Catapult Chicago, a coworking community, reached out to General Assembly and asked us to do a thirteen days design practice for future branding strategy.
The goal is to help Catapult differentiate itself among the plethora of coworking spaces and refresh their strategic vision to attract a steady source of potential candidates.
There were no expected final deliverables at the beginning. Our team of three started from research synthesis and discussed with Catapult team and had a mutual decision of final deliverables.
What does Catapult do?
Catapult is a non-profit, peer-selected coworking space that helps tech startups scale. Other than offering space and amenities, Catapult has an active community formed by startup founders and sponsors who share experiences and help each other navigate the highs and lows of startup life. Startups are vetted and voted in by the founders who are currently residing in Catapult. Surrounded by companies that are in the similar stage, startup stays for six months to two years and "growing out" of Catapult. The Catapult community is the most solid value proposition they offer to startup founders.
My team of three students worked collaboratively to synthesize insights from our research into actionable design strategies and create wireframes and Information Architecture prototypes. I took the lead in conducting ethnographic research, and created website wireframes. I also designed the visual communication in our final presentation and the guide book.
- A guide book complied research results and strategy guidelines
- Information Architecture prototype
- Website wireframes
The influx of coworking spaces
Within the Chicago tech startup boom in recent years, the number of coworking spaces has grown tremendously. There were only 7 coworking spaces in Chicago when Catapult launched in 2012. Today, there are over 100 coworking spaces support almost 5000 tech startups in Chicago area.
Community is an overused buzzword
Startups begin their journey of success at the ideation stage and continue after they established. The table above maps Catapult’s mission and value proposition against other coworking spaces to reveal where Catapult fits into Chicago’s coworking landscape.
Since there are so many coworking spaces trying to cater to the same customers in the same business phase, Catapult has tried to differentiate itself from the competition. One way they have attempted to do is by presenting the Catapult community as a value add.
However, “community” has become something of a buzzword among coworking spaces, and further, it has not been clearly defined. While most coworking spaces state they have a “community,” what they mean is that they have an informal social environment.
Limit resource, Limit time
As a 501(c)6 non-profit organization, Catapult does not have a substantial capital support compare to other competitors. They don't have the human resource and fund to execute a drastic design change. Our UX team have to work with the constraints and utilize the limited resource to maximize the outcome.
Understand the Value of coworking
We interviewed total eight users to learn what does startup founders value regarding the coworking space. There were three founders that not associated with Catapult, three founders who currently residing in Catapult and two founders from alumni companies. We discover that founders do not care about the fancy amenities that most coworking spaces offer. Instead, they are looking for an environment that allows them to focus on building their own business.
There are also some strengths that startup founder appreciated at Catapult and other coworking spaces. The following quotes demonstrates the factors that founders value:
Strengths of Catapult
Private dedicated offices
“We didn't like WeWork because all the offices next to each other had windows so that you could see into the adjacent room.”
Relevant, actionable programming
“The programming aspect is excellent at Catapult. There were always several events a month that we found valuable.”
“Founder Forums are pretty phenomenal. I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it is.”
“I know I can walk down the hall, knock on somebody's door and they’ll spend 5, 15, 30 minutes to work with me through the problem.”
Residents in a variety of verticals, but same business phases
“I enjoy that I can talk to a spectrum of differently experienced founders.”
“It’s helpful to have people around you who are in the same stage as you are, to draw insight from them.”
Strengths of other coworking spaces
“We were really happy that they had four beers on tap available at any time.”
Quantity and diversity of residents
“ 1871 has a variety of companies that are at different stages, which is good for beginners to break in the Chicago tech community.”
Wide range programming
“1871 gives you access to more investors.”
“1871 had the ability to bring in huge speakers.”
Networking needs to change over time
Our research revealed that a startup’s networking needs change as they grow.
Founders like to be immersed in a social environment with a broad reach of different business partners. A good example of a coworking space that provides this is 1871. This type of networking allows founders to break into Chicago’s tech community and refine their ideas.
Founders and their employees prefer to be in a heads-down work environment that also enables them to confer with other founders and ask questions about challenges they’re facing. This is the niche market that Catapult caters to.
Founders are more focused on operating their businesses and are less interested in social networking occasions. They seek a working environment that allows them to concentrate without distractions. The offices that are solely coworking spaces, such as Make and WeWork, fall into this category.
Understand the process of finding office space
We analyzed the user journey by using the “5Es” framework.
The 5Es framework is a simple way to tease apart the discrete parts of an experience. It can be applied to any experience and it helps to reveal complexity and detail that might otherwise go unnoticed.
People can break down their experiences in terms of:
Entice: How did you get interested?
Enter: How did you get there?
Engage: What did you do during the process?
Exit: How did you finish it?
Extend: How did you maintain the relationship after the process ended?
By comparing the user journeys of Catapult users and non-users, we noticed both groups are doing lots of work in the enticement phase to find the appropriate work spaces. In Catapult’s current application process, the unique screening and pitching experience are what differentiates them from other competitors.
Physical criteria prioritized when people are looking for office space
After recognizing the need for a dedicated office, both users and non-users typically identify their primary requirements for offices space: price, dimensions, amenities, etc. Even though community and programming are essential to startup founders, we’ve found that people prioritize them in the early research process.
Founders find the process of thinking about their criteria and finding office space disruptive to their daily work
Founders find the research process disruptive to day-to-day business of operating their startups. In order to save time, founders tend only to use the top listings of Google searches or ask their network for recommendations. Some of the more well-known franchised coworking spaces—such as WeWork—use their resources to take advantage at this phase by utilizing tools such as Google Ads.
Founders trust their networks to recommend space that meets their criteria
Interviews with residents, non-residents, and alumni revealed that people trust the recommendations from their networks. A referral is a substantial piece of information for founders in the search process. The social validation of the referral aides founders in the process of evaluating spaces to meet their specific needs and wants.
The value of the Catapult experience becomes clear to potential residents too late in the decision-making process
Founders who experienced Catapult’s screening process reported positive feedback about it. It suggested a sense of community, but people didn’t truly know what the value was. After founders and their employees had moved in, they started to build relationships with other residents within Catapult. It was at this point that they realized what community could actually provide.
testing the existing website
To understand how effective Catapult’s website is in its current state, we sat with 4 test subjects and asked them to look for basic information (eg: price, location, type of business, etc.) on Catapult’s website and then do the same with 2 of Catapult’s 4 main competitors: 1871, WeWork, Make, or Assemble.
We discovered the following problems:
Critical information is hard to find
We discovered that users were having a difficult time finding the information they needed on the current website, but most had a very easy time finding information on the competitor’s’ websites.
The website content is confusing
Users also didn’t understand they were viewing a coworking space’s website due to the wording of content and navigation.
The pattern of how people navigate website
Users begin their search by identifying their core needs: office size, location, and price. If users can’t find the information they’re looking for, they are likely to get frustrated and leave the site.
Things like community and programming are helpful selling points for a space that already meets their basic needs, but are not the primary criteria that convince a customer to buy.
Blog entries and press articles may be helpful, but only to someone who is already seriously considering the space and has the time to explore.
To summarize, to tell a compelling story of Catapult experience to the potential users, we need to address on the following insights:
We believe that the top priorities of design should be to decrease the workload required from founders in searching for qualified space. We can do this by leveraging these three design principles:
Make it easy
Make it easy for founders to evaluate the space.
Leverage the trust
Leverage the trust of the founders’ network to maximize the potential of referrals and word of mouth.
Demonstrate the value
Demonstrate the value of community early in the search process.
Up to now, founders have only gotten the full sense of the Catapult community when they reach the extend phase. Going forward, solutions should help founders sense the value of Catapult’s community earlier in the search process.
Founders we spoke with consistently reported that their conversation with Catapult began with them reaching out. We expect that by proactively reaching out to founders and creating programming for non-residents, Catapult can expand their talent pool.
The Master Plan
These three strategies address the interaction between founders and Catapult:
Improving the website to make it easier for founders to connect with the Catapult family.
Open house events
Hosting open houses and other events provide an opportunity for founders who are not members to experience Catapult’s community.
Asking Catapult residents for a list of potential candidates regularly from their network to initiate interactions with them.
Current site map
This is a view of how Catapult’s website is currently organized. The most valuable information is located further down on web pages, and the majority of the critical content is on the homepage.
Open Card Sorting
We used open card sorting to determine how information should be presented on Catapult’s website. Our open card sorting involved giving 7 test subjects cards with relevant words and phrases (in this case, the content sections from Catapult’s website) and had them organize the cards into groups and explain to us the choices they had made.
People arranged information according to priorities
One pattern that emerged from this was that subjects expect to find information arranged according to priorities: basic criteria, secondary criteria, and supplement criteria.
People grouped information based on types
We also found people consistently organized information having to do with: people, programming, and messaging.
Revised Site map
A better solution would be to map content to the expectations and needs of Catapult’s desired audience. The options in the global navigation header should base on priority. With the information presented in this way, users can easily find answers to their basic requirements. Once they can decide whether or not Catapult is a fit for them, they can then move on to explore secondary and tertiary needs in greater depth.
We tested the navigation with three users. All users were able to find the information promptly.
We redesigned the website layouts to give Catapult staffs a style guide reference for future website revisions. Due to Catapult’s budget, they do not have a designated web design developer to customized the website. The current website is hosted on Square Space and managed by the marketing director. To work with the constraints, we developed the design based on the current Square Space template and made sure it is feasible for Catapult staff to execute the design.
Navigation Base on on priority
Homepage only provides Enticement
Instead of placing the majority of contents on the homepage, the homepage should only provide enough critical information that attracts users click and being directed to the dedicated page. This principle could shorten the length of the homepage and allow users to get the overall picture of the site more efficiently.
Icons aid scan-ability
Current amenity page
Revised amenity page
Diagraming the Catapult experience
Diagramming Catapult’s unique experience allows the contents to stand out and be understood more easily.
Current website layout
Revised website layout
Multiple calls to action
Adding buttons and questions in different place creates multiple opportunities for founders to provide contacts.
show “Catapult experience” by title, images & quotes
Titles will improve scan-ability, images will convey imagery and a sense of environment and pictures are worth a thousand words and quotes can be a powerful tool to support the website content.
In the final client meeting, we host a workshop to brainstorming the other two solutions: Open house and founder’s list. We provided four fresh ideas for the two solutions and ran a Round Robin activity with one of our team member and three other Catapult staffs: each person review an idea and provide critics, and pass the idea and critics to next person to brainstorm the solutions for the critics.
Although the idea we provided were not fully thought out, the outcome of the workshop was surprisingly good. Some of the ideas were actually brought to the table before we involved in this project. With the Round Robin process, the Catapult team was able to break down the details and refine the idea into actionable solutions.
The guide book
Other than the website redesign and workshop, our team compiled the research and strategy results into a book and delivered to Catapult as a master guidelines. The book provided more detail information, including a style guide and SEO optimization for Catapult’s future use.
Click on the image below to play with the interactive prototype.
Note: This prototype was built to test the Information Architecture only. The drop down menus are anchor links that direct to each section of a page. Due to the constraints in InVision, we could not create anchor link to a section on a different page as Square Space does. Our team had explained the website operation and the client team fully understood the functionality.
The Catapult team was satisfied with the deliverables. They said they were able to fresh their mind to look at the problem in a different perspective and know how to implement the action plans.
However, in the process, there were two things I wish I could do better:
Always keep end-users in mind
While working with clients, it was easy to consider everything in client’s perspective. In the early research process, we were developing design principles that based on Catapult’s need but not users’. We were fortunate to find out and revised the principles later in the process. This is a key element that I want to remind myself in every future project.
Balance user research and testing
The nature of this project is substantial research based. We spent lots of time doing user interviews and synthesize the information we received from founders. Often we got the repeated result from founders and was stuck in the process. Later, when we started testing existing website, we found out substantial problems and were able to address them. However, we only fully tested the information architecture and have only one testing done for wireframes. I would like to do more user testing for the new wireframe design and validate our revision.