Helping local organizations meet offsite sustainably
Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF)
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Client: Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF)
The Alice Ferguson Foundation provides environmental education for nearly half a million Maryland students since 1954. Additionally, the nonprofit spearheads several sustainability efforts including removing trash from the Chesapeake Bay (8.5 million pounds to date!) and constructing the fully certified “Living Building,” the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Environmental Center, which fulfills the highest sustainability requirements.
Now in 2024, the Living Building is open for corporate event rentals. Rental costs are invested fully back into environmental education programming for local students.
How might we help local organizations discover the Living Building’s offerings for hosting their offsite events?
The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Environmental Center, a.k.a the “Living Building” is a multi-purpose space devoted to sustainable, “net-zero” functionality. It’s available for the first time to host events up to 80 guests.
Many organizations are pushing for more in-person, collaborative experiences. Yet meeting spaces for larger groups are limited in this area, and sustainable alternatives even more so.
As it is, these organizations might have to:
- reduce attendance for onsite events, which hinders communication and hurts morale
- break budget on a nearby Washington, DC venue
- ask guests to make a long and frustrating commute
- give up many amenities to stay local
- accept additional carbon emissions
However, organizations are unaware of AFF’s rentable event spaces, including the Living Building, that solve these issues. AFF therefore needs to increase awareness of their event hosting service and the Living Building’s offerings to local organizations and community groups seeking event venues.
Scope & Constraints
AFF is launching a marketing campaign in mid-January 2024, including social media and a pitch deck to direct visitors to the Event Hosting landing page on their website.
While AFF hasn’t conducted any user research on its own before, they were very open to exploring what event planners and green-minded organizations thought about their venue venture.
I had 2 weeks to deliver my discovery user research and using self-supplied tools and budget to make recommendations for their event hosting service’s reboot this winter.
Me, UX Designer
Jon Pattee, AFF Director of Development
Tori Bitner, AFF Communications
Figma • Maze • Miro • UserInterviews.com • Zoom
Discovery interviews (x7)
Usability testing (x100 cumulative)
Laying the foundation
Assessing current material
The content and language of marketing material appeals to niche audiences. For example, the pitch deck appeals to organizations who already greatly value environmental responsibility, and the Event Hosting landing page discusses weddings and pricing. The latter briefly mentions the new Living Building only twice, and many specs and content typical to event venue web pages are missing. It has opportunities to appeal to corporate audiences.
Assessing current material
Pre-existing research indicates public company execs invest in sustainability to meet consumer demand, drive growth, and innovate new products and services. It therefore wasn’t unreasonable to hope a sustainable venue appeals to companies. Many existing AFF material targets precisely these attitudes.
So, I tested this assumption.
I wanted to see how local green-minded organizations practiced sustainability and what they preferred in venues for their offsite events.
I wrote a screener, sourced qualified participants from UserInterviews.com, and conducted 7 user interviews over 3 days via Zoom.
Establishing a baseline
I also assessed the business side: I conducted a competitive analysis of 5 local competitors and a baseline usability test on the landing page with 10 users via Maze.
Competitive analysis revealed what typically promoted event venues and how transparent companies were about their rental process.
A baseline usability test identified populations of users and obstacles in using the page. I created a mockup in Figma and tested it with users who may or may not be an event planner in their organization (unlike the interviewees who had to be, per my screener).
Uncovering user insights
My user interviews asked event planners to describe how they decide offsite venues for their corporate events and how their organization’s values (like environmental responsibility) might influence that decision.
Yet we also learned while many green-minded organizations were interested in sustainability, they didn’t weigh it heavily in decision making:
- The number of people who responded their organizations value sustainability was limited.
- More organizations were described as valuing sustainability than those that actually implemented any sustainability measures.
- Respondents did not understand eco-friendly operations and/or environmental impact very well.
Additionally, users in baseline usability testing felt that the page, although well-designed, demonstrated inconsistent phrasing and layouts which led to minor confusion. Furthermore, 5 of 10 users commented they felt key venue info was hard to find and/or outright missing.
I used this feedback to identify information gaps in current content and re-prioritize information to better appeal to event planners.
Bridging the gap
I redesigned the landing page to bridge the gaps between current content and the expectations of event planners.
Throughout 4x iterations with an increasing sample size each time, I refined the venue descriptions, explored new content, and tested different information hierarchies to determine which content got its own section and where and how often to repeat information.
Further usability testing indicated two main sticking points in the landing page UI design:
- Pricing Frequency
Users had a much easier time finding pricing when it was repeated with each meeting space vs. a centralized call-out. Success rates were similar regardless of the number of web pages. This suggests users have a strong expectation of pricing based on individual meeting spaces rather than the number of attendees.
- Page Quantity
It took users longer to find info the lengthy one-pager than the multi-page option, but success rates stayed the same or better on the multi-page option.
As a result of the revisions, 92% believed the Event Hosting landing page was easy to navigate. Users further had a harder time answering what was hard to find, even when pressed to identify something missing or hard to find — the final Figma prototype reduced these responses by 50%. Finally, users found information on the Living Building’s sustainable venue practices 13% faster.
Blueprints for the future
My qualitative user research challenged assumptions and clarified user expectations. As a result, AFF is empowered to make more informed, user-driven decisions for this campaign and beyond.
In future iterations, I’d like to…
- further decrease task time
- improve findability of a venue’s availability
- test the revisions against corporate event planners themselves for more targeted feedback
I delivered my findings, next steps, and recommendations in a detailed presentation to AFF.
This project and a couple others this year have really reminded me how important qualitative usability testing really is.
In one iteration of this project, one participant in a group of 25 took nearly 10x as long as the others to succeed. Noticing the worse task time average, I was tempted to label them an outlier. However, I also realized stumbling across a legitimate outlier was unlikely. Rather, this “outlier” likely represented some population of users for my project. I made some adjustments to the UI instead.
The qualitative usability testing I did helped me identify populations of users and issues in my design. It did not help me measure how severe and/or widespread an issue is, the way a large sample size with statistical significance would.
So this project was a great reminder for that and helped better me communicate to the client the value of what we uncovered.