Building a Community of Change Makers

An online innovation contest that teaches human-centered design skills to young people

A group of youth using sticky notes to collaboratively brainstorm ideas
Photo by UNICEF: A group of youth engaging in a brainstorming session
Team Design, Development, and Marketing Teams, Tandemic
Role UX Researcher, Web Developer


Empower young people across Asia-Pacific with tools to improve the lives of children.
The Asia-Pacific Youth Innovation Challenge, an online platform and contest for young people aged 24 and under to share their innovative ideas, learn human-centered design, present to government leaders, and implement their ideas.

The Youth Innovation Challenge enabled 650+ participants from 17 countries to submit their solutions addressing children’s issues across Asia-Pacific to UNICEF and Tandemic. Six finalists presented to more than 300 senior policymakers from 29 countries during an international conference on children’s rights. Three winners were chosen to receive grants and further coaching to implement their ideas.

The Challenge

UNICEF believes that young people have the creativity and potential to develop innovative solutions to critical challenges facing the next generation. With Tandemic as their implementing partner, they explored ways to empower young people as change makers that inspire and work alongside government leaders to jointly promote children’s rights.

The Approach & The Results

Understanding the Users

Focusing on our users and their needs, we created user personas based on our user demographics—young people aged 24 and under from 17 Asia-Pacific countries. Through this process, we identified a key need for our online platform to be usable and universal for those with limited internet access availability and ­­computer skills.

To address the issues above, we provided users with two submission methods:

(1) If users had limited access to the internet or lacked a stable internet connection, they could submit their ideas in a Word or PDF document.

(2) If users had difficulties in using MS Word or creating PDF files, they could fill out the online submission form instead.

Building and Delivering Fast

Our team adopted the Agile methodology, and we engaged in early and continuous delivery of the website to ensure its quality as well as client and user satisfaction. To that end, I led the team to split the website development project into phases with milestones, and had multiple review and user testing sessions with internal colleagues, the client, and external participants.

We first developed the information architecture of the website. Our main challenge was to create an information structure that supports a large volume of content (each country had its own challenge themes and questions) and users’ information-seeking behavior, needs, and tasks in the context of an online challenge.

Example: “The Challenges” Page
We chose to organize and present the information on a webpage titled “The Challenges,” where users select their countries and view the challenges via a drop-down menu (see Figure 1 below).

We also sectioned the challenge themes using different background colors (see Figure 2 below).

Header of "The Challenges" page with a country drop-down menu on the left
Figure 1: Header of “The Challenges” Page
Three challenge themes on a page that are separated by background color
Figure 2: Challenge Themes

We subsequently created paper mockups of the website using sticky notes. Using paper mockups during the rapid prototyping process enabled us to integrate our participants’ and clients’ feedback into our design on the fly and show them the revised version during the same review sessions. As we were able to confirm whether our proposed revisions accurately reflected their feedback, we successfully saved valuable time and cost from needing to implement additional revisions and review sessions.

Example: Landing Page

Landing page with a large header image and an explanation of the Innovation Challenge
Figure 3: Landing Page
Taking into account findings from the user testing sessions and industry best practices, we designed and developed a landing page that: (1) has effective and descriptive headlines and a big call-to-action button positioned above the fold, (2) lists incentives for young people to participate in the Innovation Challenge, (3) gives an overview of the Innovation Challenge’s vision and impact, and (4) provides an interactive timeline to help users understand and visualize the phases of the Innovation Challenge (see Figure 3).

User Testing

We chose to conduct cognitive walkthroughs to examine our website’s usability. Specifically, we wanted to see if users were able to independently and intuitively complete the following tasks: (1) understand their home countries’ challenges –> (2) download the Challenge Handbook to learn to apply human-centered design to these issues –> (3) submit their ideas to the website.

Here are two examples of usability problems that we uncovered and solved:

Problem 1: Many of the test participants were unaware of the Challenge Handbook and started brainstorming and submitting their ideas before learning more about human-centered design.

Solution 1: We placed the “Download Challenge Handbook” button in the header of “The Challenges” page so that participants are aware of this valuable resource as they began the process of understanding the challenge questions at hand (see Figure 4 below).

Problem 2: The drop-down menu listing the participating countries on “The Challenges” page displayed the formal names of the countries, e.g. “Cambodia” was listed as “Kingdom of Cambodia.” Many of the test participants took extra time in locating their home country.

Solution 2: We replaced these formal names with the conventional names found in drop-down menus on most websites (see Figure 4 below).

Header of "The Challenges" page with a drop-down menu for countries with their conventional names.
Figure 4: Header of “The Challenges” Page


The Greatest Challenge

Due to the fixed launch date and large scope of the project, our team faced many coordination and time challenges, especially in regards to developing the website. Our team’s main web developer was from another country, and the time zone differences and language barriers made it difficult for us to accurately communicate our website design and expectations. In addition, we had to meet aggressive deadlines.

My initial role in the company was to be a content strategist and interaction designer. However, given my background in computer science and experience in web development, I proactively joined the front-end website development efforts so that we could produce quality deliverables by the promised deadlines.

We used a Google spreadsheet to delegate and track tasks, and I developed a feature prioritization matrix to help with prioritizing the tasks. In the end, with the aid of additional team members, we successfully launched the website on time.

Two Lessons for the Future

(1) Collect and synthesize data from user interviews to create more accurate user personas. Given our limited time and resources, we developed the personas for users from other Asia-Pacific countries primarily based on internet research and client information. In the future, I would like to interview potential website users to improve the accuracy of our user personas.

(2) Conduct remote usability testing. For our website, I conducted all of our usability studies in the lab. However, doing in-person testing meant that our participants were Malaysians. Since this website was also heavily used by people from other countries, in future work, I would recruit testers from these countries to participate in the usability studies during each product phase.