Featuring VP of User Experience and Design, Bos Alvertos
ANDY: You’ve been with Double Good since the very beginning of our Virtual Fundraising program. In fact, you were brought on to help create the platform and mobile app. What made you want to join Double Good to help create a completely new way to run product-based fundraisers?
BOS: When I started at Double Good, then Popcorn Palace, I was at a point in my career where I felt that I needed to be more connected to the user. Actually understand their issues so that I can create a better experience for them. I had spent the first part of my career working at various agencies and making sure the client liked the colors I was choosing, making sure designs “popped.”
During my interview process with Double Good, it became apparent to me that this was going to be that opportunity where I could explore, learn, get to know the user, and create solutions that would have an impact. Once I understood the mission and what we were embarking on, it was obvious to me.
ANDY: Creating a mobile app, let alone an entire platform, from scratch is a major endeavor. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in the beginning?
BOS: I knew nothing about fundraising. My only experience with fundraising was when I had to sell a box of World’s Finest Chocolates for my Greek school but instead ate a bunch of them and then had to ask my parents to pay for the box because the money was due. For me, I needed to learn as much as possible about why people fundraise, how they do it, when they do it, what they use to do it, and who they are as people. I did that by just talking to our users on the phone, visiting them in their spaces (gyms, schools, football fields, conventions), showing them prototype after prototype, and hearing how much it sucked, and watching them struggle to use it. It was tough. Watching people struggle with something you stayed up all night building and thinking it was the greatest thing ever only to find out they thought it sucks was a tough pill to swallow. There wasn’t a Project Manager that could synthesize the feedback for you and deliver it in a nice way. It was raw, unfiltered feedback. I loved it. It was motivating.
ANDY: It’s been 7 years since you joined Double Good. How does that feel?
BOS: I can’t believe it’s been that long. This is the longest thing I’ve ever done. College used to hold that title at 5 years. But this is way more rewarding. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. Being able to work with such talented people and hear the amazing stories that were made possible for our users because of the platform we’ve built, is a dream.
ANDY: A lot has changed for the Product and Engineering teams in that time and you’ve been able to see all of it up close and personal. What’s the biggest lesson you learned on that journey?
BOS: Our Engineers famously say everything is possible. And they’re correct, you can build anything, but that doesn’t mean you should do everything.
ANDY: We say that our product is built by our customers. What does that mean?
BOS: We spend more time listening and learning about our customers than we do on moving around pixels. Every decision that we make when creating an experience is inspired, reviewed, and tested by our customers.
ANDY: Tell me more about our UX Program. Also… what does UX even mean?!
BOS: Something I’ve heard and observed from people who fundraise is how much they hate fundraising. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and focus to run a successful fundraiser. And let’s be honest nobody signed up to coach, play a sport, or participate in a club, so that they can fundraise. So it really is a distraction and keeps them from doing what they actually signed up for. And on the list of all the distractions that we have available to us nowadays, fundraising probably falls to the bottom of that list. So the bar must be pretty low right, just make sure it doesn’t suck and they don’t hate it? Yes, but no. When I think about our user’s experience with Double Good, every detail needs to be delightful. We want all of our users to be left with a feeling of “That was worth it” whether it’s interacting with a Pop-Up Store, organizing a fundraiser from our native app, or tasting the delicious popcorn they received because they supported someone. That’s all user experience.
When we think about an experience, we not only think about how it looks and feels or how it works, but also how it makes the user feel, and how and when they might interact with it. We take into account all of this to try and make the best-informed decisions.
ANDY: What functionality or design came out of a UX Program that you found very fulfilling both professionally and personally?
BOS: At the beginning of the pandemic, just after people started warming up to the idea that everything would be virtual, including how they fundraise we started seeing a lot of different groups of people coming onto the platform. And everyone has different wants and needs and some align with our strategy, while others might not. I remember speaking with you, Andy, and you were telling me about a conversation you were having with an Organizer who was visually impaired and about how difficult it was for them to use our platform. So much so that you, Andy, had to set up their fundraising event for them because our native application was nowhere near usable with a screen reader or voice assistant. Of all the feedback and criticism I’ve heard throughout my career as a designer, this one hit differently. This particular organizer was not able to interact with our app because we had not built the experience correctly. We were compromising on our Mission and our principles and values and it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t right.
Almost immediately I started auditing our entire platform and style guide to see if we were meeting accessibility standards. Boy were we not. Our color palette didn’t pass contrast ratios, our site didn’t have proper alt tags or labels behind images and buttons. It was completely unusable if you relied on a screen reader.
We did quite a bit of research and even looked into tools that would have provided just enough coverage to make our site “screen reader-friendly”, but that felt like a shortcut, a copout, and didn’t align with our principles and values as a Product team or as Double Good.
Instead, we decided to make it an objective of ours to rebuild our platform to meet accessibility standards. We started by working with members of the visually impaired community here in Chicago and inviting them to our downtown offices to get to know them, and what role technology played in their lives, and observed them using their mobile devices. We were a year into the pandemic and our team hadn’t been able to do any in-person evaluative research. So we took it all in. We spent all day talking with this group of users and had them go through our entire platform to see how we could improve it. We had pages, literally pages of notes.
We then got to work with our Engineers, prioritizing tickets for a quarter’s worth of sprints that required us to revisit our entire platform and make it more accessible. It was so in tune with our culture, that accessibility is a requirement in every user-facing feature we build. It was so cool to see the entire Product organization take on this challenge and be thoughtful on how we were going to approach it, and now embrace it as part of the process. I’m really proud of the team and their commitment to getting it right.
As for how it turned out, we invited those same users we initially did the UX with back to our offices and asked them to walk us through our platform again. There were nowhere near as many notes that we had to take and all of our friends from the visually impaired community were using their mobile devices to run through all of our scenarios almost flawlessly.
ANDY: What are you most excited to work on over the next couple of years? Any dreams for where you want to go with our 4-Day Virtual Fundraisers?
BOS: We’re always dreaming up new ideas or ways in which we can improve our current experiences. There’s never going to be a shortage there. I think that’s what I’m most excited about. We’re bringing in so many talented people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. I’m excited about their contributions, and the crazy ideas that they’re going to come up with that will help shape our fundraising experience.
When we started the technology team, there were just 5 of us throwing around ideas and looking at “trends” trying to see what would stick and had momentum. When I pitched the idea of a 4-day fundraiser, I called it a crazy idea. I guess I’m excited to hear that next crazy idea.
ANDY: Last question: if a designer or engineer was thinking about joining Double Good, what would you tell them?
Double Good is like that table in your high school cafeteria that had an odd mix of all different types of kids; but we all have a few things in common, we’re all here to have a good time by doing the best work of our lives, and we just want to leave this place better than we found it.