Reviewing the Oxfam app

Oxfam recently launched a new app. It was billed in the Guardian as being about building trust with supporters as it puts the control of their contact preferences in the hands of the supporter.

Here are a few of my observations:


The app allows social login with Facebook and Google, which is good, but then requires Email and Mobile number to complete your registration. I can go into settings to change my preferences, but then I find out that I have been opted-in to Phone, Text and Email communications, which I wasn’t told about during registration. I can change these communication preferences to opt out of contact by phone, text or email, but if this is about building trust the journey is around the wrong way. It should allow me to register with the minimum of information and then later add my phone if I want to opt-in to phone or text contact.

Once the initial permission settings have been selected they are locked for an unknown amount of time whilst they are (presumably) recorded in Oxfam’s database. I can appreciate the technical reasons for this but it doesn’t offer a great customer experience as it could make a person feel locked in to their earlier selection. It might be better to allow the changes to be made on the app at any time and then be sent to the CRM database with scheduled frequency and provide information saying that the changes may take a given number of days to take effect.

Working offline

App should always be built to work offline first, and this app isn’t. Mobile connectivity isn’t just a first world problem and although the app is clearly built for western world supporters it should still aim to follow best practices and provide basic functionality even if the user is not connected to the internet.


Contact Preferences are in Settings. In fact they are only thing in Settings, so why not call it Contact Preferences rather than settings, again building trust that the charity takes the supporters right to choose how they are contacted seriously?

The rest of the menu looks like a micro version of the organisation with buttons to sections like Get Involved, Support Now, and Shop. I wonder what kind of user testing was done to find out what supporters want in an app or whether the app developers just added stuff because they could.


It certainly looks like a lot more thought has been put into the storytelling content on the app as the content is formatted specifically for the app rather than just wrapping the mobile site for sections like Shop. The cause-related storytelling uses a timeline to show stories in the order they are added. This makes a certain amount of sense as it fits with the use of scrolling on mobile phones, but I wonder if a timeline is the best way to tell stories. It might be interesting to test filtering of the stories by country, by issue, and by ask to better understand how supporters are consuming the stories. I think it would also be really interesting to test stories about supporters alongside the stories of the people Oxfam is helping. The stories could show why this person made that donation and perhaps help others supporters identify better with being an Oxfam supporter.

Support Now

The Support Now section that was clearly designed for the app. It allows supporters to easily select between the three methods of payment (card, paypal, text), and uses an on-screen dial to enable the supporter to select the value of their one-off gift up to a maximum of £500. The starting value on the dial is £50, and I wonder what the average value is for online donations and how close it is to £50. As the amount is changed on the dial the image and text explaining what the gift could buy changes too. The dial is a really nice way of getting user interaction and works better on a mobile screen than perhaps a slider would or asking the user to type in the amount, and showing the impact of the donation. It could even go a step further and show what the value of the donation means to the supporter along with what it means to the people Oxfam is helping, e.g. ‘£20 is a cup of coffee each day for a week to you, but to Brian it’s six jerry cans to provide water for his village.’

It’s also interesting that the app avoids the word ‘donate’ and uses ‘gift’ and ‘support’ instead.

Gift History

The Gift History section was still being updated with my history but in the Guardian article says that “users can track how much they have donated through sponsorship, items donated to shops, or cash payments, and can adjust their monthly donations.” That’s quite a technical challenge and relies on the supporter participating by providing their details each time they do something offline to support the charity like donating stock to a shop or giving a cash donation. It’s difficult to imagine how that might be made to work effectively, but if it isn’t then users could quickly lose faith in an app that promises to show all of their support in one place.


The Shop button opens a wrapper around the mobile site. This is a good way to test introductory use and find out if people want to shop using the app and then consider the best way to implement a better shopping experience on the app.

However, if you scroll to the bottom of the wrapped mobile site and select the Desktop version of the site, that version is served through the app. I couldn’t find a way to switch back to the mobile version so now I’m stuck with the app continuing to serve the desktop version of the shop every time I open the app. And because the desktop version doesn’t fit within the wrapper the Basket button is off the screen meaning I can’t checkout.

Being stuck on the desktop version of the site also affects the Get Involved section.

Design and Layout

The design of the interface is on brand as you would expect. The most designed sections are the cause-related storytelling, which uses a timeline to show stories in the order they are added, and the Support Now section which, has the dial to select the value of the donation. As each of these sections has its own look and feel (almost like they were designed by different designers who didn’t talk to each other) I wonder if they could be made more visually similar and use the same interactions, e.g. the storytelling section could have an image of the world which the user moves around like the donations value dial to show Oxfam’s work around the world.

There is no landscape version of the app. It may be that it is only intended for mobile phones which are mostly used in portrait format, and perhaps that decision is based on solid analytics and user testing but it would seem obvious to design the app to work on tablets used in landscape.


Creating an app that works well is a challenge in itself, but even after the app is built comes the challenge of getting people to download it and use it regularly. Taking that use a step further and getting people to make regular donations must be a real challenge.

Launching an app at the end of 2016 given the rise of bots is an interesting choice. This app isn’t leading edge in technology, approach to storytelling or customer experience. Perhaps Oxfam have validated the need for an app of this nature with their supporters, or maybe they look at having an app as just another broadcast channel to get their message more directly into the hands of their supporters and drive occasional donations, and maybe/hopefully that will indirectly improve trust from their supporters.

I’d like to see the data on number of downloads, registrations, stories read, donations made, etc. And I’d love to see the user testing on whether it really does make supporters feel the Oxfam are being more transparent and trustworthy.

Internet applications at a Wedding reception

Imagine our internet applications taking on stereotypical human form at your average wedding reception. What would be going on?

The website is the grandad passed-out drunk in the corner, snoring loudly so everyone knows he’s there and will need someone to look after him and make sure he gets home.

The apps is the dad embarrassing himself on the dance floor, trying desperately to get people to join him and not yet realising that his time has passed.

Messaging is the hip-young-thing going around talking to people, chatting to auntie about how lovely ceremony was, buying the best man a drink, directing people to the toilets, booking taxi’s, and making it all looks effortlessly easy.

Running route planner app

An idea for an app for runners: It asks how far you want to run, e.g. A marathon, over how many days, e.g. 30, and then plots a circular route on Google Maps for that distance. And if you miss a run it would spread that missed distance out over the remaining days. It could even allocate the distance to be run each day on a curve so that you start with a smaller distance and go further each day and by the end of the time period you’ve covered the total distance.

Safe Driving App Idea

This app would have four main aspects:

1. Sat nav
Pretty standard functionality but essential for getting users to put their phone into windscreen holder and open the app.

2. Looped video recording
Lots of drivers are using in-car cameras to record what’s going on in front of them so they’ll have evidence if they have an accident. This app would make use of the phone’s camera to record short videos that loop so erasing the previous recording unless you press a button to save the video.

3. Braking distance warning
Since the app is already using the camera and the GPS it could also use both to detect the vehicle in front, measure the distance between the two, and calculate the stopping distance at that speed. It would then alert the driver if they are getting too close and not leaving themselves enough safe braking distance.

4. Driving efficiency reports
Since the app is collecting data about the driving it may as well show the driver with a simple dashboard with things like top speed, average speed, etc., and more interestingly driving efficiency by calculating all the accelerating and braking and providing a score that encourages more efficient driving next time.

Slave Speakers – an idea for an app

I have an idea for an app. The app would be installed on all of your devices, would connect them using Bluetooth, and would allow you to assign one device as the master, on which you would play music, and make all the other devices slaves and so control their speakers to play the music from the master device. We all have multiple devices, now here is a way of using them to play music throughout your home.