CaringBridge

What can others learn from the successes and failures of how you designed a digital experience to meet an important need?: 

As we always do, let us start with our users:

"I used CaringBridge to keep my family and friends in touch with my husband’s progress during his hospital stay. It was cathartic for me. It is a wonderful site."
– Ellen

"Our doctor recommended CaringBridge, and our kids set it up. We would read the guestbook to my husband when he was in the coma, and he heard everything we were talking about. It was beautiful."
– Anonymous

"I think what your organization does is marvelous. It makes it so much easier on family to be able to communicate within a platform that friends and family can so easily access. I know your site has made challenging and difficult times that much easier."
– Margaret

CaringBridge is a nonprofit social network that keeps families and loved ones connected during any type of health event. The CaringBridge mission is to amplify the love, hope and compassion in the world, making each health journey easier.

Our commitment to User Experience stems directly from our mission: We constantly design for care. What does this mean? It means we use sophisticated design techniques - like sporting comforting color schemes, employing minimalist design strategies, building smooth navigation patterns – all to create an organic and highly useable product for those in times of need.

This constant design for care principle is then woven into our unique product features – like our newly implemented Support Planner which allows families and friends to coordinate care and organize helpful tasks, like delivering meals, babysitting and driving for doctor appointments.

The impact of these efforts is our profit. We are proud to say that last year alone, over 46 million people visited CaringBridge.org – that’s a lot of love. Each of those visits helped give care to someone in need – and those moments, truly, help create a better and more compassionate world.

Often, we hear that nonprofits need more "for-profit thinking" – in fact, it’s the other way around. For-profits need more non-profit thinking. Without the narrow and immediate goal of financial return, our users and their experience – are forefront in our minds. Armed with our authentic user-centric focus, we prioritize on what will enhance their experience, not our bottom line. When we do this, all the business needs fall into place.

Off the top of your head, how many nonprofit, social media organizations can you think of? When thinking of challenges – and opportunity – our mission-driven, nonprofit status is central in our design. More specially, as a nonprofit, we are a protected, trusted and secure space for our users going through a health journey – when they interact with our software, they aren't bombarded with advertisements; their data is not mined; they aren’t being used for alternative motives. This commitment – designing for a pure and organic experience – fosters an environment where our users feel comfortable sharing some of their most personal moments…these inspiring insights then fuel our mission and spread care across the world.

What are the key ways the design of the solution’s user experience influences its success?: 

To achieve the business objective of increasing engagement and exceeding consumer expectations, we rebuilt our sites with sleek responsive software, alongside new functionality. This new functionality centered on the concept of allowing our users to have meaningful connections – in point, if you want to chat, go somewhere else, if you want to have a conversation, come to CaringBridge.

Because of this new and interactive software, a brave, courageous and inspiring CaringBridge author inspired millions. Deborah, an Ob/Gyn and mom of two, held a dance party with her medical team in the operating room of Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco before her double mastectomy. Her inspiring 6-minute-long video shows Cohan busting some serious moves as she wiggles and twerks to Beyoncé’s hit "Get Me Bodied."

The result? Millions around the world danced with her and her page was featured in Huffington Post, The Today Show, CNN – and yes, Beyoncé even gave her a shout out on Facebook!

This is just one of hundreds of thousands of moments where our user experience cause real world impact.

What user research did you use or perform in designing the solution, and what were the most interesting effects of that research in the solution’s design?: 

Testing and research is at the forefront of every action we take at CaringBridge, for to understand the user, one must know, converse and understand their motivations, needs, and wants. Testing and research, as it should be, is not a one-trick pony, or an event, but rather, a river of constant knowledge that flows through an organization. During the recent launch of our responsive software, we conducted: Extensive focus group testing, in person eye tracking; Usability audits; Competitive audits; A/B Testing; and company-wide customer immersion sessions.

Specifically, during a customer immersion session, a family indicated that they were grateful for their community support during their health journey, but it was overwhelming to facilitate all the wonderful food that was being dropped off! We probed further, and the seed for our new Planner software was planted. Today, because of that singular conversation with our users, we designed, tested, and introduced the software which filled their need. The planner is now an online calendar that helps family and friends coordinate care and organize helpful tasks. These tasks include: Being a meal planner; Providing childcare during appointment times; Caring for pets; Updating the patient’s website; Providing transportation; Doing household chores; Caregiver support.

Once again, we spoke with our users, heard their needs and wants, built and tested fantastic software, all to inspire real-world action to amplify hope, love and care to millions.

How might your solution serve as the inspiration or starting point for future solutions to other individual, societal, or world needs?: 

Currently, CaringBridge offers its services to those going through a health event – for example, Cancer, Tramatic Brain Injury, Premature Birth and surgeries. However, our users have said they they could – and would – use CaringBridge in other parts of their life when they need to use technology to reach out to friends and family.

Think of a 15 year old who is struggling with coming out? Think of a twenty something struggling with addiction? Think of a family going through an international adoption? Think of a military family with a loved one serving abroad? These people need – and want – care. CaringBridge is uniquely positioned to serve as a multi-generational service that people can use when they need care.

Moreover, because our software is not aggregated into a singular home or feed (i.e. Twitter, Facebook), we are positioned to have thousands of brand experience at once. In doing so we will reach our vision – to a network – a Caring Social Network.

Please share any quantitative, qualitative, and/or anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of the design of your solution’s user experience in solving a pressing need.: 

From a sheer traffic standpoint, the numbers of solving users needs are staggering:

  • 43 million people visited CaringBridge.org in 2013.
  • More than 76,000 personal sites were created in 2013.
  • As many as 500,000 people connect through CaringBridge each day.
  • Nearly 100,000 families and individuals made a charitable gift to CaringBridge in 2013.

Moreover, the growth of the organization speaks to our commitment to our users:

  • Founded in 1997 with one employee, founder and CEO, Sona Mehring.
  • Headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota, CaringBridge today has 60 employees, a governing board of 15 members, and more than 2,200 volunteers.
  • Nearly 95 percent of all funding comes from individuals and families who use CaringBridge. Donations can be made at www.caringbridge.org/ways-to-give.
  • In 1997, founder Sona Mehring’s close friend had a premature baby. The family asked Sona to let everyone know what was happening. Instead of making numerous phone calls, she created a website. The night baby Brighid was born, the first CaringBridge site was started.
  • CaringBridge instantly became a connection point that allowed family members to communicate information to a wide circle of people. They posted daily journal entries and the guestbook enabled visitors to send the family messages of love and encouragement.
  • It was obvious that CaringBridge could help any family going through a health event by letting everyone know what was happening and by bringing a supportive community together.

Just as we always do, we’ll end with our users and what they say about our service:

"I am writing to thank CaringBridge for being my lifeline when my son was in the hospital with a spinal cord injury in 2006 and for a year after. My CaringBridge site received over 60,000 hits that year and every one of them was like a hug."
-Sue

"Although my wife lost her battle to cancer last year, it’s been a comfort to see how your organization continues to support families like mine. CaringBridge was a blessing to us during the most difficult time in my life."
-Jim