Featured Skills: User Interviews, Content Strategy, Competitive Analysis, Information Architecture, Card Sorting, Wire-framing, Project Management
Synergía is an organization advocating for LGBT human rights. They are composed of a distributed team focused on key areas of Northern Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Among advocacy organizations they are unique because they bridge grassroots and high level international groups. Synergía had a web presence under a larger organization in the past, but has recently become an independent entity, and therefore needed its own web presence.
In the spring of 2018, Synergía was operating under a separate umbrella organization and was featured on a small section of that organization’s website. Synergía needed its own website, and was advised by a graphic designer to hire a UX strategist as a first step. The strategist could understand the needs and audiences of the organization, and then synthesize that into a specific template and plan for the content, graphics, and organization of the site.
I was hired as a contract UX designer for this project through a matching service for nonprofits and creative professionals. Matthew indicated he didn’t know much about the process for designing a website or developing a strategy for it, so I suggested the overall timeframe and milestones for the project. This involved doing interviews with staff, leaving space in the schedule for a design session, and proposing a comprehensive strategy brief to be included as a deliverable. I also came up with the activity and facilitated a remote collaborative design session.
- Wireframes for the future site
- Interviews with key staff
- Collaborative design session
- Strategy brief/synthesis of all research and insights
After conducting the interviews I had learned a lot about Synergía’s work. The team is passionate and knowledgeable, but I had a hunch that they would have different and strong opinions about what content to prioritize on the website. I thought an important step in the process would be for the team to discuss their perspectives on the most salient aspects of their work. For Synergía, this includes the regions within which they work, the illegality of some forms of sexual expression in certain locations, their focus on intersectionality, and highlighting grassroots efforts rather than trumpeting the work of smaller partners as their own wins.
Collaborative Remote Workshop
I facilitated the card sorting exercise with Optimal Sort. After completing the staff interviews, I had a good idea of the mission, operation and partners of Synergía, but I wasn’t sure what they would want to place front and center on the website. I also thought it would be valuable for the staff to talk to each other about their work at a higher contextual level in preparation for putting content on the website, which needs to be really condensed and focused.
Card sorting is an activity we use in UX work to help the client/user communicate desires and preferences we can’t get at from straightforward interviews. I populated the cards with key words related to Synergía’s work, but I knew I was leaving some out, and some may have been off-base. Because the activity was meant to get the staff to talk and express their thinking about their work, having an imperfect set of cards was ok, because then the staff could point out gaps and talk about them.
The task itself was for each staff person to take the collection of cards, sort them in groups, and then generate a label for each group. It took each person about 5 minutes or less, but we had a pretty packed 90 minute discussion about how people sorted the cards and labeled the groups differently.
This activity was actually more successful than I hoped it would be. Through our conversation I came to understand that many of the staff were conflicted about the use of identity-based terms in their work (gay, straight, trans, bi, etc). In our interviews this hadn’t surfaced as an issue, but through our conversation I saw it as a key issue for many staff.
Because the LGBT movement at its core pretty much relies on identity-based labels, and funders also use this language, this isn’t something Synergía can move that far away from. These terms are very culturally based in the West though, so for much of the work Synergía does in other geographic hubs, they need to find other ways to talk about sexuality and human rights, and how to identify those in danger of having their rights violated. In my strategy brief I then encouraged Synergía to make this conflict, and how the staff wrestle with it, a prominent element of the website. I think their perspective on this topic are most likely shared by others, but since it doesn’t seem to be as loud a part of the dialogue about LGBT rights, I think they could simultaneously set themselves apart by sharing their views, and contribute a strong voice to the arena of LGBT rights as well.
My wireframe for the homepage
Designer as Process Planner
The other thing I thought might be particularly useful for this project was the folder structure, spreadsheet, and pre-populated text docs for the staff to start filling in content for the website. Because they are starting a new web presence from scratch, they have to collect or generate content for all the pages, rather than reorganize existing content. This can be daunting, and is a task where it’s easy to get in the weeds quickly. This group is used to processing a legal briefs and generating other reports. Coming up with concise, plain language text content I think will be harder than they may realize. I made this structure to help them understand what brief text blocks they should work on now, which can be added to later. The spreadsheet also helps collect key words, and track updates. I thought this would be especially helpful for their remote team, and it may be useful in the future as the first steps in a content pipeline, where they may want to check the text for readability, and then translate it into several languages as well.
I was happy to have the challenge of presenting an organization with an important, nuanced mission, and coming up with a plan from scratch. It was also exciting to try out the collaborative card-sorting tool, and to see how to run a workshop with everyone in a remote location. The feedback I got from the team was that the workshop specifically and the discussion they had was something they continued to think about and refer to after the workshop. To me this was a sign that it helped them gain a new perspective on their work, how they present it to the world, and how they interface with each other. In the realm of design, I think this is a core part of the value we provide to teams.