Case Study

Nonprofit Website Redesign

We redesigned the Toronto Humane Society’s (THS) website focusing on its information architecture (IA) to better align with the organization’s goals.
Client: Toronto Humane Society
Timeline: September ‘20 to December ‘20
Role: Research, IA Analysis, Usability Testing, Prototyping
Team: Lucas Chan, Janice Cheung, Jenny Xue

The Problem

Our team first prioritized identifying the problem, understanding the context of the organization, and honing in on the business goals that the website should focus on supporting.

Problem Statement

The information architecture of the THS website attempts to serve all user needs, causing an overwhelm of disorganized information to visitors.


The Toronto Humane Society is a non-profit organization focused on the fair treatment of animals through its shelters and rescue services.
Its core business issue is financial sustainability, identified in its five-year plan. In 2019, THS operated at a $2.3 million deficit due to rising vet care costs, fewer strays, and more complex health cases. Donations accounted for $8 million out of a total of $11 million in revenue.
A well-designed website, as a donation portal for new and returning donors, is vital for maintaining business growth and sustainability.

Website Goals

1. Satisfy the specific information needs of each user.
2. Attract new donors and educate them on THS.
3. Retain current donors with timely and relevant updates.

User Research

After fully grasping the scope of the website’s current state, we performed an IA analysis on the website starting with a content auditor tool as well as an analysis based on Nielsen’s Usability Heuristics.

IA Analysis

Using the data from the content audit report, we focused our analysis around 4 IA systems: organization, navigation, labeling, and search. Below are key features of each analyzed system (organization, navigation, labeling, and search) in the current information architecture.
• Top-down approach: information is organized to anticipate most common user needs
• Poly-hierarchical structure: cross-listing of topics on 4 sitemap levels with 100 pages throughout website

• Global navigation system: allows users to keep track of where they are with bread crumbs
• Many modes of secondary navigation: dilutes effectiveness of top-down organization

• Textual labels: found in links, headings, and navigation
• Reading ease score: 58.4 (text is relatively easy to understand)
• Redundancy in 15 total headers whereas competitors have 3 to 6 at most

• Search bar: supplemental navigation within THS website
• Very basic, no guidance on queries, minimal additional context

Primary Research of Users

We then recruited research participants who met the following criteria.
• People likely to donate to non-profit organizations
• Has an apparent affinity towards animals
Our first method of data collection was semi-structured interviews. We asked open-ended and follow-up questions to collect qualitative attitudinal data.
In the interviews, we discovered three common themes regarding participants’ engagement with non-profit organizations.
Urgency: Donors tend to join fundraising movements based on time-sensitivity of initiative and perceived significance.
Impact: Participants needed to know that their donations would be significantly impactful regardless of how large the organization was perceived as.
Trust: Before donating, participants needed to establish trust by word of mouth or by a trustworthy online presence with available information.
Our second research method was by usability testing. We were able to collect both qualitative and quantitative data by narrowing in on the most common and prioritized tasks in the website’s UX.
We collected data by observing the users’ interactions of five remote research participants each guided by 6 predetermined tasks based on possible real user scenarios:
1. As a high school student looking to fulfill volunteer hours, find the email address for volunteering inquiries.
2. Make a donation to the THS in honor of the birthday of your best friend’s pet, Snoopy.
3. Find information on what to do when you find a stray cat.
4. Find a pet that you would like to adopt and show me the next steps of what you would do to complete the process.
5. After adopting a pet, find other services that the THS provides.
6. You are considering donating to THS, so find out where your money is going towards and any other relevant information.
These were our most significant findings from the usability tests:
• Inefficient navigation to donate
• Hard to find time-sensitive information
• Labels used too much jargon
• Hard to locate THS information to ensure legitimacy of organization

Redesign Recommendations

Based on our analysis and research, we had these redesign recommendations:
1. Declutter repetitive secondary navigation by removing redundant language in labels.
2. Integrate a page of information for donors to address their personal requirements for establishing urgency, impact, and trust.
3. Prioritize information-providing elements in the website hierarchy to emphasize the most important goals of the organization.

The Redesign

We began our redesign of the IA with a card sort study to directly address the  critical labeling needs that were identified. Each card sort was conducted remotely using Optimal Workshop.

Card Sort Study

Our team decided that a closed card sort was the best way to understand mental models of expected users by identifying confusing labels and navigation headers.
The results of the card sort revealed that miscategorized labels should be simplified on the header and subheader levels. The misunderstanding of labels meant that the more specific labels should be shelved under the primary actions that users want to perform.

Redesigned IA

We created a new IA schematic following the results of the card sort.
The new schematic features less global headers (from 15 to 8), an added level of tertiary navigation (to ease complications for users), and a reorganization of some categories (“How to Help”, “Contact Us”, and “What We Do”). We also made an effort to emphasize the wording adjustments and eliminate labeling redundancies to more directly answer user queries.


To wrap up the redesign, I've outlined the impact of the IA changes, identified the limitations, and noted the lessons learned.

Impact of IA Changes

To revisit the four systems we focused on in our IA analysis, here is how our redesign impacted each system.
• Indirect impact: Wording changes in labels satisfies direct needs of users, which supports the effectiveness of the top-down approach.

• Direct impact: Global header is heavily redesigned with simpler categories and a level of tertiary navigation.

• Direct impact: Intentional vernacular more clearly addresses the direct needs of prioritized users, reduces redundancy in headers, and clarifies any prior ambiguity.

• Indirect impact: Improvements in navigation and labels allow users to find what they need without over reliance of the search bar.


This project had the following limitations.
In the IA analysis, the content auditor tool did not provide qualitative data nor a thorough assessment of the user experience. For this reason, we supplemented the analysis with Nielsen’s Usability Heuristics.
In primary research, the participants were chosen from personal contacts and and also engaged in both research methods, which may not reflect the true pool of users for the THS website.
Lastly, there was no direct communication with any representatives of THS to develop the analysis and recommendations, which results in a potential lack of understanding in their current technology and infrastructure restrictions.

My Takeaways

Effective IA changes don't require an expert: Rather, a solid understanding of the IA process and research tools could really make an impact on many information-heavy websites.
Simple UX redesigns can significantly improve other nonprofits: Changes that we implemented could easily be applied to other organizations to better align their online presence.
IA research tools are very practical: I experienced the greater value of simple research activities, such as card sorting and tree tests, as excellent tools to connect products to real users.
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