Ami is a social enterprise startup with a mission is to reduce loneliness and social isolation by encouraging people to offer support to those around them. The Campaign to End Loneliness found lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than obesity and physical inactivity.
This was a greenfield project for Oxford Computer Consultants (OCC), who had a vested interest in the area through their work with local councils and social care finance. They saw an opportunity – with contracting social care budgets and an ageing population – to create a service that enabled aspiring volunteers to more easily find people in their local area who needed a little help and support.
To validate the need for this project I led a lean, user-centred design approach to understand the problem landscape. We discovered through user interviews with potential volunteers and storyboarding workshops with charity organisations that there was a clear disconnect.
Potential volunteers were frustrated because they didn’t know where to begin, and the process of mailing paper forms was slow and cumbersome. For charity organisations, they were struggling to mobilise volunteers but were reticent to change their own internal processes and concerned about putting the details of potentially vulnerable people online.
Our research observations were key to helping us define a product strategy and shape the minimum viable product (MVP). For Ami to succeed, we needed to demonstrate to charity organisations that putting the process online was a compelling enough experience to increase the number of successful registrations.
We explored ways to help people “see the need” around them that was normally invisible, using a location based map as our solution to display opportunities nearby, lowering the barrier to entry and making the process more approachable. We mitigated privacy concerns by showing users how far away the opportunities were in relation to user, instead of showing other people’s precise locations, and providing additional anonymised information to help volunteers make an informed choice.
Whilst we couldn’t radically speed up volunteer registration because of set-length security checks, we could apply form best practices to make it more straightforward. We split the form into logical sections, set clear expectations up-front, showed and encouraged progress through personalised messages, and didn’t ask for any information we don’t absolutely need.
This was the first consumer product launch for OCC and therefore required cohesive creative direction to build credibility and trust with a public audience. I built out a design system and component library to unify the service and art directed the marketing campaign – involving complete branding, leaflets and posters.
Ami’s grand ambition has always been to reduce social isolation, loneliness, and bring people together. The success of the MVP is paving the way for the organisation to broaden this mission outside volunteering and into friendship and social activities, with the planned launch of features that allow people to connect directly through shared interests and activities.