An Overview

In this User Experience course project at General Assembly, my team was tasked with the following:

"Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing website that allows people to fund projects posted to their site. They want to expand the types of projects to include ones that require recurring payments. Currently people can back different projects by pledging a certain amount of money to a project. Projects are only funded if they reach their funding goal by a predetermined date. Kickstarter wants to expand to allow projects that will be funded on a repeated schedule instead of only backing a project once."


  • Make a case for building new feature
  • Research the competitive space
  • Feature A: creators can launch recurring payment project
  • Feature B: projects should be discoverable to backers
  • Work with a team to complete & present hi-fidelity deliverable assets


  • Sharing the role of project management, I led stages involving facilitation, persona creation, journey mapping, user flows & design concept iteration.
  • Collaboration was a key component within the areas of comparative & competitive research, user interviews, concept ideation, usability testing & final hi-fidelity asset creation.

Final Assets 

  • Project & Research Plan
  • Competitive/ Comparative Analysis
  • Survey/ Interview Question Agenda
  • User Personas, Journey Mapping
  • User Flows, Site Map
  • Clickable Prototype, User Findings

Questions: Defining the Problem for the Solution

To address the creation of this new feature, my group and I outlined some important questions we would need the answers to:

  • How does this proposed feature align with the primary mission of Kickstarter?
  • Who is our target demographic / end user?
  • What conditions for this new service need to be met to engage existing Kickstarter users?
  • How does this proposed feature connect on an emotional level to supporters?

Additionally, we were interested in the relationship between the creators of Kickstarter project campaigns and those that backed them. To extend people's support of Kickstarter creators via recurring payments, we had to know what had previously motivated backers to spend their money. Without this knowledge we wouldn't be able to confidently build & develop this feature. 

Research: Talking to Backers & Creators

Armed with an arsenal of targeted inquiries we surveyed and interviewed a wide range of crowdfunding backers and participants. And what we found was... challenging:

"What's kind of nice about Kickstarter for the creator is that it's one and done. ...even now it's still this open feeling because I still owe people (rewards). So I think the 'recurring' is actually a very different model. It's very different from how I think of Kickstarter in my mind."
"I think I would prefer doing a one-time payment simply for the fact that ...I think I’d rather just do the one (time), and not a subscription thing"
"A set window of time would be better."

Since the idea of recurring payments was something of a tough sell for some skeptics, we needed to build a stronger case and ask more targeted questions about what would ease this psychological burden for users. Thus, we took a different approach and delved further into the focus of our subjects' passions and interests.

In our follow up questions, we honed in on the reasons why backers had funded past projects. After stating his resistance to the notion of a subscription, we further pressed one interviewee about his love of music.  Suddenly, recalled that he had in fact actually been a subscription member to a specialty vinyl club run by Jack White's Third Man Record label for years(!).

This specific anecdote directly correlated to a result in our survey findings –people often forgot that they were being billed for a subscription: 

The implication here is that while some users may balk at the exact notion of "recurring payments," they have themselves in fact subscribed to many services, goods and/or content that they find particularly rewarding. We pivoted our line of questioning from asking directly about "recurring payments" towards the notion of a "continuing support" for causes in which users had a personal/emotional investment. 

In doing so, we were met with more enthusiasm. When asked to share the most important thing about a backed campaign, one interviewee simple stated:

"Honestly, it's the emotional connection."

A Note on FUEL

By this time, we could tell that we had a unique challenge on our hands. 

Initially, we assumed we would be creating an ambitious new design that would dramatically evolve the Kickstarter experience. Instead, we learned that we would need to find an emotionally resonant hook from which to position this new, additive, and possibly subtle, feature.

To that end, we performed various naming exercises during our feature prioritization to better hone in on our mission. Some options were decidedly more awesome than others: Catalyst, Wings, Patron & even (ugh) FanBoyz.

Then a beam of inspiration and summer sun shone down upon us. Finally, we alighted upon a name complete with the tagline:

Kickstarter Fuel 

Support your favorite artists –fuel an ongoing passion.

And that was it.

Personas: Synthesizing our Findings into User Stories

Then there were three. 

We had much research to synthesize from our various interviews and targeted survey data. Our key takeaways painted a picture of a primarily male millennial audience, donating less than $100 to projects that were mostly Creative Arts focused.

Eager to move into our design phase, we set about distilling and delineating our research into three distinct personalities while also keeping in mind that we would be addressing needs for both Kickstarter backers as well as creators:

  • Bart - 29 y.o. IT System Admin; casual KS backer with strong social commitment and a deep curiosity
  • Molly - 26 y.o. Singer/Songwriter; one-time KS campaign creator looking to expand her social engagement with fans
  • Roland - 41 y.o. Senior Art Director; avid KS backer with a thirst for novelty and higher disposable income

Building on these discrete personas, we mapped their specific journeys that would drive their engagement and flow through our new feature.

Sketching: Iterating a Prototype

Our design phase began with one crucial decision: How would this feature live within the skeleton of the existing Kickstarter infrastructure?

The feature would need to be additive and not distract from, nor decrease the effectiveness of, Kickstarter's current architecture. And so, following the age old wisdom of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," we adopted a Parallel Path strategy:

  • Build off the existing familiarity of Kickstarter assets
  • Mirror the site path at both section navigation and artist creator levels
  • Clearly delineate and educate the difference between "Original Kickstarter" and our new feature with prominent calls to action

With a clear audience, purpose & navigation in mind, we sat down and quickly sketched concept iterations that would emphasize:

  • Clarity, learnability and visibility
  • Familiarity to Kickstarter "Classic"

Once we had iterated our sketches to a high level of legibility and organizational structure, we translated our sketches into medium fidelity wireframes. By keeping our initial rounds at the lower range of fidelity, we were able to edit and refine rapidly and efficiently.

We explored two different options for the feature page itself. And ultimately we combined the two: retaining both the button array of categories, as well as the refined category header.

For the initial round of testing we wanted to remain within a medium fidelity range. Our hope was that the similarities to Kickstarter "Classic" would easily enable users to navigate our feature.

Testing: Learning from our Users 

Our initial phase of user testing was initially problematic due to the lower fidelity elements being somewhat unclear.

"Wait, so ...what is this Fuel thing?"

We swiftly upgraded our placeholder images and copy with higher fidelity banners & thumbnails and began to incorporate our marketing copy throughout. Also, we brought more overt clarity to the payment options so that users would be exceedingly confident that their contributions would be ongoing. Finally in addition to our brand tag line, we worked up some additional informative text:

"Support your favorite artists. Fuel an ongoing passion. Starting now, you can help growing artists add fuel to their continuing projects. In this new featured service, Kickstarter Fuel empowers both creators and backers alike. From your favorite podcast to a newly discovered local band, Kickstarter Fuel gives you a new way to lend your continued and ongoing support to passion projects worldwide.

With this additional clarity, we now had a clear mandate to move forward with bringing our design mockups to high fidelity.  

Conclusions:  Looking Back & Building a Case

Looking back at the last two weeks of work, it was surprising & apparent how heavily rooted in human stories this project proved to be:

  • User interviews and surveys revealed a deep emotional current and connection to supporting the arts and creative endeavors
  • Alternately, the notion of recurring payments made users wary and they wanted assurances that their money was well spent
  • By creating rich personas and user journeys, we felt emboldened to make unexpected choices
  • Education and marketing of this intentionally separate and distinct feature was a top priority in every stage of development
  • We were empowered by the guidance of user feedback to bring our prototype to higher fidelity

When this project originated, we thought we would perhaps either be simply adding small, incremental functionality or creating a large, splashy new community hub and business model. Interestingly, through following this sequence of rigorous UX procedural steps, our project evolved into something quite different, unexpected and ultimately more conceptually robust.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we added a new pair of wheels by building a parallel path of navigation and leveraging the familiarity of Kickstarter's existing site.

In presenting our findings, we grounded our case in the notion that this feature would deepen and extend Kickstarter's original mission –to engage the creative community and become a place for people to share their ideas and projects. By empowering both backers and creators to have a continued and ongoing relationship, Kickstarter Fuel would, well, "fuel" future creativity, inspiration and passion.


Future Steps & Further Development

In this scenario, we focused first on the backer-related User Flow because this is where our project made the most impact. Limited timing and resources made it difficult to find a sample of Kickstarter creators to user test the Fuel Campaign creation user flow. Immediate next steps would focus on more user testing for this flow.

Dependent on its initial success, we proposed two potential pathways forward for how Fuel might evolve in the long-term. 

Full Spinoff Launch

In an ideal world, our utopic vision includes Fuel graduating into a dedicated arts community support platform.

In this scenario, as Fuel gains popularity, fans and artists find it an invaluable tool in their ongoing social engagement. This success leads to Fuel spinning off into a more robustly featured, autonomous site & mobile application.

Merge & Integration

This case calls for Fuel to be more seamlessly folded into the Kickstarter experience as a subset of options.

Once the audience grows accustomed to this feature rollout, the extraneous site architecture goes away and the Fuel branding recedes. In this scenario, Fuel is seen more as a transitional tactic to educate users about exciting, new Kickstarter functionality.


To Be Continued?

The hypothetical future where Kickstarter Fuel becomes a thriving paragon of grass-roots creative inspiration would be an exciting project to develop. Were I to have the time and resources, I would relish the opportunity to research, iterate, refine and define what that launch would look like.  

Hey, I'll be free come this September if you want to hire me!