What I did

• Mixed method research, lightweight UI design,  developer handoff
• Presented changes to staff, established a methodology for incorporating UX into product design and later presented the methodology to external users.

New York Cares: Retiring a widget

Both quantitative and qualitative research informed the decision to remove a widget from the home page. The decision prevented spending engineering time on a low-value feature, freed up valuable home screen real estate, but provoked a passionate outcry from its few users.



New York Cares is a large non-profit that annually trains and places about 50,000 volunteers in food pantries, classrooms, and public parks all around the city. This matching happens via its website.
As the new (and first-ever) UX Lead I needed a scoped project to allow me to explore the organization and its users. A pesky malfunctioning widget on the home page was a good candidate.
This gamified widget was designed to encourage volunteers to set a goal for the number of projects accrued. The problem? A global Drupal code update was causing the widget to fail. Any fix would require a healthy chunk of developer time.

Questions and answers

1. How many users engaged with this widget?

Answer: 95% of our Drupal accounts set up since 2012 had never set any goals hours.
(This was a pretty large and unwieldy dataset which I pulled with great zeal. After this experience I vowed to work with smaller but still representative chunks of data).
This number was so high that the answer as to whether or not to commit development time to the widget was pretty much done.  However, the goal of getting to know users and the New York Cares organization was not yet achieved.

2. Of the remaining 5% who had set goals in the widget, how and why were they using it?

Answer: Most users did not keep their goals aligned, and the widget’s presence on the website was causing inadvertent negative consequences. I found this out through a mixture of research methods.
This scatter plot is a visual snapshot of the spread of alignment between goals and actual behavior. Very few users fall along the centerline (green box).
I turned to qualitative research and recruited participants from across the spectrum of alignment. Remote moderated research showed that few volunteers were motivated by this extrinsic widget and that they were motivated internally, by their own personal goals. Additionally, many of them never visited this home page, and even if they did, the widget was below the fold and few people scrolled down to visit it.

3. The widgets unintended consequences

Metricizing volunteer behavior was having demoralizing outcomes. At New York Cares, every volunteer is valuable, whether they are able to work on one project a year or one thousand. However, this is not the message this widget was sending.
These are screen shots of what some of our users were experiencing.

4. Lightweight UI tweaks post widget

In the course of the research, I observed a number of usability issues on the home page as well as others. Although the scope for this project was narrow it felt inefficient not to act on these observations. Changes included removing non-semantic uses of the color red, clarifying button styling, and revealing content without relying on the hover state.



5. A system for communicating research and changes to the website internally and externally.

Sharing research and recommendations is deeply important. I instituted a monthly ‘state of the website’ meeting with key staff but failed to share the reasoning for the changes externally. Months after the changes were implemented a small but devoted group of users complained. They used this widget to keep track of their projects. They loved it! Why had we taken it down without consulting them?  Ouch. We held a meeting with a representative group and I presented the research. This mollified them but their needs remained valid. So, we generated a small dynamic widget that showed their volunteer data, and displayed in their personal profile.

Volunteer summary in personal profile