Small businesses employ 58.9 million people (47.5% of the US total employee workforce). US small businesses are experiencing an unprecedented economic disruption due to the COVID-19 outbreak. By July 2020, researchers at Harvard estimated that nearly 110,000 small businesses across the country had decided to shut down permanently between March and early May.
I was brought onto a project started by UX Backstage in an initiative called “UX for Good” whose goal was to help small businesses and nonprofits struggling during the pandemic.
The first nonprofit organization to be selected for the initiative was The Potter’s House, a nonprofit café, bookstore, and event space in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Since opening its doors in 1960, it has been a key place for deeper conversation, creative expression, and community transformation. The café is a community stable, donating hundreds of free meals every month to community members in need.
How can we safely connect a community in Adams Morgan that had once found a place to meet, have coffee, and browse books in a way that aligns with the mission and values of the Potter's House organization, post Covid-19?
The UX Backstage team was faced with the challenge of having four team members scattered across four cities -- all of whom would be helping a bookstore in Washington DC. This means that all interviews would be done virtually -- not 100% ideal.
Basecamp provided a good method of tracking work.
In order to understand the business challenge, we conducted 8 stakeholder interviews, which consisted of virtual interviews with management, employees, advisors, and volunteers.
From these interviews, we were able to identify some patterns in the needs and concerns of the various stakeholders.
Employees and Volunteers:
Having understood the interests and roughly estimating everyone’s level to influence decision-making at the Potter’s House, a Stakeholder Map was created with the following goals in mind:
Paired with stakeholder interviews, we reached out by way of the Potter’s House newsletter to fill in specific demographics (age, neighborhood, their relationship to the Potter’s House in terms of donating, attending events, and so on) that might form a sort of persona to work with. Especially since the bookstore is located in DC, it was especially important to understand what a typical customer looked like.
With nearly 40 responses, nearly two dozen of those were part of a specific customer group we wanted to explore more. We asked these to participate in follow-up Zoom meetings.
Why those two dozen respondents? One reason was that the Potter’s House, despite having a strong brand, needs more of a web presence. Their initial website was not the most UX-friendly, so maybe recommendations
With knowledge from the stakeholder and customer interviews, we were able to enter into the ideation phase. The team, as well as the client, congregated once more and used several exercises to strategize new ideas.
For example, these are some of the proposed questions for the “How Might We” exercise for the 16-30 years old demographic that was struggling with loneliness and mental health, living in or nearby the Adams Morgan neighborhood (a common segment we had noticed):
Paired with this, we used the “Crazy 8’s” exercise to generate ideas for new ways the bookstore could connect. Here is an image of one.
Crazy 8's example
The ideas that garnered votes were evaluated for feasibility on a short-term vs. long-term scale. Short-term ideas were focused on for the remainder of this project
Long-term (beyond the scope of this project)
Short-term ideas were further evaluated for feasibility (how can it be done with existing resources and constraints?), viability (how will it make money?), and desirability (what customer need is it fulfilling?).
Within the project, the following designs were produced for The Potter’s House:
As the team member in charge of connection card design, I took to XD and created a few variations, as well as alternate questions that could be asked. Here are some of the top designs:
The connection cards provided a way for the community to build, despite an inability for the bookstore to host customers for an extended period of time. It also pairs with aspirations to improve the Potter’s House website, which also received an audit from the UX team.
This project was one of the more eye-opening projects I have been involved with, mainly because much of the attention was given to the business itself, as opposed to updating UI or changing what a brand looks like digitally. This was a true service experience that needed to be adjusted due to Covid-19. I learned many things -- what stood out was the effect of how a brand can have an impact on a neighborhood, even by those who hardly stepped foot inside of the physical store. The Potter’s House is more than just a coffee shop and bookstore -- it’s a staple for the Adam’s Morgan neighborhood.
It would have been nice to keep working with The Potter’s House, but this project was only allocated 8 weeks for pro bono work. So recommendations were left for whomever would be picking up the project in the future, including social media assistance, and so on.