For the last four years, I've led design for The Advent Project: an online Advent calendar that raises money for a good cause. The premise is simple: you donate $5 to a charity selected by the project's artists — past nonprofits have focused on reproductive care, climate justice, prison abolition, and immigrant youth justice — and get access to 24 days of original bite-sized music, visual art, poetry, games, and more.
Each year brings its own unique design challenges. But there are two design goals I've had that have helped focus my work and make the project more successful.
1. Increasing donations
The Advent Project's main purpose is to raise money for our partner charity. So, how do we make it as easy as possible for potential users to donate?
The first year, we used a Shopify site to handle donations, and learned that the project is sort of a unique e-commerce challenge. It's neither a physical good nor a downloadable item; it's a little like an online event, but one you can start at any point in December. Depending on the kind of donation, it could be tax-deductible. And as we learned in our first year, people love to send the calendar as a gift.
To solve for all of these variables, I designed and developed a custom checkout UX (using React and Stripe Checkout) that makes it easy to buy the calendar, send it as a gift, and even add an additional donation to the charity. The first year we implemented the design, we saw an 83% increase in donations, and in 2022 we saw a 36% increase over 2021, to $4,530 for that year. There are myriad reasons for these increases, including great marketing and an enthusiastic audience — but it's gratifying to see design play a small part, too.
2. Making digital art shine
The stars of The Advent Project are the artists, and one of my favorite parts of the project is helping them make something great for the site.
Early on, I realized that interaction design could unlock creative opportunities for the artists. They quickly embraced this, and each year I collaborate with a handful of artists on delightful bite-sized pieces — from clickable dioramas to interactive puzzles to wintry card games and more. I also designed custom audio players for our various songs and radio plays. (You can see some examples of this in the gallery at top.)
It can be difficult to quantify the value of some forms of design or craftsmanship. But every year, we have participants write in to praise a project that made their day a little brighter. Our interactive artists enthuse on their final products and come back again next year. What I've learned is that, in its own small way, investing in distinctive design can make The Advent Project's community bigger, and widen the impact that our charity partners have in the world.
Each year's project features dozens of artwork contributors — but here are the folks who have helped produce the project itself:
|Claire Dapkiewicz, Jessy Lauren Smith, Steve Tartaglione, Kasey Waas||Project production|
|Tim Jacques||UI design|
|Bets Ochoa||Art & illustration|