Building Great Interactive Content: Girls Not Brides & their Theory of Change

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Thanks to a highly useful community of digital charity types (the Fairsay Ecampaigning Forum list – join it today!) I was recently sent a link to an interactive Theory of Change from the organisation Girls Not Brides.  And it is pretty dang great.

A Theory of Change is so important for any campaigning organisation; it’s crucial information for funders and your most passionate supporters.  Yet so many of us are guilty of cloaking it in impenetrable text, and burying it in our Annual Report or four levels down the hierarchy of the ‘About Us’ section of our website.  The Girls Not Brides piece is a fantastic example of taking content that is often presented in a really dry and uninteresting way, and making it accessible, interesting and clear.

I got into a Twitter conversation with the designers of the Girls Not Bride interactive piece, Adam Brown and Adam Davis, and they were kind enough to share some highly useful advice about how to approach a project like this. Much of this advice could also be usefully applied to any interactive content project – for example, if you wanted to demonstrate your impact or your transparency through an interactive piece.

Advice from Adam Davis & Adam Brown

  • Develop a good project brief; why are you building an interactive version of your theory of change? What will this achieve, and for who? This is good practice in any project and will inform and influence design decisions as you go along. (For example, for Girls Not Brides, one of our key goals was a design that enabled you to retrain a sense of the ‘whole’ theory and its structure, but made it easy to zoom in to a specific section or piece of information).
  • The most overarching tip would be to rewrite existing content for interaction. Make it shorter and snappier where possible.
  • Think about who the end product is for, and in what context people will use it. Before building anything we worked with Girls Not Brides to create potential user profiles, and think about how and when these people would use the interactive Theory of Change – one of the things that came across was that we needed something ‘presentational’, that would help them walk groups of people, or potential donors, through the theory. Thinking about this in detail will give you clear (and valuable) parameters for your design.
  • As a designer, get to know the Theory – understand the information in it and how it inter-relates; you can’t design a good solution if you don’t understand the content.
  • Break the information down in lots of different ways, into its constituent parts, and play with reassembling it. Think about the hierarchies, categories and relationships that exist, and how you might illustrate or represent these. Use paper, pens, post-its, spreadsheets – whatever helps!
  • What are the most important steps, or dynamics, in the Theory, and how will you highlight these? Try and draw a road map of the Theory; where do you start and end, where are the junctions/key relationships etc. – this map will help you figure out the architecture for the design – the framework it will all hang on.
  • Think about what you want your interaction to achieve; ideally you want the clicks a user makes to reinforce or build their understanding of the Theory, and how the information in it relates. Is the relationship between one section and another causal, or more ambiguous? Be aware of what your navigation/interaction suggests.
  • Make it FUN To USE! People are 10 times more likely to use and learn from something that is enjoyable and engaging to use.
  • Make it EASY to use! People HATE being lost, baffled or confused; if they click into something and it’s not what they expect, can they easily figure out where they are and backtrack?
  • As a consultant – work closely with the people most heavily invested in the Theory/product; as the client – talk to the consultant, challenge, ask questions – GET INVOLVED.
  • Test as often as possible; even if only with staff at the organisation or with anyone available; it always tells you new and valuable things, and let’s you know when you’re getting it right.
  • Manage expectations – cut back to a simpler interaction/design if a complex idea is proving difficult.

Thanks again to Adam Davis and Adam Brown for generously sharing this advice.

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