Project Overview

Team: Denise Heebner, Esha Kothari, Brigitte Donovan

Role: UX Design Lead, Project Manager

Time Period: 2 Weeks - Group Work

Tools: Pen & Paper, Invision, Sketch, Adobe Illustrator


Austin Pets Alive, APA, is a nonprofit animal shelter based in Austin, TX that runs solely on monetary donations and volunteer hours. The mission of APA is to promote and provide the resources, education and programs to eliminate the killing of companion animals. The heart of this organization is, by and large, the volunteers. From administrative support to foster the animals, volunteers are what keep the APA running. 

Due to the critical nature of APA volunteers, it is vital that the on-boarding process is as seamless and easy to understand as possible. Retention of volunteers starts with an effective orientation process. Over the course of two weeks, a team of designers and I reviewed the current volunteer registration process to find ways to streamline the process, minimize user frustrations, and increase volunteer retention, resulting in a newly redesigned registration process. 


To kick off this project my team and I took a look at the current on-boarding process for APA. As it currently sits, a potential volunteer goes from the APA website to two additional sites and has to rely on information from multiple emails. Having to manage all of this content, even for the tech savvy user, is a lot. I started out the research process by personally trying to sign up as a volunteer. I started out on the APA site, struggled to find the volunteer section in which I was taken to a volunteer landing page. After the landing page, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information, both helpful and unhelpful. Upon finding the sign-up section on the volunteer landing page I was then taken through waivers, releases, and agreements. After signing all of those I was required to create an account and fill out the volunteer application. This is the point in the process where I had to start managing information from multiple emails and went off to two additional websites in order to get to the point in the process where I could even visit a physical APA location. This process was a lot to juggle and unclear, even for a tech savvy user. Going through this process as a potential user helped provide a deeper understanding for what worked, what didn't, and what could be improved. 

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User Interview & User Personas

Austin Pets Alive is a very well known organization in the greater Austin area so finding individuals to interview was fairly easy. The group we interviewed included those who currently volunteer with APA and those who didn't make it through the on-boarding process. I felt it was important to find a sample set that represented both in order to better understand what worked well about the current process and what didn't. The information gathered from the interviews revealed a number of helpful insights.

  • The users that did not make it through the process said they were confused as to why they had to go to outside sites, sign up for other events, and complete some other tasks before they went down to the actual shelter for a tour.

  • The users that did make it through the process said they were frustrated by how unintuitive the navigation and steps were, feeling like they had to fight the system the entire time.

  • Both sets of users said that not knowing where they were in the process or being able to save where they were and resume later was frustrating, to the point of potentially abandoning the process.

  • Not all users are able to accomplish the lengthy on-boarding process in one session.

  • Both sets of users felt that some of the steps in the process seemed redundant and had ideas as to how it could be streamlined which included:

    • A checklist of keeping track of where the volunteer is in the process.

    • A way of saving their place if they needed to stop during the process.

    • Bringing everything onto one site.

Problem Statement

From our observations, experiences and research we have found that the volunteer section of the APA website lacks intuitive navigation and clarity of the tasks an individual needs to accomplish to become an APA volunteer. This confusion causes engagement fatigue and form abandonment during the on-boarding process. How can we address this problem and create a fluid, easy to navigate process that will keep users engaged and ultimately become APA volunteers?


To illustrate one of the main frustrations we encountered during our research, I created a storyboard. Here we see Garima encountering dogs at one of APA's shelter sites. It sets an idea in motion for her to volunteer with APA. She tries on both her mobile and her desktop and is unsuccessful, overwhelmed, and confused by the current volunteer on-boarding process. 


Card Sorting & Affinity Diagramming

The data we collected from the Austin Pets Alive website, their volunteer registration and on-boarding process, and the user research and interviews proved to be quite a large amount. My team found all of this data helpful, but in order to move forward, it needed to be organized. We employed card sorting, affinity diagramming, and white-boarding to organize our information. Each activity helped us figure out elements and steps in the process that were critical versus elements and steps in the process that were redundant or caused problems. These activities proved to be extremely helpful in helping us create a user flow that addressed the needs and goals of our users.

Decision Flow Diagram

After our sorting, white-boarding, and mapping exercises we felt like we were gaining a better understanding of the current process strengths and weaknesses. After those activities we developed a decision flow diagram for that walks you through the new steps in the APA volunteer on-boarding process. We put this diagram in front of users to make sure the flow made sense and noted any changes that would make it easier to follow. 

Rapid Prototyping & Usability Testing

After figuring out our initial decision flow and testing it with users, we began sketching out the potential prototype screens. Our goal was to sketch screens in order to build a basic prototype for our users to test.  

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Our goal was to get our prototype into users hands as early as possible to avoid developing a screen that was too complicated or confusing, keeping with our goal of simplifying the volunteer process. We received valuable feedback from this including questions around why certain things like payment and a quiz were included and if users could save where they were in the process? We included all of this feedback in our designs as we iterated and develop our prototype. 

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Style Guide

In order to create the user interface elements for our application, I compiled moodboards to help plan out all of the necessary categories. These boards also aided in the creation of the style guide. I created a short style guide to serve as a reference point for laying out the screen designs. The creation of this style guide helped the team research options that would work for the organization and serve as a guide as we designed. We also took the opportunity during this project to design a new brand identity for the organization. This initial brand redesign will be expanded upon and rolled out across the entire organization. 

High Fidelity Prototype & Usability Testing

After our initial rounds of research, testing, and iterations concluded, I created a high-fidelity clickable prototype using Sketch and InVision to bring our designs to life. After the high-fidelity prototype was completed it was put in front of another group of users to continue to get feedback and observations that would address any confusion or issues as well as gain further insight into future updates and features. 

View the high-fidelity prototype in action.


Retrospective & Future Developments

Working with Austin Pets Alive was an interesting and rewarding experience. Each of the group members is a dog owner and passionate about helping Austin stay a "no-kill" city. As we worked through this project our skillsets and abilities complimented each other well, helping to create a solution that fulfilled our initial problem statement and research findings and that users responded to positively. 

During the course of the project I stepped into the UX Design Lead role as well as the Project Manager role. We were given a short, two-week deadline to select an organization, research to find a need, and create a solution. I worked alongside my team members using a kanban board system to ensure that all of our tasks were visible and getting accomplished on time. 

Based off of user feedback and our research, our future development plans include:

  • Expand the brand identity and design to the remainder of the site for a consistent experience.

  • Expand the volunteer portal to include additional training and volunteer resources.

  • A calendar that will allow volunteers to sign-up for sessions at their preferred shelter location.