Donation Box

2018 CHI Student Design Challenge. Runner-Up

A digital donation box that encourages cash donations by helping people visualize the impact of their contributions.

Cash donations are more flexible and can be saved to purchase the correct food at the ideal moments.

What I Learned
Narrowing down problem space through effective user studies. Design is not a one-man show, and coming up with a good design requires all team to work together.

Marshall Robbins
Aditya More
Dou Tian

My Contribution
Design research, Concept development, Concept tester, Interface Design, Interaction design, Poster design

Nov, 2017 - Jan, 2018


The prompt from CHI was engaging communities. Our team decided to work on the food insecurity problem, because over 100 million pounds of food is donated to charities every year, and up to 1 in 7 Americans rely on food banks for their meals. Through the design process, we wanted to explore opportunities to improve community engagement between the charities and the people they support.


User Interview
We interviewed a manager from Mother Hubbard's Cupboard to understand how a food bank works, and where they can improve.

Secondary Research:
We did secondary research to learn the current situation and existing solutions for food insecurity.

When people donate MONEY to a charity, it is way more impactful than when people donate FOOD to a charity.

How might we help those who want to MAKE A DIFFERENCE for a good cause have the GREATEST IMPACT?


Examples that encourage donations through educational and fun interactions. We wanted our design to include elements of both.

One example is“Social Swipe,” an interaction that educates donors of the impact of their donation.

Everyone has to eat, nearly everyone goes to a grocery store on a semi-regular basis. We assumed a physical device in a public space would best encourage a variety of people to interact.

Communicated potential opportunity with Lucy's (a local grocery store) store manager.

Based on our inspiration and assumption, we wanted to design a physical device with educational and fun interactions which could be placed in a public space. We created dozens of iterations as a group and accessed those ideas based on the accessibility, effectiveness, and imaginative. Here are the top four ideas we ended up with:

A digital vending machine where donors could pick out the food they are donating. This wasn’t practical, as it was creating a false sense of choice for the contributor.

A physical bags that would fill with real food as people donated. The drawback of this is that it could go bad, thus looking unappealing and contributing to wastefulness.

Images of food falling onto plates of ready to eat meals, or bags ready to take home. However, the ready to eat food was misleading since that’s not what is actually donated.

Visualizing a donation turning into food and falling down the screen. We thought this idea was flexible and effective.


From ideation, our top idea was having donated food falling down the screen. To test whether or not this idea was an effective path, we created a simple cardboard prototype and tested it with 4 users at IU cafe. We asked them to describe the situation and what they think will happen, then gauged their reaction to the falling food, and asked if they understood at the end.

Conceptual Test Results
Visualizing the food was impactful, but the intention of the design was not entirely clear before donations were inserted. We decided to have something that better explains what is happening initially, and encourages users to try it out by donating.

conceptual test round 2

We did group ideation again and then decided to use our original cardboard prototype but added a scale inside the box. Compared with other ideas, adding a scale is simple to achieve and easy to interpret.

Conceptual TestWe performed this test in a local grocery store, Lucky’s Market, which is actively engaged in charitable drives and expressed interest in our design. We tested 4 users in the same way as before.

Conceptual Test Results
The addition of the scale made the overall intent of the design clearer, yet 2/4 participants were still unmotivated to donate when first seeing it. How might we encourage the initial donation?


Our first inspiration came from the “attract mode” of arcade games because they are designed to capture one’s attention in a public space. We did group sketches to explore the possible screens of capturing attention and encouraging donations. And here are some top ideas:

Use info-graphics to visually representing facts about food insecurity. It aims at providing context to donors.

Use simple graphic to show  the amount of food a dollar or coin would actually donate.

Have three screens to separately depict the problem, solution , and the result.

While ideating on that, we got inspiration from Google’s end of the year video“The Year We Asked How,” and Sarah McLachlan’s charitable campaigns against animal cruelty, and decided to follow a similar pattern of textual facts or statements accompanied by powerful clips like people who are hungry and faces of those tho are being helped.

Secondary Research
We also did secondary research and learned that people will be less likely to be charitable when they are in an analytical mindset. Therefore, we decided to include the facts in the attract mode, but made them lightly de-emphasized.

Google - Year in Search 2017

Sarah McLachlan Animal Cruelty Video

So the things we wanted to include in the Attract Mode are textual faces or statements with powerful clips. The display format settled down was to have three screens separately depicting the food security problem, the design solution, and the result. Then we did several ideation about the possible layouts of the screens.

The new donation box contains two parts: Attract Mode and Feedback Screen

Attract Mode
We encourage donors to donate with a loop of three footages. Each screen has video footage which educates donors and encourages contributions. Donors might approach this loop at any point, so we designed the order to make sense starting from each one.

Individuals' faces creates an emotional connection with those in need.

Compares the amount of food an individual and a charity can buy for $1.

Seeing food distributed instills confidence that donations are impactful.

Feedback Screen
Once the donate is inserted, donors will see a quantity of food equal to the amount they donated piling up on the scale. A thank you message will show once the interaction is completed. When it returns to the attract mode, they see their contribution of meals added to the total contributions.

Feedback Screen
Once the donate is inserted, donors will see a quantity of food equal to the amount they donated piling up on the scale. A thank you message will show once the interaction is completed. When it returns to the attract mode, they see their contribution of meals added to the total contributions.


A potential donor will shop as normal and check out at the register.

After being encouraged to donate by the loop, he decides to try it out.

He is surprised by the amount of food that is donated by just a quarter.

A thank you message lets him leave feeling appreciated.


We tested the final design with a high-fidelity prototype. 4 potential donors were given a one dollar bill and two quarters. They were told they could choose to keep them, use them for the design, or both as they see fit.

The idea that the visualization feedback is fun and motivating. However, 2 of 4 users were initially confused and expressed their preference for the screens to transition slower. It is worth noting that both of the users were not native English speakers. This may point to the fact that the text is essential to understanding. While this may not be an issue for many Americans, we want to find more clear and compelling video footage for those screens in the future.


Continued Design
For the continued design, we would like to conduct a scaled usability test involving a larger number of more diverse participants than we have already included. Using the insights from that research, we will redesign the at tract mode as is fit.

Once redesigned, our first task will be to film the new assets needed for the video screens.We also plan to film the falling food in a larger variety of increments, to accommodate any potential donation. Next , we will research prices for the components to build the product.We will need money acceptors, a display panel, a microchip, code to run the video, and a 3D printed casing to hold it all together. Through iteration, we will find the most effective and economical way to build the product.

Finally, we will build multiple of the final product and donate them to charities. This will not only allow us to contribute in a charitable way, but allow us to evaluate. If it is successful, we can make improvements and consider scaling.

This design was presented at 2018 CHI conference, and be awarded as a runner-up (top 4 of over 80 entries).


Designing in an Ambitious Environment
We narrowing down the topic based on four criteria: if it's a problem or not, our design interests, accessibility, and feasibility. It's fine to change the design path and back trace the design idea, but it needs to be better than the previous. Always trying things out, always asking for help, and avoiding "talking more, doing less." Testing is a significant part of user experience design. As UX designers, we should take advantage of it. We should always come to our users and let our users answer, instead of assuming everything by ourselves.

The Five Successes of A Team: Results, Accountability, Commitment, Conflict, Trust
Although they were intense three months, I am very proud of myself to finish this project with these great team members. We all trust each other and know each other's strengthens and weaknesses. We did several group reflections to self-examine the good, and the "bad" things happened during our meeting. For example, everyone would have the willingness to call peers on actions that might hurt the team. Since our team has international students (including me), we made sure every moving forward was based on complete buy-in from every member. From this project, I learned that coming up with a good design requires all of us to work together!