Volunteer Training at Detroit Zoo

A UX research project partnered with Detroit Zoo to design a nimble, streamlined volunteer training process

Project Type

Team project of Design Clinic partnered with Detroit Zoo


I planned, drafted and conducted interviews and surveys, documented meetings, created and delivered final presentation


Winter 2018 (3 months)


Stakeholder interviews, survey design, user journey mapping, system map, comparative analysis

Project overview

A UX consulting project partnered with Detroit Zoo

Design clinic is a student-led consulting agency of the University of Michigan School of Information. In the course of 3 months, my team, a group of 5 UX students, worked with the volunteer management of Detroit Zoo, having more than 1000 active volunteers throughout a year, to design a more nimble, streamlined flow for volunteer trainings.


How might we achieve an effective, efficient and enjoyable experience for both zoo staff and volunteers?


Reconstruct the system with mixed methods


Scope the problem space with the client

Before jumping into interviewing users, we started with understands our client’s needs, what were their frustrations that led to this project and what were their expectations. This helped us to get the context about the current problem space that facilitated our design of coming research.

A client contract with mutually-agreed expectations, tentative plan and timeline

Mixed methods to reconstruct the entire system

Numbers at a glance

Combining qualitative and quantitative research methods, we tried to avoid the bias of leaning from a single perspective and empathize with the diverse group of volunteers.


zoo comparative studies




survey resopnses from Detroit Zoo


survey responses from Toledo Zoo


products researched


stakeholder meetings


We interviewed 10 current volunteers to get detailed, first-person narratives of volunteers work, their life and emotion. We also interviewed zoo staff to understand their frustrations of managing the large volunteer group with limited human resources. We created a system map based on the interview results. We found out that the process was largely paper-based and there were gaps between each stage of the training process.


To clarify information that was not provided by the interviews, we distributed survey mixing informational, likert-scale preference and open-ended questions to understand volunteers’ pain points, areas they appreciated and their expectations for a better training process. We collected 416 valid survey responses in total. Some of the major findings include:

A combination of online and in-person is the most preferable training format across generations

Younger volunteers are relatively more open to learning with technology

Technology is useful for volunteers across generations

Comparative analysis of other zoos

On top of learning from Detroit zoo, our client, we also contacted other zoos across the United States to understand their volunteer training process. Most zoos still retain the in-person training despite their large volunteer base, and support the process with digital products. We also got product information they used for trainings.


Identify key pain points for each stakeholder

We synthesized our interview findings in affinity diagram and labelled issues for improvement with insights from surveys and comparative analysis. We consolidated and divided our findings by stakeholders, volunteer and zoo staff.

Pain points of zoo staff

Limited Staff Resources

Current tool (Learning Zen) is rudimentary

Some volunteers don’t take exams

Pain points of volunteers

Schedule Conflict of Training Times

Refreshers that can be carried around

Lack of Regular Updates

Training Materials are not Engaging

Desire for Feedback Channel

Different Learning Pace


How might we achieve an effective, efficient and enjoyable experience for both zoo staff and volunteers?


Recommendation starting from users

Define goals

We divided what effective, efficient and enjoyable mean for volunteers and zoo staff respectively to guide our product research.

Effective, efficient and enjoyable for Volunteers


Gain necessary knowledge to work as volunteers


Complete trainings on time without worrying about the schedule


Enjoyable, engaging learning experience working at the Zoo!

Effective, efficient and enjoyable for Zoo Staff


Centralized way to evaluate learning outcomes of volunteers


Streamline the process and effort of managing volunteer onboarding


Nimble process without compensating volunteers’ willingness to participate

Market research

We contacted retailers of our targeted learning management services after preliminary study and set up calls to understand product potentials. We did a competitive analysis of 6 products and finalize our final recommendation to be NearPod based on price, privacy and usability concerns.

Communicate the gaps and recommend solutions

We presented the recommended solution, NearPod, to our client and provided the demo of how the zoo could use the tool according to their specific process. Our client expressed their interests to the potential solution and we successfully bridged the zoo and solution provider for future cooperation.


Uncover the real pain points from users

During our first client meeting with the zoo staff, we were informed the major frustration of the volunteer training program was not attracting younger volunteers. When we tried to understand and reconstruct the zoo training process with mixed research methods, we found that the pain points of volunteers and zoo staff were two perspectives of the issue. After communicating with the client about this gap, we formed a consensus to find the right balance that could not only be easy for staff to manage the large group of volunteers but also provide effective learning experience for volunteers.

Best part about this project: visit the zoo!