Theatre Bytes

Kelly Strayhorn Theater
4 Months
SMS, Responsive Web

The Challenge

It is September 2020...

America is about 6 months deep into a locked-down and shut-in state of COVID-19. Streets are empty, schools are closed, and small businesses and organizations are suffering. While a few have adjusted and have found ways to operate virtually, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater (KST) has found it challenging to deliver performing arts to their audience and even worse, to raise money for operations and staff. Without revenue, how can this Pittsburgh-local non-profit continue to create and deliver innovative performances to their audience? How can they continue to be a space for new and upcoming, local artists to showcase their work?

My Role(s)

UX Researcher

I set out to understand the experiences of users when donating to the performing arts sector. I conducted contextual interviews, analyzed and synthesized user data through affinity maps, created user journey maps, conducted speed dating sessions with storyboards, usability tests, and much more.

UX Writer

I wrote, edited according to user and team feedback, and finalized the written content of our experience prototypes and project presentations.

Executive Summary


Create a digital solution that enables the Kelly Strayhorn Theater to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic by using evidence from user research to reframe the way theater events are consumed and experienced.


Coins for KST streamlines the donation process in the most transparent way possible. Theatre Bytes turns spare change into donations without the need for counting or budgeting your finances.

The Users

Generative + Evaluative Research

We began our project with background research about the Kelly Strayhorn Theater (KST) in Pittsburgh, PA, as well as the area of performing arts. We received data from KST regarding sources of funding, attendee retention rates, and first-hand executive experience from KST Executive Director, Joseph Hall (2020).

Our research methods included:

  • Contextual Interviews

  • Affinity diagramming

  • Storyboarding

  • Speed Dating
  • Stakeholder diagramming

  • Journey mapping

  • Usability testing

  • Experience Prototyping

Questions from Research

The results from our preliminary research identified opportunity areas. Joseph Hall emphasized KST’s need for utilizing technology and their physical theater space for creative ways to engage their audience in this increasingly virtual world. From the data sources we analyzed, it was also clear KST could benefit from diverse pools of funding, as a majority of their funds were from one-time donations and city-wide grants.

The data gave us an idea of the current state of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. To move forward in our research pursuits, we identified a few questions as research goals intended to guide our process:

  • ‍How are attendees hearing about KST performances?
  • Where are people coming from when visiting KST?
  • What genres or performance mediums are people interested in seeing more of?
  • What are attendees saying about KST after seeing a performance?
  • How do first-time attendees feel after an event vs. returners?

Takeaways from Research

We gathered a few key takeaways from our background research that lead us to our first round of user-interviews! I conducted Usability-Tests using the 3LD website, to learn about viewers’ experiences surrounding donations towards performing arts organizations.

We chose to test the 3-Legged Dog website because like KST, it was also a performing arts company. 3LD stood out to us because they used technology to create immersive, digital theater experiences for their audience. I conducted 1 of the 4 usability test sessions using the Think-Aloud method.

Think-Aloud Insights

       01. Unclear Donation Information

Users had particular issues with finding the donation link, as well as understanding where their money was going towards or where 3LD needed extra funding. Some users wanted to donate to specific productions or artists, but were unable to do so.

Proposed Solution: We propose presenting the Donation link prominently as a tab or button that can be accessed from anywhere on the website and include options to donate on social media as well. In addition, we also propose tailoring messages to potential donors’ specific concerns. Be clear about what the company is asking for and where/how the money is going to be used. Also provide a clear path for people to donate directly to artists.

       02. Information Overload

When specifically looking for information regarding productions, users struggled with an abundance of visual stimulation on the production page. Reels moved too quickly, and there was no accompanying text or description to inform users. Users were unfamiliar with the technology that 3LD uses, so images were not always helpful.

Proposed Solution: Decrease the amount of moving images throughout the 3LD website and offer more text descriptions or information for each performance. Use moving images, videos, or gifs when highlighting a particular production a user wants to learn more about. Potentially provide more education surrounding the media and technology that 3LD uses in their theater spaces.

       03. Engagement Challenges

Users did not find what they expected when attempting to engage with 3LD outside of productions and events. The 3LD company website either offered limited engagement opportunities or an unclear presentation of contact information.

Proposed Solution: Our solution should include aspects of engagement a user would expect to see in a clear format. Rather than adding essential content below-the-fold, if we choose to redesign a contact page for KST, we should include all the necessary information in the visible space of the viewer. We should also include all types and opportunities for engagement in this space.

Refined Research Question

How might we better understand people's experiences donating to performing arts and the factors around making donations in a theater context?

UX Research

In our research, we conducted 8 generative and evaluative methods in order to understand people’s attitudes and perceptions of donations. We conducted over 12 interviews to dive deep into what barriers people face and what potential solutions feel the most compelling.


We hypothesized that attending unconventional theater experiences of KST would increase funding by creating experiences that reach people and therefore provide increased value and relevance to their lives. This, we believe, would translate to attendees being more willing to donate to KST.

Interview Goals

Our objective for user interviews was to gain a better understanding of people’s experiences donating within a theater/performing arts context. I was interested in learning about the motivational factors behind making donations, how much people understood the details of where their money was going, and their perceptions about recurring donations.

Who Did I Interview?

I interviewed participants who represented various backgrounds, cultures, ages, genders, and experiences. These individuals had experiences donating. I was looking for people who had previously donated once, or multiple times, to performing arts organizations and/or non-profits.

How did I Interview?

I conducted contextual inquiries with directed storytelling and artifact analysis, think-aloud sessions, semi-structured interviews, and speed dating sessions with participants. For the contextual inquiry, I attempted to simulate a donation context by asking participants to prepare one or more artifact(s) from a donation they have made, or a performing arts event they attended.

Our findings led us to define the theme of our project and eventual solution: Donations as Engagement.

Donors to performing arts wished they had greater capacity to monetarily support such organizations. They also expressed appreciation for more streamlined processes where convenience is prioritized.

From our interview data, we found common themes relating to fiscal considerations made before donations take place, ease and comfort of potential donors, motivating factors of making donations, and personal engagement with companies. Through this process, we were able to more fully understand people’s experiences donating to performing arts.

Our discovered themes and affinity diagramming led us to insights that revealed how people think about the donation-making process: people perceive donations as engagement. A main motivating factor for donating to a performing arts organization is the personal connection with the creative community or the organization. 

Yet, beyond appreciating the performing arts, financial ability is critical for determining whether people can follow through with a donation, as well as how much they can donate. When going through the donation process, individuals prioritize ease, convenience, and transparency. If these needs are met, people generally trust the organization to handle their donations appropriately.

Key Takeaways

There are a few motivating factors when it comes to making donations:

  • Personal financial state must be considered first before making any donations.
  • Donation process should be simple, integrated, and easy to follow.
  • Emotional connections to the community is an important motivating factor for donation-making.
  • Trust & transparency are important in the donation process.
  • Having a personal and known direct impact of donation was more important than material benefits.


We used the Crazy 8s method for rapid ideation and then created storyboards portraying the problems our ideas targeted. After several rounds of voting, justification discussions, and speed dating sessions with users, we created an early prototype of “Coins for KST”.


Coins for KST

Coins for KST is a donation service that turns spare change into donations for the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

Low-Fidelity Prototype

For our first prototype iteration, we tested whether transparency around donation increases trust and personal investment. We wanted to create an accessible and transparent digital platform tailored to the local community. We hoped this would serve as an avenue to building more engaged communities where people feel invested in the work and progress of local artists.

User Feedback and Validation

       01. Adding it up

Insight: People resonated with the idea of small donations making a larger impact.

Validation: All participants except for one, enrolled in the Theatre Bytes Round Up Program. Participants enjoyed being able to contribute “micropayments” but see the larger impact. This option felt like less of a financial burden and an easier way to make donations to support the theatre.

       02. Mobile First

Insight: Participants really engaged with text message updates for their donations.

Validation: The text message updates seemed to be a part of the prototype that really engaged participants. Specifically, updates made participants feel a part of the theatre community, and also created transparency/trust for where their money was going.

       03. Communication is key

Insight: Because the round-up program is a newer donation concept, we should focus on better communication on the idea / details.

Validation: While people liked the donation program concept as a whole, they also considered the idea itself rather new in the space of donations. Because of a lack of previous experience, participants felt like there could be clearer messaging for the overall program, as well as more information about the settings (how to un-enroll, how to choose which updates to receive, consenting to text messages, etc.).

       04. Simple is Best

Insight: Participants prioritize a seamless and efficient donation process

Validation: Participants found the single-page format and one-click payment effective for making donations. Some suggested stronger labeling of donations in order to quickly communicate what money is used for without needing to read the smaller text or descriptions.

Revised Prototype

From the insights, we were able to determine where the experience could be improved to help facilitate their needs. We made changes to the language, added graphics, created a more compact layout, and added clearer confirmation.

Pitching Our Design to KST Stakeholders

We pitched our idea to KST stakeholders and handed off our user research insights and design solution to the local theater. I wrote our team’s pitch and acted as the spokesperson or speaking representative of our design concept by presenting our work to KST executives and staff.


Client reception

Our design concept was received well by the Kelly Strayhorn Theater stakeholders. Our idea provided a streamlined and transparent donation process that resonated well with users and that required minimal effort to set up (by way of product subscription) from KST.

More time?

If granted more time, I would have liked to explore more ways in which KST could perform and showcase artistic talent to their audience through more ways than just virtual performances. Reimagining the way performing arts is consumed would work to the benefit of many once in-person operating businesses.

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External Links

Interact with our Experience Prototype here!