By Rob Vanasco, @nocuberequired

“Please sign my petition asking for M&M’s to be made without artificial dyes.” 

That was the plea of a mom of two kids. In 2014, realizing the petroleum-based dyes in her son’s M&M’s were causing adverse effects to his behavior, Renee Shutters partnered with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to help her son and other parents dealing with similar situations. She wanted to rally people to ask the makers of M&M’s to stop using harmful dyes.

It seemed like a difficult task, but Renee found Change.org, which enables people to start a petition around virtually any topic and share it via social media. Renee received 217,123 electronic signatures in support of her cause over two years. In this forum, people shared their stories and discussed how removing dyes helped their kids.

In February of 2016, M&M’s announced they would no longer use toxic dyes in the production of M&M’s. Renee’s petition was a confirmed victory. If you visit Change.org, you will see a long list of similar victories. People are making a difference in their communities, and around the world, by using this technology.  

But, what if you want to do more?

What if you want to go beyond the limits of a petition and rally people around a cause? 

What if you want to organize people within a community?

How do you engage and motivate that group?

How do you provide that group with a delightful experience while giving them the tools they need to accomplish their mission?

These are the questions that leaders at Change.org asked the participants of UX Boot Camp to address.


Cooper’s UX Boot Camp allows participants to learn the art and science of user experience design, and to put it immediately into practice with a real-life client.

When my company encouraged me to consider professional development opportunities, I researched all the options out there. I reviewed all the workshops offered by Cooper U, and UX Boot Camp was exactly what I was seeking. 

As a kinesthetic learner, I learn best by doing. Even though I knew all Cooper U workshops would provide helpful information and engaging classroom conversation, I wanted to get my hands dirty doing actual UX work.

There is nothing like hearing a concept, seeing the words on the screen, discussing the idea, and then putting it into practice right away. For me, this really solidified the process I was thirsting to learn.

I entered the class with a solid background in user experience design; in my position as a Product Development Analyst for PCSU, I regularly perform user research, analyze data, create personas, and think about scenarios when designing products. However, before taking the workshop, there was a disconnect in how to take that user research and translate it into design. I knew empathy was important, but I didn’t fully understand how empathy directed design decisions.

In a meeting with our client from Change.org, we had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about their business goals. (We did this immediately after learning how to conduct effective stakeholder interviews!) We also learned how to lead effective ethnographic user interviews, which we conducted with real target users in small groups.  

This experience of learning and doing continued until we crafted a design framework; a loose concept of the final solution.

Instead of taking a test or quiz at the end of the class, our capstone involved pitching our concepts to our client. Not only did we work through each of the steps we learned about in the 4-day class, but we also had to internalize and verbalize that process, and survive the panel of judges -- reminiscent of American Idol -- which included our Cooper U instructors, Dan and Jonathan, and the client from Change.org.

Overall, it was a transformative experience. Aside from all of the great information, the Cooper UX Boot Camp solidified my decision to pursue a career in UX design.

Since October, I’ve applied the information from the UX Boot Camp to my projects back in Florida. I’ve trained colleagues on the concepts and processes we learned. I’ve joined my local UX community and surrounded myself with literature and people that will help me build upon what I gained at Cooper.

If you want to read a day-by-day chronicle of our Change.org UX Boot Camp, you can check it out here

Cooper has a UX Boot Camp, May 3-6, working for the California Academy of Sciences. In this Boot Camp, you will help the Academy turn their signature Rainforest exhibit into an enduring digital experience. I strongly encourage you to register now.  

Rob Vanasco is passionate about user experience and community outreach. He spends his time with his wife and son in St. Petersburg, Florida, working in Product Development at PSCU, and pursuing volunteer activities.