Dara F. Thomas
Product Designer

Continuity During COVID

Conceptual Feature Addition To Website

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Arts of Life is a Chicago-based arts organization supporting the
careers of professional artists with developmental disabilities.
COVID has limited program participants’ access to valuable
resources - skills development programming and much-needed
social interaction.


2 weeks


Dara Thomas

Felix Flecha

James McBride

Skills I Utilized

Project Manager

UX Researcher

UX Designer






Our goal for this project was to ensure that Arts of Life could continue offering quality programming online for the duration of the pandemic.

1. Facilitate communication between volunteer program coordinators by creating a platform that fostered deeper interpersonal engagement.

2. Enable volunteers to sign up to work on individual programs or projects that match their specific skill sets


  • Feature Analysis

  • Interviews

  • Survey

  • Task Analysis

  • Affinity Map


  • Persona

  • Problem Statement

  • How Might We

  • Solution Statement


  • User Flow

  • Sketches

  • Mid Fidelity Wireframes

  • Usability Testing

  • Iterating


  • High Fidelity Prototype

  • User Testing

  • More Testing

Feature Analysis

We conducted a Feature Analysis to compare our competitors’ information architecture strategies.

We found that...

1. COVID had greatly impacted their in-house programming, forcing the organization to shift all offerings to a virtual format.

2. Clear and direct communication between volunteer program coordinators was more crucial than ever - yet the website offered no way to facilitate this.

3. The developmentally-challenged artists who Arts of Life serve rely on the organization’s programming to provide social interaction, as well as a sense of community and belonging.

These insights shaped the direction of our project - motivating us to provide a design solution that would ensure continuity of programming for the talented artists who would be greatly affected by pandemic-related isolation.

We next did a Google Forms survey and sourced respondents from social media platforms. We received 60 respondents. Out of 60 respondents, 50 stated that COVID significantly impacts their ability to serve the community. 82% said that it's difficult to contact other volunteers off site.


TOP: Tim Ortiz, Arts of Life Coordinator. BOTTOM: The Design Team - Myself, James, and Felix.

Stakeholder Interview

We interviewed a stakeholder to get his perspective on their challenges.

Tim Ortiz, Community Resources Coordinator for Arts of Life, explained that volunteers are largely responsible for shaping programming, and the pandemic has forced them to transition to online programming. This has hiccupped how volunteers communicate. This is what he said…


Volunteerism Survey

We reached out through various social media platforms to source our respondents. We put a call out seeking participants who have or continue to regularly volunteer in their community - and received a hefty 59 responses.

Some Questions Asked In Our Survey:

  • What type of organization do you volunteer for?

  • How often do you volunteer?

  • What drives you to volunteer?

  • What is your role as a volunteer?

  • How do you and your peers normally communicate and coordinate volunteer efforts?

  • Has the pandemic affected your volunteerism? If so, then how?


Getting feedback on the chat room feature from one of my respondents.

Setting Up Interviews

We reached out to 6 of our survey respondents to set up individual Zoom meetings.

As our design sprint was short (2 weeks), we decided to structure the meetings to combine both a contextual inquiry (30 min) and a task analysis (30 min). This way we would not have to try to schedule our very busy respondents a second time.


See how long this form is??

Pain Point: The Volunteer Signup Form

We had users perform a TASK ANALYSIS to identify bottlenecks within the website.
A major bottleneck was the volunteer signup form.

Key Insight...

We suspected that the volunteer signup form's length contributes to increasing the bounce rate on this page, resulting in Arts of Life losing many potential volunteers. Given that the stakeholder mentioned that the form contained a lot of extraneous fields, we realized that we would need to simplify this form.


Mapping Affinities

I created an affinity map based on our user interview responses. As I grouped similar answers, certain themes began to appear.:

  1. Volunteers found it challenging to stay in contact with each other.

  2. The pandemic created a stumbling block towards maintaining volunteer activities.

  3. Volunteers had a sense of pride and obligation towards giving back to their communities.


A Major Bottleneck...

...Was how volunteers kept in contact. This made it difficult for them to coordinate their efforts offsite - which became amplified when COVID forced a shutdown of on-site activities.

Key Insights...

1. Proper communication between program volunteers is essential for program continuity.

2. Volunteers update each other in person, on site, on whatever tasks need to be completed.

3. If needing to be updated but not on site, they would prefer a central hub on the website to gain that information and coordinate with each other.

Pain Points In Summary


  1. Communication ensures continuity.

  2. COVID forces them to rethink what outreach looks like.

  3. A centralized communication hub ensures that outreach can continue.


  1. Arts of Life provides valuable social interaction.

  2. COVID creates greater risk of social isolation.

  3. Online outreach is critical to mitigate social isolation.


  1. COVID has forced revamping of operations.

  2. Volunteers are vital to continued community programming and outreach.

  3. Volunteer communication has suffered.

  4. Centralized online communication puts operations back on track.


Meet Stephanie

We created our persona, Stephanie, to serve as a gentle reminder to keep our users at the forefront of our minds as we iterated through our design process.

Problem Statement

Stephanie needs a way to stay i contact with her volunteer team members so that she can more effectively collaborate on producing and contributing to new arts programming online.

How Might We...?

...Increase the efficiency of volunteer activities and make them a more collaborative process?

Solution Statement

Volunteers need a centralized portal on the website where they can communicate and collaborate on arts programming with the aim of ensuring continuity of offerings and increasing the volunteer program’s efficiency.


User Flow

Based on the research data and feedback, our proposal consisted of:

  1. A volunteer portal; and

  2. A chat room

Both to be added to the existing Arts of Life website.


Sketching It Out

Here's a quick clip of me conceptualizing and sketching out a wireframe.

The Redesigned Volunteer Signup Page...


Some of Our High Fidelity Screens

  1. Adding a volunteer portal button to the site's landing page.

  2. The sign in form and much more succinct redesigned signup form.

  3. The Create Your Profile page.

  4. The Welcome To The Portal page with distinct pathways for new and returning volunteers. New volunteers can only enter a chat room after one has been assigned to them based on their skills and preferences.

  5. The Volunteer Opportunities page, with opportunities separated by volunteer team.

  6. The Project Details page. Users can click on a particular project within their team to view details.

  7. The Team Chat Room function, which displays team members currently in the room, and notification bell.

  8. From that, we created a high fidelity prototype to share with users. We learned from users that....

  9. Screenshot of final prototype.


The High Fidelity Prototype

We connected our wireframes to create a clickable prototype. Then we moved on to our next step...

Usability Tests and Feedback

We next reached out to 7 users for a final usability test of our high fidelity prototype. Our aim was to discover and to uncover any glitches or issues we might have previously overlooked. Testing was conducted remotely via Zoom. Users were provided with a link to the prototype, then they shared their screens so that we could observe them navigating it. Here is some of the feedback they gave:

Avg. # of Seconds Shaved Off of Task

Continuity Means Caring

After making the necessary modifications to the mid-fidelity prototype, I then handed those changes off to my team mate to convert to the high-fidelity wireframes and prototype. Since the site is visited regularly by their artist participants who have developmental challenges where sudden changes might be jarring) it was important that we ensured that the new features matched the rest of the site seamlessly. Continuity of the existing design helped build empathy into our proposed solution.

Lessons Learned

  1. COVID's impact on vulnerable populations includes a heightened experience of social isolation.

  2. Volunteers can circumvent the severity of social isolation and sustain their positive impact on vulnerable communities when provided with ways to collaborate outside of physically meeting in the same space.

  3. Centralizing volunteer communication allows non-profits to continue to serve their communities despite the need for physical distancing.

If We Had More Time

We would have liked to speak with the artist participants who benefit from AoL's programming.

We would have gained deeper insight into the effort it takes to coordinate remote programming if we were able to participate in some of their Zoom class sessions.

Next Steps

You can write here as much as you want, Our Stakeholder has expressed interest in seeing our high-fidelity mockup. We will schedule another Zoom meeting shortly to discuss the feasibility of implementation and future development.