1 month


Yulin Liu, Nishchala Singhal


user research, interaction design, user testing


Sketch, InVision, Principle


Natural disasters wreak havoc on millions of lives each year. How might the advent of satellite internet and smartphones offer a solution?


Sunbeam is a peer-to-peer service that allows people around the world to make small monetary donations directly to the victims of a recent natural disaster.

1. The problem space

Many disaster victims find themselves strapped for cash in their time of need.

During our research, we noticed an absence of platforms that provide micro-donations to marginalized families during times of regional crisis.

Kiva is a microloan provider for small businesses in poor communities.

Razoo is a fundraising platform for social justice-oriented projects.

GiveDirectly is a funding platform to help people living in chronic poverty.

2. Our concept

Sunbeam is a peer-to-peer platform for philanthropy.

Our product has two key users. Beneficiaries are the victims of a recent natural disaster. They use Sunbeam to seek monetary assistance to meet urgent needs. Donors are the well-wishers who want to help others out of a tight spot during a crisis.

Setting the stage

In the near future, most people will have access to smartphones and satellite internet.

In India, a railway porter who earns $8 a day can buy a low-end smartphone (src). And Quika is bringing free satellite internet to Afghanistan, Iraq and most of Africa in the second half of 2018 (src).

3. How it works

Sunbeam is a mobile-first website with an interface accessible to novice smartphone users.

Sunbeam's landing page on desktop and mobile.

After a disaster, beneficiaries can create profiles and request donations to meet specific needs.

Potential donors from all over the world can browse these requests.

Donors can filter requests by amount, type, and region. They can also contact beneficiaries to establish a personal connetion.

Here are animations of two task flows from Sunbeam:

This animation shows a beneficiary creating a profile and adding specific requests based on his needs.

This animation shows a donor browsing requests, and then inspecting and fulfilling a particular request.

Website vs. Mobile App

Apps require downloading & onboarding. Websites (usually) don't.

We decided to go with a mobile-first website instead of a native mobile app because a majority of our users would be on flimsy internet networks in disaster-struck regions; they may not have the ability to locate and download a mobile app. Surfing the web seemed more straightforward.

4. User Feedback

We validated our concept with potential users, both donors and beneficiaries. Here are examples of the feedback we received and how we responded to it.


Many of Sunbeam's users likely won't speak English.


Sunbeam includes above-the-fold language translation options. The list of languages is informed by the locations of recent natural disasters.


Will conventionally attractive beneficiaries be favored unfairly over others?


Sunbeam's profile pictures are sober avatars created using photographs/selfies taken by users. We suspect that the avatars will reduce discrimination while continuing to attract donors' sympathy.


Will Sunbeam's beneficiaries need to be familiar with mobile and web in order to use Sunbeam?


Sunbeam's interface is designed for first-time users of the web. Beneficiary-facing instructions are explicit and jargon-free.


How would donors verify the authenticity of a beneficiary's need?


Sunbeam's beneficiaries will be asked to submit photos and videos to document their situation. Sunbeam profiles will also be connected to social media, such as Facebook, which donors can browse to verify a beneficiary's identity.

5. Our Process

Early on, we created storyboards and speed dated them with potential users.

By creating storyboards, we were able to dig into the human side of the interactions, which helped us think more deeply about what our product would need to provide.

With preliminary user feedback in hand, we sketched a number of Sunbeam's screens in low-fidelity.

After another round of feedback, we created high-fidelity screens using the Sketch app.

If we had more time...

We would do the following things:

  • Avatar testing. We want to test the effectiveness of the avatars compared to pictures. We also want to try out different types of renders for the avatars.
  • Explore audio-based language translation. We want to experiment with optimizing the localization capabilities.
  • Deploy in real scenarios. Identify developing areas of the world where this could be deployed and tested with real people.