Médecins Sans Frontières‎

Providing a window into MSF's frontline work

Author information: Tom Saunders , Product Director , Post information: , 4 min read ,
Related post categories: Digital products ,

Through a considered discovery programme, we successfully developed a foundation of user research that informed the redesign of Médecins Sans Frontières’ website.


Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare.

In need of a refreshed online offering, MSF sought a collaborative partner to conduct an in-depth piece of user research, which would lead the redesign of its UK website.

New homepage

We’ve developed a sophisticated digital strategy in recent years and we wanted to work with an agency which could take it to the next level. The new site had to provide a window into MSF's frontline work – I wanted to remove as many distractions as possible and let our medical work speak for itself. At the same time we needed to convert a complex range of audiences and so the information architecture and design had to be intuitive, and confidence-inspiring.

Ben Holt, UK Digital Lead and International Strategic Adviser, Médecins Sans Frontières


The specific objectives for this project were, to provide:

  • An understanding of who MSF’s website users are, as well as how and why they use the site.
  • A new design that reflects the organisations strong organisational values, and promotes the ‘human voice’ of their staff and beneficiaries.
  • An evaluation of how real-world contexts and attitudes impact on supporters and volunteers experience of the site.
  • A rationalised approach to navigation and information architecture.

Torchbox helped us explore our ideas, pushing us further than we would have gone ourselves, and worked really hard to understand our brand and our priorities, which will ultimately always be our frontline work with patients. MSF is not always the easiest client as we are particular about how we present ourselves, and there is no shortage of opinions and ideas. Torchbox embraced this and were very flexible while also pushing back when needed. It was a great partnership.

Ben Holt, UK Digital Lead and International Strategic Adviser, Médecins Sans Frontières


We take an ‘actionable insights’ approach to user research at Torchbox, which means we focus on developing our understanding of a client's user base to solve design problems. For MSF, we first wanted to gain an understanding of the goals, behaviours and attitudes of the site’s users, before applying analysis and design thinking to identify solutions.

Deep dive and stakeholder consultation

We hosted a deep-dive session to gain an understanding of the charity’s internal culture, and to identify potential organisational objectives which would steer audience prioritisation. Using this information, we developed a set of proto-personas (an assumption-based articulation of audience archetypes) which were validated through further user research.

To ensure stakeholder buy-in, we ran an internal survey to offer MSF staff the opportunity to feed into the process. This provided us with valuable insights into how the website plays a pivotal role in departmental responsibilities; the HR department, for example, rely on the website heavily for recruitment purposes.

New Jobs page
New site is fully responsive

User survey

User surveys are a fantastic way of soliciting feedback from users in large numbers. One of the key insights we gained from the MSF survey was that the client’s existing audience segmentation, based around roles such as ‘donor’ and ‘fundraiser’, could be more accurately replaced with segments based on behavioural characteristics such as supporter engagement and stages in the volunteer journey.

We also discovered that users were more likely to share content that helped them to achieve specific goals, such as inspiring friends and followers to take action on a particular issue. This insight helped us to shape social media call to actions, and ‘share’ functionality design.

Google Analytics behavioral analysis

We used Google Analytics to identify potential pain points within our audience model. We discovered that users were more likely to use mobile devices to consume supporter content, such as news and updates, whilst content focusing on volunteering tasks was more often carried out on desktop. This was an important consideration when designing navigation patterns and page hierarchies.

Volunteer interviews

We ran a series of interviews with potential and existing volunteers to understand their goals, attitudes and experiences of the MSF volunteer journey across multiple touch points. Using this information, we were able to develop new user journeys to ensure visitors, such as quality volunteers, had a more appealing, and less frustrating, experience of applying to become a volunteer. As a result we were able to prototype and test a series of pages that would support MSF in increasing the quality of their volunteer applications with minimal fuss for the person making the application.

Volunteer registration page


The insights gained not only supported dramatic improvements to the audience experience across MSF’s multiple, online and offline touch points, but also supported the development of future strategy, giving clarity to MSF’s online priorities and objectives. These can now be developed into ongoing KPI’s to support further development and iteration.

Our website is the major tool at our disposal and by creating a site which could allow us to storytell effectively, we knew we’d improve engagement rates and in turn deliver more donations. Thanks to our collaboration with Torchbox, we’ve seen pages per session increase 42%, the average visit increase 120% and the bounce rate fall 20%. This has resulted in a 168% increase in conversion rate.

Lee Butler, Digital Marketing and Fundraising Manager, Médecins Sans Frontières
Author information: Tom Saunders , Product Director , Post information: , 4 min read ,
Related post categories: Digital products ,