More than just a room

A digital solution for university students seeking affordable housing

Design Process

My process for this project was inspired by the Design Council’s Double Diamond model. It is an iterative and non-linear design model that emphasizes exploration and wide-eyed thinking during ideation before focusing on decisive and clear-headed thinking during solution development.

Constraints

Business

The pandemic has created an unprecedented market for renters, with many landlords offering tenants major incentives.

Technological

Solution must be on a mobile platform and completed in 8 weeks timespan.

Seniors are struggling with technology and are not interested in gadgets and apps but tomorrow’s seniors might.

Cultural

With current COVID-19 restrictions many students are choosing to move back home with their parents as the classes have moved online.

DISCOVER

Understanding the problem and the people affected by it

Problem Space

Many seniors end up living alone

I was inspired to design this app by the local news addressing Toronto’s housing crisis, the lack of affordable housing and loneliness for the younger and older people.

Many seniors in cities with tight housing markets, end up living alone with spare bedrooms they don’t use, while students burden by high housing costs, student loans, and unstable employment struggle to pay rent.

Students struggle to pay rent

The growing costs and waiting lists for assisted living, the mounting tuition cost and unstable employment for the modern millennials, together with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on students’ income is adding to the financial stress for both older and younger people.

Secondary Research

After some secondary research, I found that according to a 2017 report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA), older Canadians don't see value in downsizing. Staying in the community they love, next to the neighbours they know, outweigh acquiring a more manageable space, size-wise.

As a result, there are over 5 million spare bedrooms in Ontario alone, and about 40 percent of those belong to seniors. I also discovered that in 2018, over 22,000 ex-students had filed for bankruptcy to address their student debt.

5 million+

Spare bedrooms in Ontario alone, 40% of those belong to seniors

22,000+

Ex-students had to file 
for bankruptcy in 2018 to address their student debt

7 out of 10

Students admitted their income has been affected by COVID-19 pandemic

Market Research

Understanding the current market and competitors helped provide insights into the gap in the market and the features that were important for the users when it comes to finding affordable rents. I conducted a competitor analysis by looking at 4 different companies and the benefits they offer. According to the people I interviewed, the existing websites and apps don’t offer what students need, such as really affordable rents that would make a difference.

Ultimate Impact

With the information uncovered during my secondary research in mind, my goal is to alleviate the stress amongst university students when searching for off-campus housing.

Students

Digital solution that would increase the availability, accessibility, and simplicity of finding affordable rents for university students.

Seniors

Create opportunities for seniors to generate a little extra income from renting out empty rooms, find companionship and get some help with light house chores.

Students & Seniors

Create opportunities for both seniors and students so they will benefit from a sense of shared community and reduced isolation.

Interviews

My objective was to uncover the motivations, pain points, and to gain insights into the students experience when looking for affordable rents. I focused on Canadian university students, aged 18 – 26 who were not living at home, and I conducted one-on-one interviews over Zoom video call.

Moving forward, I spent time crafting an interview script which consisted of open ended questions, I laid out the granular details such as tasks, schedule/location, participant criteria, recruitment methods and incentives.

  • 5 Interviews

  • 18-26 years

  • 20 open-ended questions

  • Canadian university students

  • Conducted remotely on Zoom

Key Interview Insights

After speaking to my target users, I was able to identify three key insights that helped me further refine the problem space and guided my design process for this project.

Illustration: Raafia Shahid (www.thevarsity.ca)

Lack of affordable housing

Students often compete with each other for cramped, mouldy accommodations in the rental buildings and houses surrounding campus. The lack of space and privacy takes a definite back seat to affordability and proximity to campus.

Trust & Security

Like most of us students feel a better sense of security and trust if they get to know the people that they share their living space with.

DEFINE

Synthesizing findings to frame the problem and uncover opportunities

Personas, Proto-persona & Experience Map

Keeping the user and their experience at the center of my design moving forward

From the interview insights, I was able to get a better sense of the students experience when looking for affordable housing. With this research, I crafted a primary and secondary persona (to segregate my thoughts better), and an experience map. I worked with how Simon feels through this phase and tried finding opportunities through his thoughts, in order to drive my designs for the target users and identify opportunities in which to focus my digital solution.

Due to time constraints and knowing that seniors struggle with technology, I decided to focused on the experience of the students, to ensure that my solution solves the problem of one type of user. As a reference point throughout the design process, and to get an idea of what are the needs from the perspective of the seniors, I created a homeowner proto-persona based on assumptions, market research, and intuition.

HMW Statement

After looking at the experience map and persona, it is clear that students struggle finding affordable housing. This thought led me to my design question:

How might we provide access to affordable housing for university students by connecting them with seniors with empty rooms so they will get financial relief?

Task Selection

Using the HMW statement and considering Simon's needs, I created a set of 40 user stories under 4 main epics, in order to help me define the functionality of my solution. Knowing that seniors struggle with technology, I decided that the experience must be facilitated by a social worker who will represent the senior homeowner.

Core Value Proposition

To facilitate the connection of university students with seniors with spare rooms with the help of social workers.

Task Flow Diagram

After developing the user stories and I identified my main task, I developed a task flow thinking about how a user would interact with the product to complete these task. Taking into consideration the core value proposition, I chose to build my task flow around the feature of Booking a Virtual Meeting with the social worker. 

User Story: As a student I want to book a virtual meeting with the social worker so I can inquire about the room and get information.

Core Epic: Request virtual meeting.

DEVELOP

Exploring potential solutions

Sketching & Ideation

With the task flow developed, I sketched out few concepts of what a user interface might look like for these tasks, in an effort to explore which options might best address my user’s needs.

After iterating through sketches, I created a paper low-fidelity prototype with the POP app to cheaply guide and test the design.

Wireframing

Using my initial concept sketches, I moved into Figma and began digitizing the low-fidelity wireframes adjusting the spacing and components to suit the grid and screen size. The goal of this version one prototype was to start testing as quickly as possible in order to identify user issues within the primary task flow.

Usability Testing

The purpose of this interaction was to test the effectiveness, efficiency, and overall experience of scheduling a virtual meeting with the social worker through the app I designed. The tests shed light on the flaws or confusion in the process flow of the app. I tested 5 users within my demographic in order to obtain key feedback so that I could make improvements as I progressed.

The overall goal was to provide a more optimal user experience. Based on Steven Krug’s usability testing script, I provided the users with a scenario and 7 tasks to complete, while I recorded their interaction with the prototype. Below is the side by side comparison between the different versions of the medium fidelity prototype as well as the changes made based on the user insights.

User Testing Round 1 Insights

2 out of 5 users found found the search process taking too many steps. Following users insights, I removed the unnecessary steps from the flow by simplifying the search process from six steps to three steps, for a better user experience.

User Testing Round 2 Insights

After gaining real life user insights through the first round of user testing, I was able to iterate my prototype. Following user insights, by altering features and removing unnecessary screens, I produced a more user-friendly experience overall. I did a second round of user testing with 5 users within my demographic, in order to obtain key feedback.

I provided the users with the same scenario and 7 tasks to complete, while I recorded their interaction with the prototype. The overall goal was to make more improvements based on users insights and provide a more optimal user experience.

Digital Wireframes: V3

Over two rounds of user testing, I was able to gain a considerable amount of insight. Through multiple iterations and removing unnecessary screens, I was ultimately able to produce my final, mid-fidelity prototype.

Visual Identity

Once I had established the final mid-fidelity wireframes, I started thinking about the visual identity of the brand before creating the high-fidelity prototype. I began by constructing a list of adjectives that I felt represented the brand well.

  • Friendly
  • Enthusiastic
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Energetic
  • Reliable
  • Optimistic
  • Dependable
  • Wellbeing
  • Safe
  • Caring
  • Comforting

Brand Mood Board

After using a list of adjectives to define the brand, I created a mood board based on the adjectives friendly, enthusiastic, and reliable. The mood board led to a consistent colour story. For typography, I looked for a font that evoked the same feeling, and was also legible at a small size.

Colour, Typography & Iconography

With the help of the moodboard, I created a colour palette that was simple with multiple accent colours to portray the "friendly and enthusiastic" side of the brand. I used “Metropolis”, a modern, geometric, minimalist sans-serif typeface designed for optimal readability at small point sizes, and beautiful at large point sizes.

Colours

Primary Colour

#3085F6

Accents

#D62929
#23286B
#F5BF45
#8DB6F6
#DA9B0C
#F8DDDD

Neutral Colours

#2A303F
#6E727C
#B6B7BA
#DEE5F1
#F7F9FE
#FFFFFF

Typography

Metropolis

ABCDEFGHIJKLMOPQRSTUVWXYZ

abcdefghijklmopqrstuvwxyz

Metropolis Regular

ABCDEFGHIJKLMOPQRSTUVWXYZ

abcdefghijklmopqrstuvwxyz

Metropolis Bold

Icons

Logo Development

I brainstormed a number of app names - Canopy, Liaz, Alliance, Roomy, but I ended up selecting “Homey” as it is associated with the idea of a place that is pleasantly comfortable and cozy, a homey atmosphere. Additionally, I felt the word was pleasant and simple, just like the product itself.

I started playing around with the letter "m" as I wanted to find an element to communicate a sense of connectivity and shared community between the student and the senior. Through several rounds of experimentation, iteration and adjustments, I created the final logo by manipulating the decorative google typeface Baloo Tamma 2.

DELIVER

Bringing the product to life

High-Fidelity Prototype

Finally, the visual identity was defined and all branding elements were injected into the screens to arrive at a fully realized look and feel. I fine tuned the micro animations to reinforce user navigation, and I was able to produce a high-fidelity prototype of Homey.

The primary task flow is booking a virtual meeting with a social worker to inquire about the room and start the application process. This allowed me to share a viable version of the product as it would appear to users.

Multi-Platform Adaptation

After designing the native iOS app for Homey, I looked further into what the users would need and considered other platforms that could benefit Homey users. With the target users as university students that use laptops for flexibility to work on academic assignments anytime, anywhere, it made sense to explore how the mobile app could translate into a web app. I took the design elements from the mobile app and I designed a dashboard that Simon would use when browsing the available listings close to his campus.

Responsive Marketing Website

As part of my business strategy for Homey, I considered possible ways that new users could be attracted to the product, and encouraged to download it and sign up. Based on my persona’s experience, I know that Simon will be searching the Internet for an affordable place to rent. So I designed a responsive marketing website to introduce prospective users to the product.

Through this website, I wanted to clearly communicate the values Homey has to offer, to ensure that the users understood the basic premise of the app, the key features, and that they got a sense of the branding and feel of the app at a glance before downloading it. Because I know my target users are frequent and savvy smartphone users, I also made sure that the website design was responsive and could adjust to mobile viewports.

FUTURE THINKING

Next steps and key learnings

What’s next for Homey?

I reflected on my design process, on how I would like to continue to iterate and improve on my designs for future improvements. Although far from complete, Homey is in a good state overall.

The current prototype communicates an idea, a flow and solid design thinking, while the visual identity communicates an understanding of branding, colour and design.

More testing

Although I have completed multiple rounds of user testing, I would love to test my prototype with a larger audience. Many features have been improved along this journey, however, there are still features that need to be revisited. For instance, I would like to show all the required steps needed to complete the user screening profile.

Improve features

In the future when seniors are more comfortable with technology, I could add a portal for them, so seniors can list their rooms without the assistance of the social worker. I could add a chat feature for ongoing support and communication, and the users could upload and download home inspection reports, background check reports and references.

More research

Due to time constraints and to ensure that my solution solved the problem of one type of user, I focused only on the experience of the students. Moving forward, I would need to conduct a very different set of research to find out exactly what the needs are from the perspective of the seniors and apply those findings.

Key Project Learnings

Experiencing the end-to-end design process in these 8 weeks allowed me to challenge my own working style and adapt my thinking in many ways. My biggest takeaway from the process of human-centered design is to let the users inform the design.

Testing early with users

I’ve learned that the more frequent I can test and gain real user insights the better, and that the product doesn’t need to be perfect in order to begin testing. It was really the value of the user tests and peer feedback that helped in shaping the product for the users. Refining the design after testing was the actual thing that helped my design.

Asking the right questions

After conducting a few initial interviews, I realized that asking directed and open-ended questions is important to validate my hypothesis. Also participant criteria should be specific, as the answers from the interviews must be relevant to the problem space and ultimately shape the design direction.

Designing to solve problems

I’ve learned not to go with the first idea or sketch, to be open minded to the results of the interviews. Let the users lead, and withhold judgements and assumptions, to get insights about the user’s needs and behaviours and get a clear understanding of their problem.

Prioritizing designs

With a tight timeline and short turnaround times on my deliverables throughout this project, I had to learn quickly how to evaluate and compare my designs, and prioritize making the changes that were most viable, realistic within my constraints, and beneficial to my users.

Let’s work together.

My goal is to always refine my craft and continue to grow as a designer. I love collaborating and welcome new opportunities to tackle interesting problems. So if you need a hand with your project get in touch.

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