Cornell Lab of Ornithology


For over 20 years, eBird has collected data from birdwatchers to assemble one of the largest citizen-science data platforms in the world.

During the pandemic, birdwatching soared in popularity. This drove immense growth of a new audience of novice birdwatchers and outdoor enthusiasts.

I was tasked with leading an effort to extend the product line to better serve their new customers and support the scaling required to bend the curve of declining biodiversity.

A few concept mocks to help the team imagine bringing social collaboration into the experience.

Designing for scale

An interesting part of this project was the opportunity to draw on my experience designing collaborative mobile games. By applying these techniques, we saw huge potential to increase engagement and retention to drive growth.

  • How could game mechanics and social connections enrich the existing experience without overcomplicating the products?

  • How do you bring two distinct customer segments with varying levels of commitment together gracefully, while encouraging mentorship and a healthy open-hearted community?

  • How could we introduce this without disrupting the successful citizen-science data collection model thriving in eBird?

We envisioned birding going mainstream as a component of other popular outdoor activities and brands.


Taking a collaborative approach, I involved product leaders, designers, engineers, and marketers each step of the way. Longtime team members helped me stay true to the direction of the organization, while I pushed the boundaries toward growing and evolving.

  • Research included a survey, informal interviews, and analytics

  • In-person workshops and remote brainstorming sessions

  • Mapping the existing app experiences

  • Analyze competitive landscape

  • Built a no-code prototype and tested a live event framework

  • Sketching, prototyping, video walkthroughs

And overall, I consistently kept up a frequent asynchronous communication cadence in order to keeping things moving forward.

The process began with a series of workshops with cross-functional team members.

We sent a Typeform survey out to people who fed birds, to help us understand how they engaged in birding.

The Lab’s greatest assets are their data platform and their users. This diagram helped us visualize extending the system into a collaborative social experience around these entities.

Core problem

After initial research, we uncovered a core problem—people wanted to go birdwatching, but didn’t know where to begin.

  • Learning to identify birds is difficult. It requires focus and support early on.

  • Because of this, people who attempted to start birding on their own would often fall out of it.

  • Those who successfully got past the difficult first stages were connected with a mentor, or a small community who supported them.

  • How could we connect people to a focused activity, with built-in support from the community—helpful conversation, mentoring, and collaboration?

The Lab's Sound ID feature is a revolutionary tool to help novices learn to identify birds. These concept mocks show how we could encourage mentorship and community by incorporating social features.

The big idea—Quests

From games, we use challenges as a powerful motivator, especially during early stages of the learning process.

  • We can build upon the existing “games” engaged birders were already playing. The focusing mechanism was already there, but it was unknown to novice users.

  • Always something to do, with the community or by yourself. 

  • Adaptable to different audience tiers. Difficulty could scale depending on the user’s experience level.

  • An extensible system that could be managed and supported by partners in locales across the world.

High-fidelity concepts for quest screens—discovery carousel, inline progress, marketplace detail, and in-progress detail

Early wireframes with callouts for building live data prototypes.

The team imagined lots of fun quests to challenge our users.