process.
Each user scenario generated during ideation highlights a pain point found during research and opens the door for a solution. The next step was to use the ideation framework to build low-fidelity prototypes in Figma that could be user-tested.
Malika is looking to join a mutual aid pod that is taking on new members. She is excited to start volunteering her time but is nervous about being a new member of the space and is scared she won’t know how to start.
Jules is the admin of their six-member mutual aid pod that currently operates through What's App, Linktree, text, and Discord. They are often overwhelmed by notifications and lost information and are looking to move their group to a single platform.
Evan thinks he has an event that he has volunteered to run this Friday but something came up so he won’t be able to make it. He needs to confirm the event is on Friday and then notify his pod that he won't be able to attend.
The low-fidelity task flows were tested with three different individuals. The key takeaways from user testing come with possible solutions that were implemented into the high-fidelity flow, but ideally would be fleshed out further in a later version.
#1 | The user felt like their name should be attached to the event or that the event could have more information in the calendar.
#2 | Add in a multimodal flow to show how the Pod experience could work from one interface to another.
#3 | A user was curious what would happen if there were a lot of documents in the documents folder.
#1 | Create a tag that shows up on the bottom of the calendar when a date is selected that provides more event information.
#2 | Show flow #2 starting on desktop and moving over to the app halfway through as they wait for their pod’s response.
#3 | Add a search feature to the top of the documents panel so that users can quickly type in keywords and find their document.
With initial user testing on the core flows complete, wireframes moved from low-fidelity into high-fidelity. This multimodal flow demonstrates the first user story (Malika).
Because mutual aid is a new concept to some, an important element of this project was to create an educational marketing piece for the audience. The main vehicle for this education and marketing is the Pod landing page where users are given information on the core features, the brand values, and what mutual aid is.
Pod was a solo project that provided a lot of insight into self managing design thinking and UX processes. I learned the value of having good participants and user research. I was extremely fortunate to find a few people involved in mutual aid that were willing to check in throughout my design process which gave me the ability to consistently get user feedback and make design decisions based on that feedback.
If I could do this project again I would start interviews sooner in the process and I would spend time creating lower fidelity prototypes that I could get in front of users to more quickly test out different solutions.
The next step for Pod is to continue user testing on existing prototypes and add additional flows. Specifically I would like to explore the fundraising and public event feature of the app. It would also be great to build out a more robust marketing system including social ads that draw people towards the landing page.