Overview

The company I was working for and community I was serving

Rigpa is a non-profit organization in the U.S.

  • part of international network spanning 24 countries
  • 10,000 active users in the USA.
  • centers in six U.S. cities as well as online courses and programs
  • supporting a community of Buddhist practitioners
  • offering a series of courses and training programs on meditation and Buddhist philosophy and practice  

I was an employee of the U.S. non-profit in this network at the time of this project.  

Audience, project goals and timeline

Audience:
The Stakeholders initially decided to focus our efforts on new users and current members

Goals:
presenting a clear, positive image of the organization; increasing user engagement; increasing user engagement; Boosting website SEO visibility.

Timeline:
To be delivered in six months, launched at Rigpa’s biggest annual event in November 2016. The project was initiated in May, 2016.

Stakeholders and the scope of the project

Stakeholders:

  • Executive Director
  • Management Team
    • Finance Director,
    • Marketing Director
    • Executive Director

Together, they defined the project scope:

  • researching, defining and fulfilling user needs
  • meeting defined business objectives
  • deliverable: redesign & implement new website
My role, responsibilities and methodology

Role:
I was project lead, responsible for taking the project from idea to execution.

Responsibilities:
Conducting the user research,
helping the stakeholders to define the problem,
designing
testing
building and
launching the new site.

According to my UX design process, I would: 

  • Research user needs, 
  • Define the problem, 
  • Iterate possible solutions, 
  • Build the final product

Research • Define • Iterate • Build

Laying the foundation

Interviewing staff

Users had trouble finding information on our site. Our staff members had been responding to calls and emails from users asking questions about membership, events, and donations.

This was a helpful starting point in identifying some users’ pain points.

Convincing management

The Management Team knew our current website was old, difficult to use, and that users were not always finding the information they were looking for. However, they still needed to be convinced why they should invest in this project now.

The case for change

I showed the Management Team how if they invested in this project it would:

  • increase customer satisfaction,
  • decrease redundancies in staff workload,
  • save staff time and
  • increase donations and event income.

Also, if we started this project now, I could complete it within 6 months and have it ready to launch at our annual conference.

The story told by analytics

To back up my argument, I shared the fact that currently, over half of the visitors to our home page immediately dropped off.

Even more alarming was the fact that 90% of all sessions landing on the second-most visited page of our site immediately dropped off!

Low-hanging fruit

This second most visited page hosted a daily quote that was frequently accessed directly from a link on a daily quote email list that we ran. Some problems with the page included:

  • 90% user drop-off rate 
  • Lacked a CTA or any clear next steps like:
    • ‘share with a friend’ 
    • newsletter signup
    • list of upcoming courses/events
  • Buried deep in our site with no access from main navigation

Sharing this daily loss of a lot of potential customers highlighted some of the simple changes we could enact that would yield big results.

Buy-in

As the systemic problems became clear to the Management Team, they engaged in the process more and brought their own specific needs and objectives to the table. Finally I had buy-in and a sense of urgency.

Conducting Research

Methods
  • in-person interviews,
  • analytics,
  • collecting user feedback from staff
  • and short surveys

Through these methods I was able to better understand both the demographics of our site visitors, as well as some of their goals and pain points.

Findings: Who are our users?

Through these methods, I collected a broad spectrum of information on who our users are. The demographics drawn from analytics were confirmed by the staff’s experience. For example: 

  • Over 75% of users were 45 or older
  • Over 60% were female
Findings: What do they want?

Depending on the user, some of the most common goals included: 

  • Learning about meditation.
  • Locating email or phone contact information.
  • Signing up for the daily quote newsletter, or sharing it with a friend.
  • Signing up for Rigpa’s general newsletter.
  • Finding if there’s a local center nearby.
  • Finding any local or online courses that fit their interest- usually meditation, end-of-life care, or Buddhism.
  • Starting or updating their membership.
  • Making general or project-based donations.
Pain Points: What prevents them from getting it?

There was a variety of feedback on what frustrated users and kept them from getting what they needed. The most common elements that we could control included: 

  • Website was not mobile-friendly.
  • Website was text-heavy and hard to read.
  • Navigation was overly complex.
  • There was outdated information on some of the pages.
  • The most prominent pages included topics that ranked low in the interest of most visitors (ie. organizations history, international centers and events).

Research • Define • Iterate • Build

User Needs

Representing the user spectrum

In order to represent our users and consider the journey from their perspective, I created user personas based on the findings from my research.

In general, our users fell into five similar groupings which informed the basis of our five personas:

  1. New to Meditation & Buddhism
  2. Meditator who isn’t Buddhist
  3. Meditator/Buddhist, wanting to become more involved
  4. Rigpa Member
  5. People who used to be involved with Rigpa, but now are involved with another Meditation/Buddhist group.
Defining & focusing

Of these five, we chose to focus on the three profiles who showed the most potential for growth and increased or sustained involvement.

According to our research, the two we didn’t focus on were less likely to become regular clients, and more likely to only participate occasionally. Since they either weren’t looking for or open to regular engagement, it seemed best to focus on the other three personas who exhibited more potential for increasing engagement.

Using these personas made it easier for me to communicate common trends in user experience with stakeholders in a way that was relatable.

New Users

New to Meditation & Buddhism

These users typically had an energy and enthusiasm to learn more. If we could provide an appropriate path of engagement for them, they would likely enroll in courses or find a local center to attend.

Problem Statement:
“Young working professional wants to find a non-dogmatic solution to help her overcome strong moods and emotional reactions that arise from her daily stresses at work.”

Existing Users

Meditator/Buddhist Looking Towards Membership

This user knows Rigpa and wants to become more involved. The goal is to link donations and membership to value proposition at their level. For example, by emphasizing courses that are free to members and creating a clear membership page outlining the benefits of membership these users would likely pursue a membership path.

Problem Statement:
“Middle-aged working mother wants to learn more about Buddhism and meditation in order to bring deeper meaning to her life following the death of her mother.”

Long-Time Users

Rigpa Member

This was our most common user. They know Rigpa well and want clear and simple ways to get what they want. Since they are less interested in reading content about the organization and more interested in quickly registering for an event, paying their membership or making a donation, we had to make these actions easy and obvious.

Problem Statement:
“Retired grandmother who has been a Buddhist with Rigpa for 20 years wants more opportunities to study and practice with her Buddhist community to deepen her understanding of what she has learned.”

Business Objectives

Defining a unified vision

With management on board to redo our website design, the first step was to clearly define the goals that would measure the success of the new site.

I facilitated a process with the Management Team, guiding them towards defining global goals for the project, within which their individual priorities would be subsumed. We landed on:

  • Present a clear, positive image of the organization
  • Increase user engagement
  • Boost website SEO visibility

The next challenge was translating these into more specific and measurable objectives.

Translating general goals into measurable components

We broke down each of the initial three goals into measurable components, and looked at the goals, frustrations and problem statements of our three chosen personas.

Through this, we defined more specific Project Objectives, including key performance indicators that would be used to measure the success of the project:

Project Objectives & KPIs

Present a clear, positive image of the organization through the site.
While we didn’t come up with measurable outcomes for these, we were able to define more specific targets to accomplish the broader goal:

  • Scalable design 
  • Improved accessibility
  • Easy to read text (more concise text with clear hierarchy, consistent voice & design)
  • Attractive content presentation

Increase Participation
By targeting new audiences and key existing users, the objectives were to aim for the following KPIs: 

  • Increase event registrations
  • Increase number of donors
  • List growth
  • Decrease bounce rate
  • Increase time spent on the site

Increase website visibility
By applying basic SEO guidelines to boost analytics and page ranking both for the site as a whole, and specifically for event pages, the aim was to achieve first-page organic search results for:

  • ‘Rigpa’
  • ‘Rigpa events’
  • ‘Sogyal Rinpoche’
  • ‘Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’

Research • Define • Iterate • Build

Mapping the structure

Inventory, audit & organize the content

I began by creating a full content inventory of the old site.

From this basis, I conducted a content audit where I grouped repetitive and similar sections, deleted irrelevant content, and promoted higher level sections until I had a clear structure of how the different pages fit together. 

Sitemap & navigation

This led to the creation of our first draft site map.

I used this in conjunction with our user research to informed our decisions on navigation. We found the more elaborate the navigation, the quicker our older users experience frustration. So we tried to keep the navigation as simple and clear as possible.

Initial design

Whiteboard wireframes

With a rough map of the site structure and what content would go where, I started with very rough wireframe layouts, drawn on a whiteboard in a live meeting with the Stakeholders. This quick and dirty approach allowed us to incorporate many of the elements we had discussed with instant feedback and easy ability to make changes. It also involved the stakeholders more in the process and gave them a greater sense of ownership of the layout.

Digital wireframes

With the general layout in place, I began making wireframes to communicate and test the layout of the pages as well as the flow of the site more widely. With these as the basis, I could test how effective our user journey really is with actual users.

Learning from our users

Testing with users

I showed my initial wireframes to some regular site users as well as people who have never used our site before. From these conversations, I discovered some important feedback: 

  • A longer homepage with summary sections is more effective than relying on the upper navigation alone.
  • The three CTA boxes right below the hero image attracted the interest of each our three target persona demographics
  • The top-navigation above which included links to local centers and donations helped many users get where they wanted quicker.

High fidelity

Prototypes

Beginning with choosing a couple options for color palettes, fonts and templates, I created two versions to show how key pages of the site could appear in production. Picking three pages, I photoshopped the prototypes and showed them to Stakeholders & Users.  

Style & branding

When we landed on the final design, I even used the style choices to create style guidelines for the organization to help maintain consistency in branding with the new site so that all of this work could extend beyond the website and easily integrate into mailings and marketing campaigns going forward.

Aligning with objectives

These mockups incorporated our brand experience, conformed with design specifications, and were informed by our earlier objectives of:

  • Scalable design 
  • Improved accessibility
  • Easy to read text (more concise text with clear hierarchy, consistent voice & design)
  • Attractive content presentation

Research • Define • Iterate • Build

Platform, modifications and launch

Easy-to-learn, well-supported platform

To keep the site easy to update and maintain, even for staff who typically have trouble with new technologies, I built the site in WordPress. This also gave me the flexibility to customize the site to fit our design. Also, using a well supported CMS would make it easy for anyone in my position in the future to continue supporting and updating the site.

Modifications

The template I used as the basis for our design allowed me to implement 90% of my design out of the box with simple changes to the CSS. However there were some areas that required some minor tweaking with javascript. I was able to get the WordPress theme close to matching my mockups, however, in order to launch on time I had to make small compromises in the final design appearance since the theme I used was not a perfect match to the layout I designed.

Saving time and money

The result of my work resulted in the following impacts on the organization:

  • Using an open source platform kept expenses to a minimum
  • My design became the model for other countries redesign, saving on designer fees
  • Consolidating separately-hosted local centers’ sites to one multi-site network with the same design and structure saved over $1000/year in hosting, design and development costs
  • Administration of multiple websites was greatly simplified, saving staff time
Launch

Despite being a team-of-one for research, design, and execution, I was able to keep the project on track, on time, and under budget.

I launched the product at Rigpa’s annual conference with a live demo in front of an in-person audience of 400 people.

Assessment

Did we meet our goals and objectives?

Increase website visibility

Our goal of increasing website ranking and visibility was a resounding success: 

  • We went from being on the second page of a google search for ‘Rigpa’, to being #2 on the first page, right behind the main international site for the organization (rigpa.org)
  • As a result of the new site, page views more than doubled
  • Time on site increased by over 20%, 
  • And site-wide bounce rate decreased by over 10%
Increase participation

Because of our leap in SEO ranking, we saw a corresponding increase in our site’s traffic. As a result:

  • Our conversion rates for event registration and email subscriptions also increased
  • We reduced the bounce rate on our daily quote page by half- from 90% to closer to 45%.
Present a clear, positive image of the organization

According to the testimonials of some users, the usability and readability of our site was greatly improved. Also the design aligned more closely and consistently with the company’s branding and marketing than the previous site had done. In addition:

  • The site was now responsive and mobile-friendly, 
  • It included improved accessibility tools, 
  • It was written and designed with a clear visual hierarchy and consistent voice
Conclusion

Building this site as a team-of-one was an exciting challenge to gain first-hand experience of all aspects of a product launch. Having to deliver this product required me to wear the hats of researcher, designer, facilitator, and developer, as well as hone my skills in project management and communication. It required me to regularly jump between strategic visioning and detailed implementation. But under all of the hats, I relied most on my people-skills and ability to put myself in others’ positions to see this project from outside of my own head. This allowed me to deliver a quality product that met all our objectives, on time, and under budget.