What’s up with Wikipedia’s donation message?

And how it could've been made differently

We all know Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia. I, personally, have to thank Wiki for most of my passing grades in school, general knowledge and fun reading times. Wiki is free for all, and that’s very comfortable. There comes a time, though, after years of helping other people, Wiki needs us, the users, to donate for it.

Now, when I just thought about writing this post, I was triggered by the design of Wiki’s alert for donation.

When I just entered Wikipedia’s homepage, this popped up to my eyes:

My first reaction was a instant “Oh God”. It looked like a Malware alert, and the only thing I wanted to do was to close it. Words can’t describe how panicked I was when I couldn’t find the “close” button. It is tiny and accessibility-wise speaking, it’s failing the contrast test. Nasty move, Wiki. Nasty move.

Maybe I’m too naive, but since when is it okay to use too low-contrast in order to hide parts the user needs to see?

As I scrolled down, ANOTHER message appeared, asking me for a donation.

Trying to get rid of this annoying message, I clicked on “maybe later”. As I haven’t excepted, this button really means the “maybe later”. I actually had to enter my email address, so I’ll keep getting annoyed in my inbox, until I pay.

Now back to the color

I don’t think the whoever designed this message thought this is a beautiful design. This is not a nice color matching and really made me feel uncomfortable.

As we learn in the first five minutes of any lesson about colors, red is the most noticeable color. In nature, animals know that red means dangerous or poisonous, people use it on roads to alert — stop, beware, don’t do this or that.

red mushrooms
If you ever come across these red mushrooms, don’t eat them.

So, why should I, the poor user, feel so intimidated by their ask for help?

I think the reason is simple — this scary box is telling me — wake up. For years you’ve been taking and taking from the giving tree called Wiki, and now it’s time to show you care. Today’s situation is a problem. Wiki’s been giving and giving, and in order to let it continue its work, it’s my time to understand what’s going on and do what I can to help.

Why so negative, though?

Is a negative reinforcement more effective than a positive reinforcement? Well, I don’t know, so I Googled that question. It appears that a negative reinforcement is good when you want to get started, and positive reinforcement is good when you want to keep going. Let’s say a negative example is “If I don’t go to the gym I’ll be fat” and a positive example is “Going to the gym makes me feel so good!”.

Now, what does Wiki want us to do? Wiki wants to get us started. So, the call to action is surrounded by an intimidating red border, and the user gets into the alerted mood.

So I understood why this border is red and scary, but there’s another thing that really annoyed me.

Remember TL;DR?

Personally, when I see this amount of text, I pass. I was taught that when designing a page with written content, you shouldn’t write more than 100 characters in a row. This message’s row contains 110 characters. I know, it’s not that much above 100, but I do feel overwhelmed by it. Plus, what is the action called for? Only after reading 3 rows, I read the asking for a donation. They even used a couple of really good marketing techniques like talking to our emotions and also explaining the price they ask for is equivalent to the price of a cup of coffee(10 NIS is less than 3$). I still find this text a bit too long to be persuasive.

But then I thought — Who are the main users of Wikipedia? Again, Googled it. It appears there’s a Wikipedia article about it. Wikipedia users, (or Wikipedians) are people who spend a lot of their time reading and writing articles, spending time on the little details and really care about each character written. Will they get frightened by long texts like I do? I guess not.

Bottom line

I got to be honest. When I started writing this post, I was really confused. I owe so much of my knowledge to Wikipedia, but I can’t say I didn’t cringe at the sight of this message. I don’t like it, to say the least. Having said that, looking into it and trying to understand why did the designer of this message design it the way it looks, made me understand maybe I’m missing something. You’ll be happy to know I donated! I owe Wiki so much more than these 30 NIS (about 10$) I donated.

How I would do it

I can’t help but think of a better solution to this message, though. I think, with a slight change in the row and sentences lengths, a little change in the main color and some fine-tunings, this message could be much better. I see it this way:

First of all — as I mentioned before, I think the dark red is scary. I chose to use more of a peach light color, to make the message alerting on the one hand, but still pleasant. I think this message should make the user feel related to Wiki, and understand why donating for it is the right thing to do while keeping the sentences short. Also, it should make the donation as easy as possible, with preset amounts (and a place to donate another specific amount).

To sum it up

I think Wikipedia’s message for donation is overall very legitimate. Wikipedia needs donations and they’re sending the message that this matter is really important. In my opinion, giving should come from a place of connection, and not a place of pity and fear. In the bottom line, the message did get me donating, so I guess it succeeded somehow, but it tingled my UX-sense.

Do you think this message is good? Do you have any alternatives? Tell me about it in the comments.


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5 thoughts on “What’s up with Wikipedia’s donation message?

And how it could've been made differently

  1. I absolutely agree. Though the ordeal goes even further.

    First time I saw this banner I was intimidated by it, like you described.
    However second time I saw it I thought “why not?”. I am grateful for their service and wish to make sure they stay loyal to their users and not to a mega corporate that might purchase them. So I donated.

    But the banner keeps on hunting me nonetheless! It did not go away. I’m not sure according to what they identify their users but with me they failed…

    1. I totally agree! I believe these banners could be much more friendly, and Wikipedia’s just missing it. Plus, of course, we owe so much to this wonderful site, that it isn’t supposed to be so hard to persuade us.

  2. I wish there was a nice happy button that said “already donated”.
    Because I did, so let me press it and get a “woohoo!” in return 🙂

    1. You’re totally right, Anna! I’ve seen so many products that reward the user, for much less than actually giving money.

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