Project Spotlight

Inside a Website Redesign by General Assembly Students

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Liz Eggleston

Edited By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on October 17, 2023

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Did you know that UX Design students at General Assembly have opportunities to work with actual companies? Emily Hoehenrieder, Bradley La Pointe, and their group of General Assembly students conducted a thorough website re-design of the nonprofit, Kuda Vana. Learn what these General Assembly students were able to accomplish in just three weeks, plus the lasting impacts of their website redesign on Kuda Vana’s fundraising efforts (spoiler alert: the redesign project led to a 33% increase in online donations)!

Meet the Team:

  • Emily Hoehenrieder - General Assembly UX Design graduate; now UX Designer at Kin + Carta
  • Tara Petersen - Executive Director of Kuda Vana
  • Nick Anderson - General Assembly UX Design Instructor

Emily, why did you choose to enroll at General Assembly in 2020?

In 2020, I was laid off from my graphic design job, which granted me the opportunity to explore other career options. I knew I would enjoy a career that involved design and connecting with real users. I started researching bootcamps that offered experience in UX design and found General Assembly. 

Nick, what kinds of projects do General Assembly students typically work on in the UX Design bootcamp?

The UX immersive includes five projects over 12 weeks. The first few projects focus on building the foundational skills through concept projects with existing brands, but for the Capstone project they have an entire three-week sprint that they spend with an actual client from the robust GA network to solve a real problem. Since they're working under real constraints with real people, it's some of the best experience they can get for real business applications beyond design fantasies. 

Tara, what got General Assembly on your radar as the Executive Director of Kuda Vana? 

I am involved in several nonprofit groups in the Denver area, and one of the members of those groups was aware of UX design and told me about General Assembly. Kuda Vana is a small nonprofit organization with zero budget for marketing and media, so I applied for their help immediately! Since working with General Assembly, I continue to refer nonprofit partners and those I meet to them because their students do incredible work. 

Nick, does General Assembly often incorporate real world projects with clients like Kuda Vana into the bootcamp curriculum?

We're always looking for small teams that students can join to offer valuable support to companies that don’t have the financial backing to hire full-time UX designers. This is a great process for folks that are trying to build something really big and important from a small scale. 

Another thing we found useful is working with companies that are growing and getting to a point where they need UX design influence. I worked with a company that had 100 employees — about 90 of them were developers and they had one lone designer. They agreed that if they could get three student designers for three weeks to show them the massive effect of thinking design first, they might be able to hire some of those students and make a larger case for why design needs to be more centric to our design philosophies. 

There's a lot of different use cases, but something like Kuda Vana and what Tara brought is probably my favorite. 

Tara, tell us about Kuda Vana! What is your organization’s mission?

We work in the orphan care adoption space within Zimbabwe. Our mission is to empower some of the most vulnerable children of Zimbabwe to not just survive, but to truly thrive. Our team takes kids from infancy (who have been brought to us through social services) all the way up through high school or sometimes college. 

A huge part of what we're doing now is working in more family-based care spaces, placing children safely back in family through safe for unification, adoption, or foster care within Zimbabwe. I am a one-person employee here in the United States, so my entire team is in Zimbabwe, which again is why the UX design project was so meaningful and powerful for our organization. 

Emily, what were the main re-design elements your team came up with? 

My team had three goals for this project: 

  1. Content organization. We wanted to help Kuda Vana organize their content and information architecture in a way that would make sense to the user. We researched how users would interact with this nonprofit, what they want to see, and what they would be willing to click on. This included a main navigation and secondary navigation.
  2. Site design revamp. Most of the re-design included the homepage, which hooks a user into researching more about a nonprofit and getting to know more so that they can eventually contribute. We researched different aspects of how users would want to see where they were at in the site. On the homepage, we have an overview of Kuda Vana and then we dig into more about what they do, why they're in Zimbabwe, and statistics that pull a user in to see how they're making a difference. We also show the user who Kuda Vana is, which I think is really important. 
  3. Improvements to the donation flow. We did some research and found that users were willing to make more of a donation when they trusted the nonprofit. Providing more information about what Kuda Vana does can be a jumping off point for those users into discovering more about the nonprofit and connecting with them, which was all in our process of getting people who visit this site to donate to this nonprofit. We also included stories from Zimbabwe. Our research showed that users wanted transparency when donating to a nonprofit, to have this seal of approval. It was important to set up the donation flow in a way that enabled users to donate easily and efficiently, which included a lot of research donation factors like how users donate and how much they wanna donate. 

This project was unique because we partnered with the client to make sure that we delivered a site that Tara can use. We worked with her Squarespace account and some website content that she was already familiar with to make sure that we delivered a site that was live, ready to go, and able to quickly help the nonprofit. 

Nick, how many weeks did Emily’s team have to revamp the Kuda Vana website? 

Students are given three weeks to complete their project. They do a kickoff call with the client to discuss constraints, though the client has already been briefed. Then they move into the core of the project, which is different for every group. I like to joke that the first week is just trying to understand what your company does. After that you can begin research and synthesis. 

Emily's team moved quickly and was able to solve these problems with a lot of help from Tara. I remind students that they're not developers — they’re here to design the website — but I pointed out that this project is in Squarespace, which they can do with no pressure. I told them that if they knew what they wanted to do, they should go ahead and build it for Kuda Vana. They were able to do that, which was really impressive!

Tara, how well did these General Assembly students incorporate your insights into this redesign? 

First, think back to 2020: what was happening in the non-profit space was terrifying because donors stopped giving to nonprofits in that time. We have such a responsibility, not only to the kids and our care, but to the staff and their families. I knew we had an outdated, unmanageable website, so my primary goal was the donation flow — how do we get more people to sign up as monthly donors (which is the bread-and-butter of a nonprofit when it comes to budgeting). I was solely focused on getting money in, and Emily’s team delivered. 

Not only did Emily’s team deliver on creating a beautiful and seamless donation platform and process, they surprised me with a brand new site! It was beautiful and it represented who we are as an organization so much better than the site we had before. It elevated us in a time that was so difficult for so many people.

Emily, what did your team use to build this project? Were these things you learned at General Assembly?

We followed the design process that we learned in the previous sprints of  the UX Design bootcamp at General Assembly. We started with preliminary generative research on users' relationships with nonprofits, which was created using a survey that we sent out to 25 people. We wanted to figure out why people donate to certain nonprofits, what they need in order to donate, and create those recurring donations. We found that a lot of people wanted to see how their donations are being used and a lot of people wanted to feel personally aligned to that nonprofit. 

Once we got that research, we discovered that it was crucial to have transparency into the specific breakdowns of their donations. We really wanted to go above and beyond to create the whole site because we learned that when users go to a nonprofit site that looks professional, it helps increase their donations because it is a nonprofit that they end up trusting. 

When we got into the design, we asked: How might we drive monthly donations? How might we show more communication? We ideated as a group and landed on simplifying the navigation so that the home site tells a story. The intuitive navigation was a big part of this. One of the designers on our team focused on the donation flow and how we could encourage recurring donations. I focused on telling the story through the homepage. I used mostly Sketch to design.

Nick, do instructors at General Assembly provide support during these projects?

I let them and the client know that this is their final project and we're going to make this as much of a simulation of the real world as possible. In this case, I was a creative director, product owner, and UX lead type that they could come to. I checked in with them but I mostly waited for them to come to me. They needed to figure out the cadence and explain what would happen if they were getting off track or they weren't sure what to do and I could help them through it. 

Emily, did your team showcase this project at General Assembly or Kuda Vana? 

We showcased this design with other GA designers and then shared it with the clients as well.

Tara, it’s been two years since this website redesign by Emily and her team! Have you seen improvement in donations to Kuda Vana? 

Our goal was to increase monthly donations. In the last two years since Emily and her team worked on our site, we have had a 33% increase in online donations that is directly related to the UX design project! Another 44% — almost half — of all of those gifts that come in online are now recurring gifts, which is exactly what our stated goal was and exactly what Emily and her team delivered on. That money has gone towards transforming lives for some kids that desperately needed it. 

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to engage with Emily and her team on this project. It was really fun and I learned a lot! They asked me questions along the way and ensured that what they were delivering to me was something I could use. I really appreciated that they listened to that side of  the client's needs and truly delivered!

Emily, did this project with Kuda Vana open doors for you when you were applying for your next design role after bootcamp?

It definitely helped my design career. Working with a real client is so valuable for the experience and to add to my portfolio. Putting that real client on my portfolio has been one of the first things that recruiters ask me about and want to know more about. It wasn’t just a project in school; it was a real opportunity to work on a real product. Working on this project directly helped me get the role I have now as a user experience designer.

Tara, do you recommend other organizations consider enlisting bootcamp talent for projects like yours?

Absolutely! In fact, literally right before we hopped on this call, I had an email come in from a nonprofit partner of mine asking if they had anyone I could recommend for a website redevelopment. I'd also add that Emily and her team were actually able to present their concept and web design to our board, who were so thankful and excited to see what they were doing. I recommend enlisting bootcamp talent not only for the affordability but the level of professionalism that Emily and her team offered, which was truly over the top. 

Nick, what is your advice to incoming students on how to make the most of the UX Design program?

Be able to commit to the length of time of the bootcamp, whether that’s three or six months. I see students come in and learn more than I did in a four-year undergrad situation because of the intensity of the program and how they're able to focus purely on skills! The program assumes that you have some basic knowledge of how the world works, and you can just come in and focus on those skills. The caveat to that is you have to be really focused on what you're doing. You have to be completely there mentally and physically while you're involved in the process.

You also need to be constantly communicating with the people who are instructing you to let you know what's going on. The fact that Tara has received a fully functional website from this was because of seeing Emily, Jackie, and Brad continuing to show me what they're capable of. Go in ready to rise to the occasion of whatever that skillset ends up being. 

Find out more and read General Assembly reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with General Assembly.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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