Donation Box

CHI Student Design Competition
Runner Up - 2 months
Product Design - An interactive donation box that encourages users by visualizing the greater impact of monetary contributions
Awarded as a runner up!
(top 5% of over 80 submissions)
The theme for the CHI Student Design Competition was "engage". We decided to engage communities through charity. How can we help those who want to make a difference make the biggest impact?
Team and Role
I worked with 3 other designers to deliver a wizard-of-oz prototype, research paper, poster, and pitch video. I facilitated the team by leading the research, analysis, ideation, prototyping, usability testing, and writing the paper.
With an extremely open prompt, it can be hard to find a focus. It is best to pick something and start working, and let it change later based on research if needed.

While the design is important, so are deliverables. Don't wait until the last minute for the deliverables.

Project Background

View Deliverables

We used this poster in the 2 minute pitch round at the conference, which earned us a spot in the finals.
Extended Abstracts Paper
The paper was one of the most essential parts for acceptance into the conference, and was published in 2018.
Funding Proposal
We presented this proposal for The Cheng Wu Innovation Competition and earned $3,500 to continue our design.

CHI Student Design Challenge

The prompt was to use human-centered design approaches to develop a new way to support, empower, or change the behaviour of a group around a shared area of interest. The scope  was very broad, and could take place within any domain. We were encouraged to consider the following criteria:
  • Novel use technology to address a real population
  • Systematic and sufficient research, analysis, synthesis, design and evaluation
  • Genuine stakeholders involved in the process
  • Well-crafted and effectively presented intervention


Single Parent Interviews

We initially decided to focus on engaging the community of single parents.

After interviewing many single parents, we used affinity diagramming to find the most common struggles. We found that time and money were the biggest issues, especially regarding shopping and cooking.

Grocery and Charity Interviews

Our direction shifted once we did further research.  Because of our insights, we moved our focus towards helping charities and food banks that were already doing great work for those in need.

After analyzing data from 4 food banks, 3 grocery stores, and secondary research into food banks and what encourages charitable behaviors, we came away with some key insights.


Unfulfilled Needs
Food insecurity is a problem whose needs are unmet by current charity programs. More than 1 in 7 Americans suffer from food insecurity and currently rely on donated food.
Donors feel better about donating when they can see exactly who it's for, and they are contributing tangible (non monetary) items to charities.
Money Instead of Food
Monetary contributions help food banks feed between 4 and 20 people per dollar. This is much more than the 1 to 2 meals an individual can contribute per dollar spent on food.
  • Charities have greater purchasing power
  • Food donations take time and resources to sort
  • Cash donations allow buying food that is needed
  • Often charities just need to pay to pick up free food

How might we help those who want to make a difference for a good cause have the greatest impact?



Our main goal was to visualize monetary donations as food. Other criteria were having a fun interaction, encouraging cash contributions, and passively educating users that monetary donations are more effective than food donations.
Group Sketching
Through group sketching, we came up with dozens of potential solutions.
We assessed our top 4 ideas based on their feasibility, effectiveness, and how imaginative they were.

Final Concepts


We created a simple cardboard prototype to test whether or not the idea of food falling onto a scale was successful.



We told participants to role play checking out at the grocery store and gave them a dollar and a quarter as change. We asked them how they expect to interact with this design, how it would respond, and encouraged them to try it out.

Test 1

From our first test with 4 participants, we learned that visualizing the falling food was impactful, but the intention of the design was not entirely clear before donations were inserted.

After some iteration, we decided adding a scale could make it more clear what would happen, and make the impact stronger.

Test 2

We retested at a grocery store with another 4 participants, using the same process as before. This time included a scale measuring the food by meals, and a more clear title at the top.

While the addition of the scale made the overall intent of the design clearer, we would need something additional to encourage users to try the interaction.

Iteration - Attract Mode

Based on our tests, users still needed encouragement to first try the design. We called these screens that show when not in use the "attract mode." We again iterated and evaluated many options.


Filming Food

Now that we had our design concept, we had to build the prototype. We started by filming the falling food which would be displayed on my monitor.

We filmed in .25c increments so it could be edited later to accommodate consecutive donations.


Feedback Screens

When a person donates, they see a quantity of food equal to the amount they donated piling up on the scale. This will show a different type of food falling each time, to represent the variety of foods charities provide.

Upon completion, they get a thank you message. When it returns to the attract mode, they see their contribution of meals added to the total contributions.

Attract Mode Screens

A loop of the first 3 forms the “attract mode.” Each screen has video footage which educates donors and encourages contributions. The statistics that accompany each video are placed at the bottom, to emphasize the more emotional video footage. Donors might approach this loop at any point, so we designed the order to make sense starting from each one. When a donation is inserted, the screen immediately switches to the visualization of their donation’s impact.
A video of people in need gives potential donors an emotional connection to the issue. The statistic “1 in 8 Americans suffers from food insecurity ” quantifies why their donation is needed. Each time this screen plays will show a different clip, with a different person in need.
Value Proposition
This screen portrays the greater impact of cash donations compared to food donations. A side by side compares one dollar of food bought by an average American, and one dollar of food bought by charities. The statistic “Through MHC $1 = 8.3 meals” quantifies the impact.
Footage of people preparing donated food instills confidence that donors’ money will be well spent. It is accompanied by the statistic “MHC helps an average of 3000 people every week” to give perspective to the work already done.


Finally, we did one last evaluation with another 4 participants to inform what future work we have ahead. We followed the same testing procedure as before, this time with a high-fi prototype. From this we again confirmed the impact of the falling food, however results on the effectiveness of the attract mode screens were mixed.


We spent the final week creating the deliverables as we finished final touches on the design. The CHI submission called for a paper, video, and poster.

We set up a mini-studio in my house to create assets for all of our deliverables. We got the rest of the footage with our prototype in a local grocery store.
View Deliverables at Top


Once implemented, our design will have a positive outcome for all stakeholders involved. Our goal is for a multitude of charities to adopt our design and implement them in grocery stores across the country. With this, we will empower all people to make small donations, with big impact.
Donors can maximize the effect of their contributions.
Charities are able to encourage more donations for their cause.
Grocery Stores
Facilitate community engagement in their stores, leaving a positive view of their business.