The Buy Nothing project began as an experiment in creating a hyper-local gift economy. To counterbalance the negative effects of overconsumption on our communities and environment, the founders–a group of women in the Northwest– wanted to find a way to encourage friends and neighbors to simply give things away. The project now includes thousands of chapters throughout the country.

In the spirit of simplicity, the Buy Nothing project uses an existing and free platform–Facebook–to list their gifts. Members can join groups based on their location, and then view what other members post. To accept or claim an item, the member writes a comment under the photo. The two parties then privately arrange a time and place to exchange the gift. And that’s when things get complicated.

Design Problem

The Buy Nothing project inspires great devotion and membership continues to increase. However, in interviews with several users, I discovered a consistent problem: communication and scheduling. Users express frustration over sorting through the comments to find the person who first asked for the item. Once the person is found, the conversation moves to private messages. Coordinating pickup times can take longer than expected, and for every exchange, the user needs to provide their contact information. If there’s a breakdown in communication, the user needs to return to the comment section again to find a new member who wants the item.

The administrative tasks of the process can take longer than expected, and can make the experience unenjoyable.

After evaluating the existing user flow, I set out to create a better one. My persona–a mom with extra household items to give away–wants to list a rice cooker. I asked “what would make this process easier for her?” In the flow, I sought to streamline communication and messaging, making the giving process more like an e-commerce experience, and less like a text message conversation.

Design Solution

At 450,000 members (and more growing every day), Buy Nothing is working fine on its current platform. However, using Facebook creates significant restrictions on the project’s ability to flourish. The experience could be vastly improved with a customized product, designed specifically for the Buy Nothing User. The resulting product would combine elements of e-commerce, scheduling, and chat in a streamlined, easy to navigate experience.