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Process - Exploratory Research and Design for NPOs


My role: Design Lead, Research Advisor

Techniques used: Journey maps, InDesign document design, sketching, iterative prototyping, design for user testing, visual design language

Duration: 8 months


Our client, The Mentoring Partnership, asked us to devise a solution to increase the number of quality mentoring relationships in the Pittsburgh area that could possibly be scaled nationally.

What we delivered

We delivered an end-to-end solution that encompasses awareness, mentor training, and tracking. For Magnify, we refined the mechanics of the training experience, and explored the best methods to track and display data about training progress. Finally, we provided a well-defined structure into which The Mentoring Partnership can add their content and track usage.

Teammates: Maddie Borgmann, Yousef Kazerooni, Meg Nidever, and Adam Yee


Making Sense of the Problem Together


Cultural Mapping

In our kickoff meeting with TMP, one of the most valuable exercises we did was territory map the mentoring program space with them. This helped us uncover key pain points in collaboration with them, tapping their expertise to peel back the layers of their proposed problem space.


Literature Review

With the territory map and pain points in hand, we started the secondary research portion of our project. It was important for us to really understand the mentoring space from as many perspectives as possible. We read over 40 articles and other materials to make sense of the mentoring space.


Assumption Busting

Within our two distilled themes, Quality Mentoring and Quantity of Mentors, we wrote down everything we know from TMP and our secondary research and mapped those to questions we still need answered.

This activity helped us distill our current knowledge into questions we could then direct at the right participants in interviews and observations.  


Exploratory Research

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We spoke with a mixture of mentors, mentees, mentor program staff, and The Mentoring Partnership staff to better understand the personal frustrations, joy, and missed opportunities for mentoring.


Because we are building a solution for The Mentoring Partnership to own, it was important that we understand their workflow and daily activities. We shadowed the TMP staff over the period of a week to gather this information.


With all of this information in hand, we created an affinity diagram to distill the themes from our massive data collection effort. The affinity diagram yielded 14 important themes of mentoring expectations, successes, and regrets.


Opportunity Area Validation



With our 14 themes from primary research, we worked with our client to narrow down to 5 areas of opportunity to explore in storyboard form. 


Speed Dating

We took our storyboards to each person on our client team individually to get their personal feedback on each concept. These were never meant to be built, but acted as an artifact that we could get concrete feedback on before committing to any one idea. 


We noticed three main areas of opportunity that came out through the Speed Dating feedback from The Mentoring Partnership team. These three themes are current pain points in mentoring that are also high-priority for The Mentoring Partnership.


Increase Awareness

Make sure every adult is aware of their ability to make an impact in a youth's life every day.

Enable Impact Visibility

Make the impact of mentoring more visible, both on the scale of a single relationship and for the discipline as a whole.

Scale It Right

Ensure the quality of new mentoring relationships by providing training and support to qualified potential mentors. 


From Research to Reality

We employed the Five Day Design Sprint to jumpstart our prototyping and validation phase. Over the next 2 months, we continually did one-week sprints of designing, prototyping, and testing to come to the final refined vision for Magnify.


Aiming for Final Deliverables


With four weeks left in the project and a clear vision of our final product, we defined our final deliverables for The Mentoring Partnership. Our goal is to maximize our time on areas where our expertise is best suited and that The Mentoring Partnership could not do on their own. 



Awareness campaign ideas and the results of user testing those concepts. The Mentoring Partnership can build off of these ideas and feedback to draw people into the app.


App Structure

Specifics of the user flow, how the challenge will be structured, and branding which includes visual design and copy guidelines.

The Mentoring Partnership will be responsible for the content of the skill-building portion of the app, but we will provide the structure into which each lesson and activity in the challenge. 


Data Visualization

Design the data visualizations for personal and aggregated information gathered in the app. We will work to understand what data is most important for users to see, how best to gather that data, and how to display it.