For my next project, I was assigned to add a new feature to an existing product. But before the project began, I was paired with two other user experience design students, Bani and Andrew. Our challenge for this project was to expand their signature feature to allow projects to accept recurring payments on a repeated schedule instead of the standard one-time payment. Our brand was Kickstarter.
During our initial research, we found a lot of qualitative and quantitative data about users’ relationship with Kickstarter. We also uncovered stories of success and failure.
Kickstarter has had a lot of horror stories over the years, such as the failure of the handheld Zano Drone.
The company hired a journalist to find out what went wrong and why the project couldn’t deliver on its promise to investors after shipment of only 600 of more than 15,000 units. The failure was reportedly due to “a misappropriation of funds.”
It is a magnification of a larger issue we saw in our research: After a project meets its fundraising goal, its creators lack the preparation and resources to fulfill the backlog of demand. We read stories of investors who would wait years for their perk, in the cases of more generous backers, their own version of the final product.
More controversy in 2013 when “Scrubs” star and independent film director Zack Braff set out to fund his latest film, “Wish I Was Here,” through Kickstarter. Some 47,000 backers pledged $3.1 million. Going through Kickstarter gave Braff “the benefit of total creative control over his film,” he said at Sundance during the premiere of the film. But that didn’t make others question the needs of a highly successful TV actor to go to Kickstarter to fund a movie.
Same questions were asked when Rob Thomas, the producer of the cult TV series “Veronica Mars,” used the site to raise funds for a follow-up movie. Some 92,000 backers pledged $5.7 million. With both films, the Kickstarter investors would not receive any additional perks if either film became a smash, which is typical for outside investors.
creators share best practices
key stats from the case studies
- The project categories that get the highest average pledges are Technology, Design and Film & Video, in that order. It’s the same with all the failures.
- Without a doubt, the $25 pledge range is the most popular, most selected award level.
- Subcategories that imply physical products, ones that require materials, time to manufacture and shipping, are also those that get the highest average pledges.
- Hardware, tech gadgets and other physical products aren’t quite as successful, on average, as board games, but they’re still approximately five times as likely to be mega-hits compared to the average crowdfunding project. Famous examples include Pebble watches, 3D printing and the Coolest Cooler.
- If you want your crowdfunding campaign to be a viral hit, consider making a tabletop game. Just under 3 percent of all Kickstarter campaigns in history have featured tabletop games, and yet nearly 25 percent of the thousand most successful fall in that category.
- The three most popular categories on Kickstarter for creating projects are music, documentaries and film shorts, each of which has seen over 10,000 campaigns. They’re also the least likely to succeed — only 25 have cracked the top 1,000.
- Crowdfunding is all about offering incentives. The data suggests $50 is the most important pledge on your list. No matter how you slice the data, the median amount pledged per backer winds up right around $50.
- In practice, the shoot-for-the-stars strategy rarely works. Backers prefer a believable path to success, not a multi-million-dollar pipe dream. In fact, the median funding goal for the thousand mosts successful Kickstarters is just $1,000 — five times less than the median goal among all projects.
- About half of all projects reach their funding goals, but Kickstarter says it has a 9-percent failure rate on the delivery of perks.
- Projects that seek to raise under $1,000 are the biggest failures — at 10 to 15 percent.
discovery & research
My assignment was to research the funding models and user flows of nonprofits such as WNYC and Charity:Water. Bani chose to research UNICEF and Amazon Subscribe & Save. Andrew would research funding models with direct competitors, including Patreon, Indiegogo, GoFundMe and Kiva. We did a comparison of each platform and their specific features.
One common attribute among Patreon, Indiegogo and GoFundMe is that there are fewer limits on project creators to collect funds. Users can’t accept funds on Kickstarter without reaching their target fundraising goal. Not so with most of the competitors. Because project creators can keep the money whether they reach their funding goal or not, there’s less trust that a backer’s money will make a substantial difference.
There is also less vetting over the types of projects with Indiegogo and GoFundMe. They allow personal projects and charity campaigns. Kickstarter does not.
Meanwhile, Patreon’s business model supports artist over projects, which allows backers to fund over a longer period of time than 60 days. But Kickstarter does offer more perks with their projects, while their competition offers much fewer.
Kiva, meanwhile, has been in business longer than Kickstarter. It, like the companies on which we did comparative research, is a nonprofit business. Their slogan, “to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty,” represents a business where 100 percent of every dollar goes directly toward funding loans. Like the rest of the competition, the perks are few, but like the rest of the competition, they offer monthly or recurring payment plans for backers. The difference with Kiva: Recipients of loans are responsible to pay back their loan over time. Their site was least intuitive to use versus the competition.
To put it bluntly, Kickstarter has a stricter vetting process. In the words of Kickstarter via their website:
- Projects must create something to share with others: “Kickstarter can be used to create all sorts of things: art and gadgets, events and spaces, ideas and experiences. But every project needs a plan for creating something and sharing it with the world. At some point, the creator should be able to say: “It’s finished. Here’s what we created. Enjoy!”’
- Projects must be honest and clearly presented: “Our community is built on trust and communication. Projects can’t mislead people or misrepresent facts, and creators should be candid about what they plan to accomplish. When a project involves manufacturing and distributing something complex, like a gadget, we require projects to show backers a prototype of what they’re making, and we prohibit photorealistic renderings.”
- Projects can’t fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items: “We’re all in favor of charity and investment, but they’re not permitted on Kickstarter. Projects can’t promise to donate funds raised to a charity or cause, and they can’t offer financial incentives like equity or repayment.”
building a topic map
Before we began to embark on our user research, we wrote down all the different topics to account for on the project. The core of the challenge was “contributing to a project on a recurring payment method.” But connected to the main goal were issues of accountability, behavior and preference, motivation and guidelines on which projects would qualify for this new feature. Would it be open to anyone, or would it be open only to Kickstarter users who’ve already met a fundraising goal?
With a firm understanding of Kickstarter’s strengths and weaknesses, and our competitive and comparative research complete, we began our user research with a screener. The questions we came up with were as follows:
- Do you live in New York City and/or Tri-State area?
- Have you ever used any recurring payment method? (i.e. WNYC membership, Amazon Subscribe & Save, etc.)
- Have you monetarily supported a cause, a business, or have crowdfunded a project?
The purpose behind the screener was to identify users within a specific region, particularly the New York City area, with whom we could set up a one-on-one, in-person interview. The subsequent questions were to target specific types of users, either ones who use a recurring payment method and/or have donated to a cause, business or crowdfunded a project. These users, when identified, would prove to be invaluable data resources for how behaviors, preferences and motivations affect how users approach crowdfunding, or utilizing their money in general.
Each person on our team sent out their own screeners using the same questions. I put the screener questions into Survey Monkey, and sent the screener out to my social network through Facebook and Twitter on Monday evening, the first day of our project kickoff. I was really excited to get some immediate responses, and they trickled in over into the morning. I sent out a reminder on both social media platforms the next day, and received several more responses after that. The respondents who replied “yes” to the first question, as well as either questions 2 or 3, would be potential users I could interview.
Our First Interviews
Sending Out Surveys
Gathering our notes and responses from user interviews, surveys and case studies, we began to synthesize our data into meaningful insights or trends that we could use to further pursue our design objective.
From all the research we were able to gather as a team, we wrote all the valuable insights from each of nine interviews and six survey responses on Post-Its and stuck them to the wall. We first set out to organize them by origin.
Through the affinity mapping, we discovered the key motivations and incentives of our users. Some are contradictory, which would come in handy in the divergence of creating multiple personas, or archetypal target users, to help advance our objectives for this project and tell the user’s story.
- “I tend to give and forget. I don’t need progress reports.”
- “I like to know of progress in a timely, succinct manner.”
- “I need social reassurance to contribute.”
- “I like to give money to causes that affect me directly.”
- “I only like to give to people I know.”
- “I find out about a project or cause through social media.”
- “I like to get “cool” perks or incentives.”
Below are the main patterns of behavior and preference of our users.
- “When I give, I tend to spend less than $50.”
- “$9.99 is my monthly recurring payment max on non-essentials.”
- “I really don’t like to share my involvement in a cause unless asked.”
- “I prefer to spread out my funding.”
- “I contribute infrequently.”
- “I am a die-hard supporter.”
- “I fund frequently.”
- “I like to know a lot about a cause before I commit.”
From those key insights, as well as from the demographic data of the participants in our interviews and surveys, we were able to build three strong personas, or targeted users, to help guide us to a solution to our challenge.
Our first, and primary, persona, Mia, is a 34-year-old freelance food writer living in Queens. Her profile is filled in with information we got from our research, particularly her goals and pain points. From other footnotes from our research, we extrapolated key characteristics of her personality, as well as her favorite brands and causes. We would use Mia as a golden thread throughout our user experience process.
Our other two personas, Mike and Chao, were developed from contradictory data from our interviews and surveys. Chao was our secondary persona, while Mike was our tertiary persona. Mike may only typify about 20 percent of our target audience, while Mia and Chao would characterize the main 80 percent of our targeted user base. We cross-checked our personas with the remainder of our survey responses. Our late respondents confirmed our trends.
After we developed our personas, we moved on to the ideation and sketching phase of the project, trying to come up with as many ideas as possible to implement. We took ideas from competitors, such as Patreon, to develop recurring payments built around milestones. Patreon funds artists, while Kickstarter funds projects.
But Patreon isn’t so much time-based, as milestone-based. We decided that because one of the pain points of Kickstarter project creators is knowing how much time is required to complete a project, we thought that making projects on a recurring payment plan milestone-based instead of time-based would help alleviate a pain point for current users.
We also thought that by only allowing current Kickstarter users, who’ve met a fundraising goal, to qualify for the extension would solidify trust with prospective investors, as well as build brand value and loyalty.
Referring to the case studies from our research and interviews, we also zeroed in on the types of projects likely to receive the recurring payment extension.
From the competitive and comparable research we did, we went to the whiteboard and began sketching ideas for what features would help accomplish our goal.
Through the ideation process we came up with a term to communicate the new feature we were to offer: Kickstender. There was an excitement that we could build the term in the new design. We were quickly in love with it. But, through testing, this would prove to be a miscalculation.
Our solution would have to solve for our users’ needs, as well as our stakeholders at Kickstarter.
For the project creator, we need to minimize the steps to set up a recurring payment project. We also need to simplify setting up rewards, which is a big pain point for our creators.
For the backers, we need to maintain the look and feel of Kickstarter, make it more accountable, an ability to opt-out easily and keep incentives a big motivating factor to contribute.
For Kickstarter, we can’t compromise on the integrity of any projects or add a lot of extra elements. We also need to stay true to the brand.
Which features were essential and which were not? Because we were on a finite timeline and because our strategy was to change as little as possible about how users navigate Kickstarter, I prioritized each new possible feature on a grid. Essential and non-essential features would fall on the x-axis, while high effort and low effort would be the extremes on the y-axis. We would eventually focus on the features in the lower left quadrant. These would enable us to have an MVP, or minimum viable product, to test and release.
As a group we did sketch drills. We agreed on a goal for which to visualize a solution. Then for six minutes, we each sketched an idea for how to achieve the goal. Then for three minutes each, we presented our ideas to the group. Then for an additional two minutes each, we critiqued each other’s work.
From the design studio, I did my own sketches, as I volunteered to do the wireframes for the home, discovery and topic pages. These pages would not change much from their current design. Our goal was not to change that much if anything in the user flow. The only thing we would play with is how to display messaging to communicate to the user about the new feature.
We built “Kickstender” into our early sketches and messaging. But as we got deeper into the process, we kept questioning whether it muddled the brand. So we switched to terms such as “Extended.” Again, we questioned whether it was too vague. We needed to test it. We agreed to not concentrate on it so as not to be distracted from the design of the user flow from discovery to checkout.
Testing & Iterating
Once our prototype was ready for testing, we set up appointments with two users to get their initial impressions and run them through a scenario that would test the strength of our solution.
For user testing, we set up a MacBook Pro laptop and a basic mouse with scroll-wheel. Our primary persona, Mia, uses a MacBook Air as her primary device, as well as an iPhone. With permission from our users, we recorded each session from two different angles. One camera from our laptop shot footage of their facial reactions to their interactions with the prototype. The other was recording their movements directly on the screen. It would record their clicks, scrolls and time spent fulfilling a task.
Both of our users were familiar with Kickstarter and how it works. This was helpful since our group had made a design decision during our ideation process to not add complication to an already smooth process for users.
Before testing began, we wrote out a scenario to give the user a goal to achieve. But before the scenario would begin, we told our users, “before you click on anything, please give me your first impressions of what you see and what you expect to happen when you click on things.
Then came the scenario: Imagine you’ve heard through social media that a beekeeper in your neighborhood is in need of additional recurring funding on equipment and staff for the coming year. Using the site, find their project and choose to fund it on a recurring payment of $6 a month.
What we learned from our users
In our second iteration, we went higher fidelity with our prototype. We went full color, and wrote a lot of new microcopy to bring a realism to the mock-ups. From the second iteration, we built a user flow for Mia, our primary persona.
The New feature
Below is a detailed look at the pages created to include the new recurring payment feature. The first page in the series is the individual project page for Andrew’s Local Honey, a project that would appeal to our primary persona. The remainder of the pages include the reward selection page, payment, review and confirmation pages.
What I Learned
During this project, I learned some key lessons about building a new feature into an existing architecture. First, you can’t be easily distracted by all the features that need to be improved or added. You need to focus on the features that are going to keep you on budget and schedule, all while giving you a focused solution that can be tested and released to market as an MVP.
I also learned how valuable personas are in shaping designs, and how they help you sell a design to clients.
Another important lesson I learned is that, if you’re not careful, a new feature can muddle or even disrupt what users already enjoy about a site. New features should add joy, convenience, accessibility, not frustration, to the user experience.