Adapting Habitat for Humanity to a new Covid normal

William Stone
8 min readApr 25, 2021

A case study on how taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, beyond a brief, can uncover simple opportunities that better solve the organisations’ needs.

Concept Project

Project Summary

Client

Habitat for Humanity

Type of project

Concept project

Duration

Two-week sprint

Team

Working in a group of three, remotely & internationally through Zoom.

Role

My role was project lead and manager, ensuring the team solved the right problem and provided quality throughout the design process.

Methods

Research:

  • Business analysis
  • Competitive and comparative analysis
  • Survey
  • User interviews
  • Journey mapping
  • Affinity mapping
  • Archetype creation

Ideation:

  • Cost vs impact analysis
  • Feature strategy

Prototyping/testing:

  • Sketching
  • Wireframe prototyping
  • Usability testing

Tools

  • Mural
  • Google suite (all)
  • Slack
  • Figma
  • Zoom

What is Habitat for Humanity?

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organisation that helps people build safe and decent housing. They also help provide access to water, sanitation, hygiene, and livelihood training. Most of their volunteer work occurs onsite.

The brief

Due to the current Covid situation, typical building operations have suspended. Therefore, Habitat needs to look to other ways to keep potential volunteers engaged with the organisation, thus providing ongoing support for the mission.

Scope of the project

The focus was to research and uncover insights for Habitat for Humanity. The scope was to provide justified recommendations without fully fleshing out the finer details of each feature. We undertook this concept project in a two-week sprint, and the organisation did not approach us to undertake this work.

The process

Does the organisation know the real problem?

Starting, we needed to check if the assumptions in the brief were correct. Do we need to “identify and put into place other ways to attract and involve volunteers now, and into the future?”

To gain a deeper understanding of the organisation and the situation, we first undertook an in-depth business analysis. A vital first step, which helped to show us that the organisations’ first response to Covid, the full worksite shutdowns, was built on the assumption Covid would blow over quickly. The brief exists because it has become evident that Covid is here to stay for a while longer, putting the organisation at risk of losing volunteers if it continues in its current ways.

What does the macro environment tell us?

Next, we looked to competitors in the housing and volunteer industries to see their changes. This process uncovered some startling insights. It was not just Habitat for Humanity that was struggling to adapt; it was an industry-wide issue. The competitors’ inability to adjust to ever-changing rules and restrictions meant many operations remained closed entirely.

We then pivoted to look beyond competitors, to see how other organisation had coped. Some of these comparative organisations were having their strongest year ever during Covid. We found that their success was due to their digital platforms of engagement.

With a greater understanding of the organisation’s problem and need, the next vital step was to understand the volunteers’ needs and behaviours. We conducted a survey and remote face-to-face interviews to gather insights focused on three areas; onboarding, engagement, and concerns. With over 40 participants in total, there was a lot of data to analyse, so we utilised affinity mapping to uncover trends in the data.

Snapshot of a portion of our affinity mapping

Key Findings

We confirmed new ways of engagement were crucial to the organisation’s success. However, there is a lack of trust with potential volunteers. As they are worried, the organisation will use their time and effort regardless of whether it is genuinely making a positive impact.

We also discovered we could adapt the current methods of engagement without needing to reinvent new ways. Our findings showed that without proper scheduling and safety management regarding Covid, the organisation had no choice but to halt operations on site.

Journey map showing the decline in user satisfaction due to lack of engagement

Creating ideas based on insights

Backed by our insights of both the organisation and their volunteers, we were then able to ideate concepts. We sketched out many ideas, discussing the pros and cons of how well they solved the problem.

We tested these ideas with a handful of volunteers using our sketches. Getting feedback with only our initial sketches, allowed us to adapt to changes and assess each idea’s viability without getting attached to a single concept.

A solution that does not reinvent the wheel

Once we had a strong idea for our final solution, that being a website feature set upgrade. We created UI cards to test the viability of the new feature sets with the users. This approach allowed us to adapt layouts rapidly to optimise for feature hierarchy within our user flows without incorporating any finalised graphical elements or rigid layout plans.

A detailed look into the recommendations

Our recommendation was for a phased release of the feature sets based on cost vs impact.

  • Website upgrade
    We proposed that all digital forms of engagement live on one responsive website — a golden source of truth as the primary touchpoint between the organisation and volunteers. A responsive design utilising a card layout, visually different from the UI cards we tested the feature set prioritisation with, will prove handy should the organisation ever wish to fix their mobile app currently sitting broken on the app store. Providing room to create a hybrid app that incorporates these features and API’s straight from the website to keep developer costing low. (Please note that the card UI designs are not final designs or layouts, they were used for usability testing purposes only and further steps would need to be taken to implement Habitats style guide.)
  • Scheduling volunteers
    The prioritised ‘feature’ was a simple way to schedule and manage the people required onsite. We suggested this as part of the first phase release as it was a way for the organisation to get volunteers back onsite furthering the mission, without a large investment.
  • Step by step task breakdown
    Our findings showed potential volunteers want to see what direct impact their work is going to make. A step by step breakdown of each opportunity with a little message from the recipient not only increases user confidence, but it can also assist unskilled volunteers in ensuring they are undertaking the tasks correctly.
  • Filtered skills
    Usability testing showed that users were concerned they might not have the skills required, to find out at a later stage they are not skilled enough. So we added in the ability to filter results based on select criteria.
  • Remote learning
    The blue skies feature that we proposed to meet the briefs request for ‘new ways of engagement’ involved remote learning through building required fittings and furnishings. Our research uncovered that the main driving forces for people wanting to volunteer are giving back and learning something new. Utilising the ‘Restore’ hardware shops run by the organisation, volunteers can take home materials and build whilst following along virtually. Web developers can use many e-learning platforms and API’s to implement this feature to keep costs low. However, the reduced need for offsite fittings and furnishings meant we placed this as an optional last phase feature release.
  • Gamification/rewards
    We also pitched as an optional bonus feature, a gamification/rewards system. Aimed at motivating volunteers, we looked to harness Habitat’s strong partnerships with other organisations to create a rewards system.

So, what did I learn?

  • Working with an international team in different time zones requires more time to get team alignment so further planning and flexibility is needed than usual.
  • The initial request on the brief may assume a direction for the project. However, in this case, a more straightforward, more cost-effective solution (scheduling to ensure workers can go back onsite without breaking restriction rules) proved to be the best outcome for the organisation.
  • A proposed solution may include phased releases, and it is essential to be upfront with the level of change management and investment each feature will require from the organisation.
  • Clarify visual elements on prototypes are not the final designs and explain how it assists with testing.
  • Do not assume a solution when creating interviews and surveys, as this will hinder the result and the data’s usefulness.

If I had more time and resources…

Contextual research: The most significant limitation of this project was the inability to go onsite and see how engagement usually occurs. It would have been great to get a deeper understanding of how organisers delegate tasks onsite with ever-changing resources and scenarios.

Design studio: It would have been great to get more volunteers involved with the ideation process. The time limitation meant we could only test a handful of our ideas with little input from the volunteers themselves.

Conclusion

It was interesting exploring how to adapt Habitat for Humanity to a new Covid normal. Like so many of us, the organisation thought Covid would blow over quickly. Now we know it is here to stay for a while longer. We can see many parallels between this organisation and many other organisations struggling to find ways to adapt to the new normal. Despite these parallels, every situation is unique and trying to reinvent the wheel may not be the best way to adapt to these situations. It is essential to take a step back and truly understand the mission before diving headfirst into solutions based on the briefs assumptions. However, it is also wise to meet the briefs request if choosing this path by providing flexible options.

Utilising smart designs and phased releases makes it possible to present ambitious ideas that do not overwhelm a budget’s limits. Breaking the roadmap down into digestible chunks can provide more certainty of an investment return. If you want to discuss this project more, please reach out to me at the below email.

stonewilliammark@gmail.com

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