As the blossoming flowers and warmer weather mark the arrival of Spring, so does the inevitable stress of tax season. For many individuals, the month of April can bring about anxiety and uncertainty. However, in Greater Cincinnati, United Way has stepped in to offer guidance and support during this challenging time. Recognizing the impact of tax season on individuals and families, United Way has implemented initiatives to help navigate through this potentially overwhelming season. Their efforts aim to alleviate stress and ensure that everyone can effectively manage their taxes.

The United Way of Greater Cincinnati believes all individuals deserve economic well-being. They offer a Free Tax Prep initiative that provides free income tax preparation and filing services. Funded by the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Free Tax Prep is powered by a network of hundreds of committed volunteers dedicated to helping families and individuals have stronger financial futures and experience less stress during filing, sometimes filing for the first time!

At Kolar, we strongly value the power of community, which is why we prioritize finding ways to support, give back and design for community engagement. We were privileged to partner with United Way of Greater Cincinnati to help gain better access to the program through our unique Kolar Experience Institute research and design pro bono services. In 2021 and 2022, Kolar partnered with United Way of Greater Cincinnati to rethink their marketing materials and physical program space to enhance the user experience and bring improved access to members of the community. 

Kolar and United Way of Greater Cincinnati began the process by sitting down and identifying opportunities for improvement for the program. This included research, user surveys/interviews, and site visits/audits of several free tax prep sites to get the lay of the land and understand the unique challenges to their program as a whole and those related specifically to their sites. Kolar then worked closely with their team to brainstorm solutions and a summary of recommendations to consider, such as improvements to their website, communications, and signage design. The designs needed to be flexible, with the ability to be packaged and deployed across various sites regardless of size, complexity, or location. 

Kolar’s design solution had a primary objective of elevating United Way’s visibility and brand representation within the community. Despite being utilized by numerous repeat customers, many were unaware that the program was organized by United Way. By enhancing brand recognition, Kolar aimed to establish United Way as a prominent presence within the community. Additionally, the new designs addressed the challenge of complex campuses and temporary tax season locations, ensuring customers could easily navigate and locate their desired destinations. These designs also prioritized flexibility to accommodate important information and instructions, such as social distancing guidelines, reflecting the evolving needs of the post-Covid era.

The new designs were first rolled out during the 2023 tax season. United Way and Kolar partnered with GE Aerospace to provide the redesigned Tax Free Prep volunteer services at the Reading Branch of the Cincinnati Hamilton County Public Library. The result was well-received, offering a welcoming and easy to navigate program for an otherwise complex effort. 

“The new designs provided our partner and host tax preparation sites a fantastic, welcoming feel, increased direction to tax preparation spaces, and raised awareness of United Way’s support of families,” stated United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “Thanks to Kolar Design’s invaluable contribution to our Free Tax Prep initiative.”

In 2024, United Way of Greater Cincinnati anticipates the full deployment of the newly designed materials across all tax preparation sites, which will further their vision of safe and reliable tax spaces for taxpayers who put their trust in United Way and its Free Tax Prep volunteers.