Crowdfunding for Scientific Discovery

Give a rebranded organization of scientists a platform to help fund their research projects.


Project Overview

01: Challenge

  • Reposition the American Society of Pharmacognosy to become a well known organization by defining why it is important, how it should communicate, and what the organization should be called.
  • Raise interest among current and upcoming generations of scientists to enter the field of pharmacognosy.
  • Engage the community and enlist public support to help further the field of pharmacognosy.

02: Approach

  • Researched the history of the organization and its reason for being.
  • Conducted interviews with members of our target audience to determine perceptions of the organization and profession.
  • Analyzed cultural trends to gauge opportunities and risks for the organization.
  • Assessed market trends for pharmaceutical R&D departments.
  • Concepted for strategic and creative ideas that would reposition the rebranded organization.

03: Outcome

  • Delivered a new brand identity, including logo, name change, communication guide, and positioning statement.
  • Created a launch campaign to raise awareness for the new organization and recruit new members.
  • Designed a web platform that allows the community to support pharmacognosy research projects.


Brand Essence

In addition to a new brand identity, we wanted to help solve what was arguably the organization’s biggest problem: funding. Members of the renamed Society of Medicinal Discovery still had problems raising money for their research.

Pharmaceutical companies once invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into research and development departments for naturally-derived drugs. Now, these companies have cut those departments entirely in favor of drugs derived from synthetic compounds. This is due in large part to cheaper R&D costs, which lead to higher profit margins.

Consequently, pharmacognosists have had to move their research into university labs where they compete with other scientists for precious grants. With not enough funding to go around, many of these research projects never happen. This meant organisms were not being studied and discoveries were not being made.

During this project, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was at its worst. Most people, including ourselves, felt powerless as the death count continued to rise. Everyone was looking to the government for a cure, only to find that there wasn’t one that worked. It was at that point when we realized that if people had the ability to donate to research that could have prevented the Ebola outbreak, they would have.

This notion fueled the thinking behind creating a platform that allowed people to donate directly to research projects that were important to them. With crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and GoFundMe having such success, we knew that our own platform would work.

This platform, called EarthLab, would be directly sponsored by SMD and only be available to scientists who are studying naturally occurring organisms. This would ensure that awareness of the organization increased, but also that the projects that don’t have the backing of Big Pharma actually have a chance of being funded.

Design Decision

While concepting for ways to solve SMD’s funding problem, I assessed cultural and technological trends for inspiration. Crowdfunding has proven to be a successful way to fund projects, although not one platform is tailored for research projects centered around naturally occurring organisms. Additionally, the Natural Movement has influenced many to be weary of synthetic drugs because of side effects. These ideas indicated there was a large enough audience to support EarthLab, which is why I began designing the platform.



Site Features

Project Discovery

Establishes EarthLab as a global platform and signifies SMD’s belief that making discoveries requires worldwide collaboration.

  • Users go to the site to donate to research projects they believe in.
  • Users search based on topic and are shown research projects throughout the world that are studying that topic.
  • If users don’t have a particular topic in mind, highlighted projects at various stages of funding are featured below.
  • Users see projects that were successfully funded through EarthLab and lead to new discoveries.
  • Additionally users can read a description of SMD and about EarthLab’s importance.

Discovery Lounge

Provides a message board for the scientists who use EarthLab, promoting more opportunities for collaboration and feedback from other pharmacognosists.

  • Until now, pharmacognosists have not had a convenient way in which to connect with other pharmacognosists.
  • Users go to this page to find other scientists who are researching similar topics and hoping to collaborate with one another.
  • Users can post in four different channels to share their discoveries, ask for help, post project updates, or participate in general discussion.

Project Page

Supports SMD’s commitment to quality science. EarthLab’s discovery projects will be reviewed by pharmacognosists to ensure there is substantiated scientific evidence for why the projects exist and deserve funding.

  • Users see all of the details about the project, including what is being researched, where the project is taking place, and why it is important.
  • All of the data that validates the project’s existence will be accessible for users to review themselves.
  • Users see an itemized budget for the project and understand what is needed and how their donations can help.
  • Additionally users see what commemorations the scientist is willing and able to offer back to donors in exchange for various funding amounts.
  • If users want to support the project but don’t have the funds to do so, they can apply for the project’s volunteer needs.



Design Decisions

  • When users came to the site, I wanted them to immediately feel familiar with the site’s navigation and layout. This is why I decided to use layouts similar to what users are used to on sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe.
  • In comparison to projects featured on the above sites, I felt EarthLab’s projects required more explanation for why the projects existed and needed to provide viewable data to validate that existence.
  • Due to EarthLab’s projects being more altruistic and not offering a tangible product like other sites’ projects, offering “rewards” in exchange for donations didn’t feel appropriate. However, I did want donors to be honored for their contributions, which is why I chose to use  “commemorations” instead of “rewards.”
  • EarthLab’s language also served as a way to distinguish it from the other crowdsourcing platforms. I wanted donors to feel empowered when they decided to support a project, which is why I decided to use “champions,” instead of less impactful words like “backer” or “supporter.”
  • To support the goal of making EarthLab feel like a global platform, I included the flag of the country where the research project originates. This would indicate SMD’s commitment to collaboration regardless of nationality. It also serves as a way for the user to know if there might be barriers to collaboration due to different languages or cultural limitations.
  • In order for users to immediately identify what stage of funding the projects were in, I used color as an indicator. Blue means the project has been successfully funded, yellow means funding is in progress, and green means the project was just launched.
  • This color indicator, as well as other contextual information, is placed together in a header that becomes sticky when the user scrolls down the page. This ensures that the user will be able to see information about the project without having to scroll back to the top of the page.
  • While investigating other crowdfunding projects, I saw that none of them offered the ability for users to volunteer if they weren’t able to donate money. I felt that a volunteer option would be appropriate for EarthLab projects because many who might not be able to donate would still be willing to donate their time and assistance if they believed in the project.

Squad: VCU Brandcenter

Data Oruwari


Lauren Thompson

Brand Manager

Melanie Matlock


Brittain McNeel

Art Director

Kory Rozich

Experience Designer

My Role

  • Pitched strategic concepts for the how to rebrand the organization.
  • Organized and helped conduct a focus group with our target audience.
  • Performed site audits for the American Society of Pharmacognosy and similar organizations.
  • Researched cultural and technological trends to determine opportunities and risks for the organization.
  • Helped brainstorm different creative concepts for the organization’s identity and campaign.
  • Concepted and designed the web experience, produced wireframes and helped produce hi-fi mockups with my art director.
  • Produced all of the documentation.
  • Helped present our campaign to the client.