03 Dec 2015

Fund for the Arts Mobile App

Our Motivation

This past fall, the DEC team became aware that a colleague at Humana was looking for volunteers to build a mobile app for the Fund for the Arts. The Fund is a regional nonprofit whose goal is to increase engagement in the arts in Louisville. Several of our team members raised hands in interest - Antonio Melo (DEC Director), Shawn Coots (Designer), Jason McKee, Simon Lee (Engineers) and me (Product Manager). With a well-rounded team identified, we held an introductory meeting with representatives from the Fund to discuss what they were looking for.

Humana provides every associate with eight hours of paid volunteer time each year - what we choose to do with that time is up to us. For the Fund for the Arts app volunteer team, myself included, we used our volunteer time off - along with a substantial complement of personal time - to develop the app. Our partnership with the Fund on this project was due, in part, to encouragement from Humana. The company wants employees to give back to the community. Choosing to work with an arts organization specifically, was the choice of the team members, and reflects our belief that the arts are crucial to education and culture. Though none of us are professional artists, we all believe in the importance of the arts and wanted to do something to help further that cause in our community.

Our Process

We applied the same process to developing the Fund for the Arts app that we use to develop apps for Humana. We began with a scoping session, working with our client to define goals, discuss constraints, and identify risks for the product. A major focus for the team was to spend time in user research. The Fund had a very clear picture of what they wanted, and validating those big ideas was crucial to the success of the product.

The first goal of the app, and of the Fund in general, is to increase awareness of and attendance at arts events in the city. In many of our interviews, we found that existing donors, who are regular attendees of a variety of arts events, wanted a comprehensive list of events that would let them browse for something to do at a moment’s notice. The untested hypothesis here was that less-engaged consumers would find the same value in the events calendar. We didn’t want to expend great effort to provide information to people who were already motivated to find it on their own. Fortunately for us, we noticed a parallel between what users were asking for, and something that already existed in a slightly different form - Do502, a local event aggregator.

To achieve speed-to-market, we reached out to Do502 about using their API to deliver a simple events feed that could be easily managed by one person at the Fund. Questions arose about the viability of this solution at scale, of course - who is going to spend their time updating the calendar on a regular basis? That’s the beauty of a minimum viable product (MVP) - it proves out that the feature is something users want, so that if additional investment is needed, it’s already been validated as worthwhile. We didn’t have to build an admin panel in order to test the feature - we implemented a simple manual process to start.

Another of the goals that the Fund had for the app was to increase donations, so we sought to discover what makes people donate, and how we might use the app to connect the Fund and new donors. A series of interviews were held with existing donors, where we discovered that even these highly engaged arts patrons weren’t aware of all the benefits they were entitled to in return for their donations. We hypothesized that showcasing these benefits in the app would encourage more donations - as users downloaded the app to check out the arts calendar, there would be an opportunity to clearly communicate the benefits of being a donor.

The existing process for donors to redeem benefits involved an email including a link, where the donor could go to print a physical discount card. The simplest solution for the app was to drop that discount card into the app itself, and ask users to present it at the box office when buying tickets. This actually simplifies the process for donors, and is almost exactly the same as the existing process, as experienced by the people working in venue box offices. To track how many people are using the app to redeem their benefits versus the traditional method, the Fund instituted a simple process - a slightly different coupon code. This way, they’ll be able to easily see if the discount card within the app is proving effective.

Validating Success Ongoing

Starting with a MVP was critical to understanding if we were on the right track - if the features we planned to deliver would help the Fund meet it’s goals. By tracking usage and gathering user feedback post-launch, the Fund is well-positioned to plan the next iteration of their app with confidence.