CommUnity by EIT InnoEnergy

   CommUnity by EIT InnoEnergy is a network of students and entrepreneurs passionate about renewable energy and sustainability. It’s based on the simple premise that having a strong and active network of like-minded individuals facilitates the realisation and implementation of innovative ideas. It is mostly run by volunteers, who organise local events, write on energy-related topics or bring awareness towards energy policy.

   Out of misfortune, the CommUnity platform was rebuilt during a time CommUnity was targeting an audience older than the usual one (temporary bad decisions). Out of poor leadership, it was built following the view of a single man on CommUnity. Out of poor maintenance, the following updates were hidden in dark places that no user ever finds, until there were no more updates at all. Born ill, the platform was like a patchwork fabric, and any resemblance between what it was and what CommUnity needed it to be was pure luck.

   Yes, I’m being dramatic. I need to have fun writing all of this.

   I decided to apply my recently acquired UX design skills and try to improve things a bit. In a team of five, we undertook usability tests to the platform, both to people who were active CommUnity members, thus familiar to the platform, and people who had no knowledge about the CommUnity and were seeing its website for the first time. After drafting a screenplay, we met with different people individually and undertook our interview via a videocall, while the interviewee shared their screen. Not only CommUnity members are all spread across Europe, but also this was done during the first big strike of COVID-19 in Europe, so it could not have been done otherwise. Yet, this format allowed us to discuss with our interviewees while they were searching for things in the platform or simply thinking out loud.

   We were able to gather a lot of precious insights from these calls, after which we had the hard tasks of dissecting them and turn them into actions. We used them first to categorise the main groups of users we had in our platform and understand their main needs. We then grouped the problems we had noticed and divided them as follows: structure related issues (hierarchy of the website, navigation bar and connections between the website); content related issues (information which was missing, needed to updated or fixed); simple problems (as those whose solution seemed straight forward, perhaps not easy to implement but easy to think of); hivebrite (as those we could not fix on our own as the platform used to build this website, Hivebrite, does not offer that flexibility).

   We decided to tackle the issues related to the structure of the website first and came up with an alternative structure for the tabs in the navigation bar and drop-down menus. I’d like to talk you through the main changes and the reasoning behind them. When a user logged in, there were a lot of introductory pages (such us “About us”, “Why CommUnity”) which were hidden under a tab “Links”, placed in a small font on the left upper corner of the page. No one knew it was there. So we took them out and placed them at plain sight, just like it is for when a user is logged out. There was a lack of information about the different teams, what they did and how to join them, and the existing information was not in obvious places. So we created a “Our Teams” tab in the navigation bar, where the overall structure of CommUnity is explained, under which one can find a new page dedicated to the different local groups that organize events across Europe, and new versions of the CommUnity Post group and the Energy Policy Programme pages (I believe the names are reasonably self-explanatory). The information on why and how to join CommUnity was mixed and spread over two different pages, so this information was updated and combined into a single page. Finally, one had to dig a lot to discover it is possible to publish an article in the platform in collaboration with the CommUnity Post, so we made it clearer by putting the “Submit an Article” in the dropdown menu under “Articles”. When presenting this suggestion to other members we received positive feedback, including some of the interviewees saying they felt the issues they had encountered had been addressed.

   This happened before I did the web development bootcamp with Le Wagon. After the bootcamp, I decided it was time to tackle some of content related issues. Hivebrite has an editor to build your page without ever writing a single line of code of course, but it is extremely limited, and I wasn’t able to do half of the things I wanted to with it. For this reason, I wrote all the HTML and CSS needed for the pages I made in a text editor, and then copied it and tested it in Hivebrite’s sandbox. I created the “Local CommUnities” page from scratch, remade the “CommUnity Post”, “Submit an Article”, “Magazine” and “Energy Policy Programme” pages and gave a hand with the copyright and design from the “Our Teams” page. There were more people working on improving some of the other pages from the website, and there are some which still need attention. Overall, the website suffered a huge renovation and I’m very glad to see the changes in place.

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