Proposal Form

Proposal Form Feature

A proposal submission experience for an education crowdfunding platform.

EduDAO is a crowdfunding platform for educators. It aims to help teachers develop projects for classrooms, schools, and non-profits.

Entering a tight marketplace of crowdfunding platforms, eduDAO is attempting to differentiate itself with a blockchain-based payment and goods tracking system, while offering the additional benefit of very low processing fees.

Engaged by eduDAO as independent UX consultants, our team (Eva, Ludi, Sru, & myself) took on the project of developing the platform's proposal submission experience. The proposal submission is the first step educators would take if they are interested in starting a crowdfunding campaign with eduDAO.

An image submitted to us by the client as one of the scope documents. My team was responsible for the section outlined in green.

The purpose of the proposal is to give eduDAO's Board of Directors (BoD) a comprehensive overview of the project, in order for them to ensure that the project is a good fit for the platform. (Projects which address students in under-served, low-income communities are of particular interest to the Board).

In other words, the purpose of the proposal experience is to collect information from educators about their projects. At this point our brief appeared as:

Initial Design Brief:
Design a standard form, which guides users through the proposal submission process.

This general brief can be further broken down into three challenge areas:

  • Content: Getting the right information from users
  • Context: Giving users the right information about the proposal
  • Presentation: Developing proper styles for communicating with the user

The following case-study describes how my team and I approached and resolved this brief, ultimately leading to documentation for a UI.

RESEARCH

On the face of it, the project seemed straight forward: develop a simple application form to take in information from applicants. But actually, most forms, whether online or on paper, are anything but simple and are notoriously frustrating for users. It is this kind of user predisposition that makes designing a good form a particular challenge.

Going into the research phase of the project we identified the following tentative presumptions about the solution:

  • Content: Users want to get through the proposal application as quickly as possible.
  • Context: The user's main objective is to obtain the materials which they are requesting in their proposal.
  • Presentation: Educators are generally familiar with and will understand how to navigate crowdfunding platforms.

With these three presumptions apparent, we set out to check for their validity through various research methods.

1. Comparative Analysis

Crowdfunding platforms targeting diverse needs and communities have proliferated. This is especially true in the non-profit, education sector. Understanding who the players are in this field, and how they've engaged their communities, is important towards developing a solution for which there is a real need.

We analyzed 5 crowdfunding platforms, two of which - Donors Choose and Pledge Cents - were direct competitors.

Summary of Comparative Analysis Vitals.

Along with this assessment of "vitals," we also reviewed each competitor's campaign building flow. Using the "page-by" method [link to appendix], we compared the number of steps required to go page-by-page, in order to post a viable crowd-funding campaign on each platform.

The "page-by" method presents an easy graphic comparison between the experiences of multiple competitor platforms.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS:
  • Donors Choose has the most similar premise to the one pursued by eduDAO: vendor-based materials procurement.
  • Donors Choose is also the most formidable competitor. This website has a substantial user base and much credibility among teachers. For eduDAO to succeed, differentiating itself from Donors Choose must be a primary strategic objective.
  • Donors Choose also happens to have the longest, most complicated, and most disjointed experience. This is a competitive opportunity where UX can make a big difference for eduDAO.
  • All competitors charge a payment processing fee of ~3%. This is an opportunity for eduDAO, which, leveraging blockchain technology, will only charge users 0.5% fees.
  • Pledgecents and Kickstarter have the shortest sequence without sacrificing much content.
  • Donors Choose has many useful features worth adopting (e.g. tips on how to make the campaign more compelling):

Lastly, it became apparent that eduDAO's idea of adding a pre-emptive, proposal submission step, prior to the building of the actual public-facing campaign, was atypical. As such, it would require a careful handling of how this sequence is presented and communicated to the user.

2. Interviews

Having familiarized ourselves with the marketplace and the product type, we went on to learn more about our potential users and to begin in/validating our presumptions. We conducted user interviews with 6 educators. These included teachers presently and formerly working in public schools, as well as leaders at non-profit educational organizations who operate either in partnership or independently from the public school system.

These initial interviews were semi-structured and exploratory. The aim of the interviews was to discover users':

  • goals and needs in regards to crowd funding generally
  • experience with building crowd-funding campaigns, specifically

After generating an exhaustive list of potential questions, our team conducted a rapid, internal sorting exercise in order to organize the questions into coherent subject areas, cull redundancies, and ensure focus on our target areas.

We conducted an internal question sort in preparation for the exploratory user interviews.

This produced a definitive questions rubric which we used for all our preliminary interviews.

The questions focused on 3 key areas including:

  • user's general background, position, and role within the education space
  • experience with crowd funding platforms
  • proposal writing and funding campaign development

Additionally, we were interested in educators' ability to effectively present their projects to the Board of Directors. Through conversations with eduDAO stakeholders, we knew that the Board was seeking projects that not only helped under-resourced students, but also, to some extent, addressed systemic socio-economic disparities.

PERSONAS

Among other findings (see below), the interviews revealed that educators fall into one of two relevant Personas:

1. Teachers who work in public schools:

  • very time-poor and often do not have the resources to develop extensive crowdfunding campaigns
  • less familiar with crowdfunding platforms

2. Founders of Not For Profit (NFP) organizations that are leading educational initiatives:

  • much more tech and media savvy (though experience with crowd funding is still limited)
  • used to devoting resources to the effort of communicating their organization's mission
EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEWS:

On developing a story:

"People are more likely to give, and more likely to give more, if their emotions are tapped by story"

On effort required:

"To get it going, I'd say 5-10 hours."

On teacher workload:

"Teachers are super stressed and super busy."

On time expectation:

"Some way of letting us know what type of refinement they're looking for."

On submitting a proposal prior to the public-facing campaign:

"I would prefer a short initial application,... and [later] it would be great to have the ability to craft it and make it ours."

On presenting students' need-based status:

"'These schools are the least likely to be able to afford a robust journalism program.' That, we will not shy away from saying, either to the board or to the public.'"

On crowdfunding as a development strategy:

"It was a helpful stepping stone."

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM INTERVIEWS:
  • Both groups emphasized the importance of being able to tell a compelling story about their projects.
  • Users generally expected to spend several hours putting together a campaign.

3. Content Strategy

Equipped with an understanding of users' goals and expectations, we moved on to identifying precisely which pieces of information were essential to collect at this point in the eduDAO experience and how to structure this collection.

Since users identified telling a compelling story as a major painpoint, we set out to develop a story-forward information collection strategy, which would prompt users to begin recognizing the stories in their own projects.

INTERNAL CARD SORT

To consider the different ways of organizing and sequencing application content modules, we again conducted a lo-fidelity internal card-sorting exercise. Three of the resultant layouts are shown below.

In arranging these layouts, we initially treated vertical placement within each section as the priority dimension (modules placed higher were deemed more important by potential users).

In fact, according to the "attention decrement hypothesis (ADH) [link to footnote]," in general, content modules that are placed earlier in the sequence will be attended by the user with more cognitive resources than later ones. Thus, there is an important correlation between the position of a content module in the sequence of a form and the attention the user may be able to devote to it.

1. A "typical" layout: this was our version of how application forms typically collect information. Incidentally, this kind of sequence very closely follows the common "who-what-where-when-why" pattern of most news stories.

In the "typical" layout, after collecting standard sign-up essentials, the form asks for additional information about the user and their organization. Only after multiple modules of biographical information, does this sequence begin to address the parts of the project deemed most important by the BoD and the teachers: the students, their needs, and the objectives and assets of the campaign.

2. Concept-Forward Layout: This sequence attempts to get users thinking about their project much sooner in the process.

In the "Concept-Forward" layout, after a more streamlined "Sign-Up" stage (reducing the "Name" to one field and eliminating social integrations), the "Proposal Setup" phase starts with the Title, similar to reading a novel or a short story. By asking for the Title of the project up-front, this sequence attempts to orient the user towards the central idea of their own story, which, as indicated by the title, is about to unfold.

After the title, however, this sequence reverts to the more conventional trope of collecting biographical information about the organizer. This is then followed by a "Story Builder" section, which again puts the details of the project at the end.

3. Story-Forward Layout: This is the most radical proposition for orienting users towards the story of their projects, with the Story Builder Section appearing almost right away.

In the "Story-Forward" layout, the Proposal stage launches right into the Title, description of project and of students, followed by their needs, and desired impact. Applying the narrative framework to this sequence, students appear much more clearly as protagonists who are actively trying to overcome challenges.

The Story-Builder section is then followed by the "Expand" section, which fills-in key pieces of information that are integral to the proposal. While we were aware that this proposal / sign-up sequence is in many ways unconventional, and thus might give users pause, it still seemed most appropriate for keeping applicants engaged in the process and helping them formulate a narrative.

To further flesh out this story-forward content strategy to our client, we developed an annotated user flow diagram which sketches some language around content modules and input examples (see below). Also evident in this diagram is the emergence of the natural language ("mad-libs") feature (second box from the top), which attempts to construct and display user input as an actual narrative.

Annotated user flow diagram which sketches some language around content modules and input examples.
Diagram by Ludi Dai.

Though our client and we found this mad-libs feature to be an exciting and promising advance—turning a routine form into a story that "writes itself"—without solid feedback from users, we remained skeptical about its effectiveness. Seeking the next round of in/validation about this new set of presumptions, we moved on to the development of low-fidelity prototypes and user-testing.

4. Lo-Fidelity Prototypes

A sketch for a form module which puts to use the "natural language" method of collecting information.

With several content strategies mapped out, we moved ahead to the development of low-fidelity prototypes one of which is shown below.

Using the prototyping tool Atomic, we built a low fidelity, interactive prototype of the proposal submission form. The prototype applied the story-forward content strategy. The main feature of the prototype is the "mad-libs" style fill-in-the-blank collection of information.

A mad-libs game card where players are asked to fill in a narrative with specific parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.). In our story-forward prototype, we ensured proper grammatical fit by phrasing the prompts in a way that properly constrained the likely answer.

Using plain, natural language, users are asked to describe their students, the kind of materials they would need, and the overarching goal of their project. As each piece of information is collected, the system remembers it and integrates it into the following prompt. The primary purpose of this prototype was to test the effectiveness of collecting information in this order and manner.

See the live, interactive prototype here:
https://app.atomic.io/d/3iVNYeQA8g6N