C5 Labs: YouCaring + Carbon Five

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Empathy is at the core of Carbon Five’s design process. We use it every day to design and develop software that can help solve real problems that affect real people. We are always looking to partner with companies and organizations who also value empathy. That is why we were excited to collaborate with YouCaring, a free fundraising and crowdfunding website.

YouCaring empowers people to help others in times of need, by providing an innovative and supportive platform for creating and sharing crowdfunding campaigns. YouCaring understands that nothing should come between the good that people are trying to do and a successful outcome.

The Problem

We partnered with YouCaring to apply design thinking to some of the top challenges faced by YouCaring’s users — namely, how to tell the best story about someone in need and how (as well as who) to ask for help.

We started with the idea that a campaign creator already holds the answer to a successful campaign — their motivation and passion to help. The challenge is to ignite that compassion in others so that they will be moved to help too. The key to unlocking all of this potential is empathy. How might we connect one person’s passion to solve a problem with the innate desire, in all of us, to help? How can the importance of trying to make a difference be fueled, not daunted, by the bigness of the act? How can we use empathy to connect people in a real way, so that helping, and asking for help, becomes second nature?

The Process

The design team at Carbon Five attempted to answer these questions by applying the design thinking we use for client problems to the challenges faced by YouCaring users.A large part of what we do as designers at Carbon Five is to externalize clients’ thinking, so that we can collaborate better to solve problems. We heard from YouCaring that one big obstacle faced by campaign creators was how to tell their story. Creating a compelling story can be a challenge when you are under pressure, especially if someone you care about is in need.

Borrowing from our practice of externalized thinking, we gathered a collection of activities into an offline tool — a printable PDF — that helps users externalize their thoughts and assemble the elements of their story. We modeled the worksheet off of the activities we use to guide clients through product definition and design challenges. We surveyed these activities and identified the ones that apply to storytelling. Then we modified them slightly to be intuitive to users who don’t know a lot about design thinking.

The Solution

10 Words
We often begin a new project with an activity called a Brand Guardrail Card Sort. We cover a table with cards containing adjectives and ask clients to select up to five that accurately capture how they want their brand to feel. Sometimes we push clients further on their brand, by asking them to use the adjectives to construct ‘this’ but not ‘that’ statements.

For YouCaring campaign creators, we adapted this activity into “10 Words”, a simple brainstorming activity. We asked them to come up with 10 adjectives to describe or the person they are trying to help by starting a crowdfunding campaign.
Love Letter
One unexpected design exercise that can yield interesting insights is to ask people to write love letters (or break up letters) to products they are currently using. This can give designers incredible insight into how people feel about the problems they have, and what a product can do to solve them.

We asked YouCaring campaign creators to do the same, by writing a love letter to the person they are trying to help. This gives them an opportunity to gain similar insights into their own motivations and feelings, powerful elements that can become the foundation of a compelling story to share with potential campaign donors.

The Love Letter technique was developed at Smart Design, and you can watch a video about it here.

The Challenge, The Hero and The Need
Stories are powerful tools, not just for expressing emotions but also for showing value. One activity we sometimes do, when kicking off a new project, is to outline the Hero’s Journey for a client’s product. The Hero’s Journey activity is just another name for the Pixar Pitch. Pixar, famous for their award-winning movies, employs a clear formula in every Pixar film. The basic structure is this:

Once upon a time there was … (the hero)

Every day … (the challenge)

One day … (epiphany)

Because of that … (consequence or new opportunity)

Because of that … (consequence or new opportunity)

Until finally …(new world order)

The Pixar Pitch, or Hero’s Journey, allows a storyteller to take advantage of the well-documented persuasive force of stories within a framework that forces conciseness and discipline. In order to move others, we need the ability to clearly state what it is we want and what we want people to do.

We adapted that idea into a simplified form where our users can describe who the hero is (the person they are trying to help), and the hero’s challenges and needs. (We ask the user to refer back to these responses in the last step of the worksheet.)
Map Your Friend’s World
In addition to feeling daunted by how to tell the story behind a campaign, another challenge we heard for YouCaring campaign creators was how, or with whom, to share the campaign.

At Carbon Five, we love thinking visually. Getting words or pictures down on paper is a powerful way to see and evaluate ideas. If the challenge is figuring out who to share a campaign with, we thought visualizing the potential communities would be helpful.

We created a template for a Mind Map, with the subject of the campaign in the center. We asked YouCaring campaign creators to draw outwards from there, mapping the group’s, activities and communities that shape that person’s world. Then we provided steps to quickly summarize and represent the resulting network as real people. This pulled from the work we regularly do with Personas. By identifying real people and holding them in mind when we design, or when a YouCaring campaign creator writes, we can design or speak more directly which results in a more powerful solution or story.

Who, What, Why and How
The last step in our toolkit asked YouCaring campaign creators to assemble the best of the material they’d generated in the earlier activities into an outline for their campaign. We asked them to look through their source material and select their very best responses. Returning to the domain of storytelling, we asked them to carry their best ideas forward into a common story structure, a Who, What, Why and How template.

This evaluation and cherry-picking of brainstormed content is akin to dot-voting, a quick and low-fidelity technique that we use for evaluating and prioritizing ideas or designs. By starting and carrying forward only some of the generated ideas, we are in essence helping the YouCaring campaign creator refine their idea or to think and solve problems iteratively — an approach that is at the heart of the Carbon Five design and development process.

We worked with YouCaring in a one week sprint to produce a compelling piece of collateral to help their campaign creators, when they are often in a very overwhelming and stressful time. We believe that by introducing our design thinking principles, we have been able to create a useful and engaging piece of content.

Check out the PDF here.


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  1. This is truly amazing! How did I miss this as it evolved? Camp Fire a golden Empire NEEDS THIS!

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