Pittsburgh is a city that's vibrant with activism and organizations that produce events promoting social justice and peace. However, many of these events are poorly attended due to a lack of coordination between event planners. Within a period of four months, our 3-person team of CMU students conducted domain and field research, and designed and prototyped DoveTail, an event planning tool for nonprofit organizations. 



New Economy Working Group

Chin Wei Wong
Matthew Hsieh

Team Lead
Lo-fi Prototypes
User Testing

January - April 2014

Domain Research
Data Synthesis
Speed Dating
Low/Hi Prototypes
User Tests

 A booth at one of the many nonprofit events held in Pittsburgh to support the causes of social justice, sustainability, and peace.

A booth at one of the many nonprofit events held in Pittsburgh to support the causes of social justice, sustainability, and peace.


To gain domain knowledge in the problem space, we conducted a literature review by looking into papers on nonprofit event planning and related areas of academic research. Next, we identified a few related platforms for event planning and marketing, such as EventBrite, MeetUp and Facebook, to create a competitive analysis


We also conducted field research to validate our clients' hypothesis that an event map would solve the issue of conflicting events and boost attendance at each event. To collect data, our team observed a couple of event planning sessions and interviewed 9 event planners and 2 event attendees across a range of ages and tech-savviness. 

After the domain and field research, we synthesized our data to isolate 3 key findings and design insights:

  1. Event conflicts are common, and both event planners and attendees are resigned to it. Therefore, we must educate and empower event planners to challenge the status quo.
  2. Social influences drive event participation, so our solution needs to add more social components to event marketing.
  3. Nuanced marketing with integrity is necessary for maximum reach, so we must design a solution that tailors messaging with ease.
 Affinity diagramming our field research finding to draw higher level insights.

Affinity diagramming our field research finding to draw higher level insights.


In order to define our solutions, we held a visioning session with our client. During this session, we agreed to focus on the amateur, tech-savvy event planners, instead of the more well-established, experienced event planners. Next, we brainstormed four solutions that we drew out as storyboards

  1. Events Calendar - A central calendar that collected all of Pittsburgh's nonprofit events.
  2. Events Map - A map that displayed upcoming nonprofit events in the Pittsburgh area based on location and neighborhoods.
  3. Social Data Reports - A dashboard that compares social media data with actual attendance data to help planners make predictions for future events.
  4. Events Reservation Calendar - A shared calendar between event planners that allow them to "reserve" event dates under consideration and avoid conflicts with other planners.



We then took the storyboards to a New Economy Working Group event and "speed dated" the ideas with event planners who attended. By talking to event planners, we found out that any of the four solutions could potentially be useful, but some were more feasible or impactful than others.

While participants responded very well to the Events Calendar concept, we had to figure out a way to mine the events data. A couple of the participants provided examples of when a map view for events might be useful, but the use cases were niche. Participants also liked the idea of measuring social media data against attendance figures but could not be specific about what they would do with the data. 

Ultimately, we decided to proceed forward with the Events Reservation Calendar because it provided a helpful tool for event planners to avoid conflict and could potentially provide data that would feed into a central events calendar. 

 Speed dating concepts with a nonprofit event planner.

Speed dating concepts with a nonprofit event planner.



For our first prototype, we sketched out some concepts on the whiteboard to work out the structure of the wireframes. Next, we created the wireframes in Balsamiq to show the main calendar view, the add calendars menu, and the add/edit events modal dialogue. We decided to print out the Balsamiq screens and test them with users as paper prototypes because it would give us the flexibility to add intermediate screens (if users veer off the script in their explorations) with sticky notes.



To conduct our user test, we developed a user test protocol covering instructions for 3 task: adding an event to the calendar, confirming an event, and adding a new calendar. In the first rounds of testing, we piloted the Balsamiq screens with 2 participants, and based on the results of those pilot tests, made changes to the prototype and tested with 3 more participants.

From these two rounds of testing, we discovered a couple of issues and made changes to the next iteration:

  1. Instead of clicking and dragging on the calendar to create events, participants preferred to click on the date because they typically consider events to be single day activities. For the next iteration, we implemented click to create event.
  2. Participants had difficulty with the concept of  "reservations," which are tentative days that planners are considering for an event. Subsequently, we've removed "reservations" and changed events to be either "confirmed" or "tentative."
 Testing paper prototypes with participant.

Testing paper prototypes with participant.



We chose Dovetail as the name of this event planning tool because it represents our goal of encouraging a peaceful coordination of events by members of the Pittsburgh nonprofit community. Uncoordinated actions lead to the clustering of events, which can cause event attendees to experience event fatigue. By dovetailing their events, event planners can mutually benefit in the promotion of their causes. 



Based on findings from our paper prototype user testing, we created an interactive prototype in order to rapidly test user interactions of key features: the calendar interface, the organization list, and the event generation process. For the calendar, we tested the interaction of changing the date range and editing organizations from the available list, as well as, the intuitiveness of creating and editing events. 

For the final version of the prototype that we delivered to our clients, we decided to make a few changes based on user test results:

  1. Simplified the event creation process further by removing the date range for event creation, since event planners generally think of events as single-day activities
  2. Removed the tab structure from the event creation modal to reduce confusion
  3. Added checkboxes to indicate which organization had been added to the organization list. 
 Testing the interactive prototype with amateur event planner.

Testing the interactive prototype with amateur event planner.



Dovetail is a tool designed to help event planners avoid conflicts by enabling them to indicate when their event will take place. By leveraging the use of a shared platform, event planners will be able to inform the New Economy community about upcoming events with minimal cost and effort. 

 Click image to view interactive prototype

Click image to view interactive prototype

For amateur event planners who lack the social connections and resources of more experienced event planners, Dovetail allows her to broadcast her events to the nonprofit event planner community so they can coordinate the selection of their event dates. 

The following scenario walkthrough describes how an event planner might use the features of Dovetail for planning an upcoming nonprofit event:

Christy, a 20-something activist and volunteer with the New Economy Working Group, is helping to plan their annual fundraising event. She wants to make sure that this event doesn't conflict with any other major events in order to maximize attendance potential.