a phone displaying the mobile version of the project website


This term long project challenged my team and I to do a deep dive into an existing company. With their cooperation and support we explored the business inside and out using different design methods to gain insight into how we might best apply our skill as interaction designers to solve the issues impacting the business that we identified over the course of the term.

The organization that we arranged to work with is an exotic animal rescue society based in Surrey, BC called Urban Safari Rescue Society.

skills: design research + user testing


The issue that our team identified that affected the rescue society the most and had the most far reaching effects was that their volunteering system was convoluted and inefficient. This led to sporadic attendance, under training, and not understanding volunteering roles, which ultimately led to friction and hostility between employees and volunteers.

Our solution was a three pronged approach that included a clear volunteer hierarchy, an improved task checklist that works in concert with the hierarchy, and enhanced animal cage signage.

a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes

Our first day of on-site research at the rescue.


Volunteer leveling program, visualized through new ID badges and progression diagram, that chunks tasks into 5 levels. It shows volunteers what they need to accomplish to safely work towards new and more interesting tasks. This adds transparency for volunteers regarding their responsibilities, expectations, and level of training that they should have received.

Volunteers are also provided nametags/badges to wear indicating their volunteer skill level. The badges make it clear at a glance what types of tasks a volunteer is ready to undertake. This in turn makes assigning work and scheduling an appropriate number of skilled volunteers easier for the full-time staff.

a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes


We did a soft redesign of the organizations existing task checklist that they used to keep track of which animals had been cared for and when. This is necessary for the organization as they have over 400 animals in their care with different schedules and needs.

Our soft redesign of the checklist organizes tasks by the same 5 levels, so it is clear to a volunteer what they can, and are expected, to do. This is introduced in addition to the current daily task information: animal name and type, area they’re found, task type and check-boxes. This reinforces the hierarchy system that we have developed and provides volunteers with direction throughout the day without needing to reference the few full-time employees for every task.

a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes


Removable signage on each enclosure naming and describing the animal for guests to view. The public level of the signage can be opened, and an insert can be removed from the pocket to reveal animal-specific care information for volunteers to follow when caring for different animals.

This enhanced signage is critical for the organization as it provides supplementary training for when staff are not around. The ratio of volunteers to staff is very high and staff often do not have the time to train and remind volunteers of each necessary step when caring for an animal. Now volunteers can reference the card for reminders and basic training on their own before needing to work with staff.

a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes


a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes

This term long project began with gathering as much information from as many people as possible. We met with the staff members and learned about them and their concerns, hopes, goals and thoughts about the rescue society.

We then met with several staff members ranging from novice, intermediate and expert skill levels. We learned all this through and ethnography study where we went to the rescue society and interviewed members, recorded notes and sketches and took lots of photos.

At this point we were just trying to learn who they are and what life was like at the rescue. We then compiled this information into several personas that we referenced throughout the project.

a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes

Next, we dove deep into life at the rescue using different design methods over several weeks including: cultural probes, journey maps, role playing, and participatory workshops. We began to understand the culture and the people involved with the society as we worked with them and identified three potential areas for intervention to explore:

  1. Training
  2. Volunteer/staff tension
  3. Spatial redesign

After deliberating, we chose to scope up a bit and investigate making the entire volunteer experience easier and more enjoyable for both staff and volunteers. We chose to scope up like that because we found that the problem with the most impact was the tension between volunteers and staff caused by a lack of hierarchy and training.


a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes

With this goal in mind we came up with three solutions:

  1. An interactive training guide
  2. An animal care app
  3. Enhanced enclosure signage

We encountered our biggest challenge at this point though as we found individually, the ideas were weak. Each ocncept on its own provided only a surface level, small fix without addressing the larger problems around the volunteering system. We decided to combine them into a larger system at this point. We also decided to make our final solution non-digital at this point because the rescue society had very limited access to technology both in terms of skill and hardware.

We spent a lot of time trying to reconcile each idea before realizing that we had to focus on just taking the best core components of each idea to combine them. With this in mind we refined the training guide into the hierarchy system and combined the care app and signage to create the new enhanced signage and enhance checklist concepts.

a detail image showing how the lamp can be rotated to form new shapes


Ultimately our work was well received, and we ended up tying for best project of the semester in a public showcase. The project addressed our main concerns of the volunteer system being confusing and inefficient. Additionally, we were able to ease relations between staff and volunteers, whilst allowing volunteers to be able to have a larger degree of independence and receive better training than before.

This project taught me a lot about different design methods, but more importantly I learned the importance of using them and the importance of understanding who you’re designing for. One prominent example for me was when we deployed cultural probes at the rescue society. I was shocked by how much insight we were able to gain from relatively benign tasks and questions. Moving forward in my work I have begun to rely on leveraging the design methods learned here to maximize the reach of my work and ensure that it is addressing the true heart of the problem presented.