What is Experience Design and Why Should it Matter to Your Nonprofit?

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | April 2022


One of the main challenges for a nonprofit website is to get visitors to engage and take action, whether that means joining your organization, making a donation, or participating in a campaign or event. Many factors determine how someone behaves on your site. Experience design or XD is the field that can help you improve engagement and get better results from all your efforts. 

What is Experience Design?

If you have any experience with web design, even in the capacity of hiring a web designer, you're probably familiar with terms such as UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). These terms all have some overlap, but they are distinct. Let's summarize what each of them entails. 

  • UI — User interface, unlike the other terms, only applies to digital products. UI is concerned with points of interface between users and devices, such as touchscreens, buttons, icons, and menus. UI overlaps with graphic design concerns such as fonts, colors, typography, and spacing, as these all affect how people interact with pages and screens.
  • UX — User experience is a broader field that can apply to any products, services, or events where human experience is a factor. UX seeks to improve all areas of interaction between users or customers and the business, product, or environment. 
  • XD — Experience design is the most holistic of the three terms, as it addresses every aspect of a customer or user's interaction with a product, device, website, event, or another point of contact. 

Why Is Experience Design Important?

Nonprofits are often involved in many actions, which may include sharing important news and information, organizing volunteer activities, fundraising, and more. That's why an XD approach, that takes a comprehensive view of design and experience, is so valuable. Experience design can help any business or organization better serve its employees, customers, or members. Nonprofits, that are often dedicated to humanitarian causes and social change, have an extra incentive to make sure their services are designed to maximize comfort, usability, and convenience. 

Considers the Needs of All Users

When redesigning your website, it's necessary to prioritize the needs and preferences of the actual users. For a nonprofit, this may mean members, volunteers, donors, and people simply seeking more information. Too often, websites reflect the mindset of programmers, managers, or others inside an organization rather than the target audience. XD emphasizes giving users the content and features that they need to have the best possible experience with your website.

Solves Problems

Every organization has its own goals, challenges, and problems. Common problems for nonprofits include growing membership and increasing donations. XD can address these and other issues, helping you implement a strategy that solves your most pressing problems. 

Drives Behavior

Many factors, both obvious and subtle, affect how users will act when they land on your site. For example:

  • Speed. Research shows that many visitors will leave a site if pages take more than a few seconds to load. 
  • Responsiveness. Today's websites need to be fully compatible with all types of devices. Mobile-friendliness is of particular importance as more and more users go online with their smartphones.
  • Page layout. Pages should not be cluttered with too much text. Sufficient white space and compelling images make the content more appealing. 
  • Navigation. Users don't want to waste time searching for topics that interest them. Menus should be user-friendly and clearly marked. Internal links on pages and posts also make it easier for people to find relevant information. 
  • Calls to action. You need clear buttons, links, signup forms, and other cues for users to take action.

Addresses Accessibility

 Web accessibility means that a website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities such as visual or hearing impairments. For example, add ALT text to images, structure text with clear headlines, make sure users can navigate using a keyboard as not everyone can use a mouse.  The Web Accessibility Initiative has detailed information on web accessibility along with guidelines on how to make sites more accessible.


Considerations When Planning Experience Design

Experience design needs to be tailored to the needs of your organization. The following are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Make Design Human-centered

Web content must be created with the users' needs and preferences in mind. Human-centered design goes beyond mere functionality. Rather than simply providing information, you are paying attention to how the information is shared in a way that considers the diverse needs of all users. 
UX Collective shares some interesting examples of human-centered design. While these examples don't include websites, they illustrate the importance of considering values such as ease of use, convenience, and inclusion when designing anything people use. Examples include a push-pull door, a simplified TV remote, and a beverage bottle cap that can be easily removed. 

Apply a Holistic Approach

 It can be challenging to bring together all of your goals, services, and users' needs in a single website. However, XD requires you to make sure that everything fits together harmoniously.  This includes:

  • Meeting the needs of all users.
  • Maintaining a consistent tone and style throughout the site. For branding, this should also match your social media and other content as well.
  • Having a clear site structure and hierarchy, which makes it easy for visitors to find what they need.
  • Incorporate XD principles into employee and volunteer training. Encouraging values such as creativity, accessibility, and inclusivity in everything you do will help foster an environment where human-centered design is applied everywhere. You might include design courses and workshops as part of ongoing training.

Consider Your Technology Decisions

Your technology decisions matter. Experience design requires you to look at technology a little differently. Rather than looking at only the functional and quantitative benefits of technology upgrades, you have to consider the human side as well. This includes aesthetics, inclusivity, and user-friendliness. A certain feature may be efficient from a purely functional perspective, but if it doesn't make users feel comfortable, they are less likely to engage and return. 

Use Data to Refine and Improve

 XD is not something you put into place once and forget about. It's an ongoing process that needs to be constantly refined and updated to meet current conditions. When you make changes, track your data so you can see the results. When you redesign website features, you need to track data to see if the changes are bringing about measurable improvements. Metrics that are crucial for nonprofit websites include:

  • Session length and bounce rate. Depending on their experience, visitors may quickly leave a page (or the whole site) or spend more time reading and exploring your features. . Improvements in design can motivate visitors to spend more time on your pages, leading to longer session duration and lower bounce rates. This, of course, also increases the chances that they'll take action on your offers,  donation requests, etc.
  • Pages and features that visitors like. To delve more deeply than simply session duration, you can use tools such as a heat map to identify where visitors are spending the most time. 
  • Revenue generated. Fundraising is always a key metric for nonprofits. Design features, which encourage people to spend more time on the site and have a better overall impression, can help generate more revenue. 
  • Engagement. Engagement refers to many actions people take on your website, including commenting on blog posts, answering polls, engaging with your chatbot (if you have one), clicking on social media buttons to follow your Facebook page or other accounts, or downloading content such as white papers. 

Boost Your Nonprofit With Experience Design

Managing and growing an organization isn't easy. People have limited time and resources. If you want to capture their attention and gain their support, you need a website that's informative, engaging, and user-friendly. Experience design can help make your website more appealing to visitors and help to convert them into members, donors, or volunteers. 

Need help incorporating experience design into your website? ArcStone provides resources for nonprofits and thoughtful brands, including stunning WordPress websites, storytelling, SEO, and SEM. To learn more, contact us.

Topics: Design and Technology