Mobile App Prototype for Finding Roommates

UW HCDE 518 User Centered Design

Summary

With a team of three people, I conducted user research, created wireframes from concept sketches, built an interactive prototype, and documented detailed design specifications. I also performed basic usability testing for our prototype, a mobile application. As the research lead, I focused on research design, data analysis, persona development, and requirements capture.

Collaborators: Jasmine Lawrence and Sangeun Lee

Below are selected screens from our final prototype.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.14.21 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-05 at 3.17.01 PMMy Matches (1)

From left to right:

  1. Account holder’s home screen
  2. Account holder’s own profile
  3. Account holder’s roommate compatibility results

Project Links

  1. Navigation for the mobile app prototype (PDF)

Problem

For this class, we were tasked with identifying a domain that we wanted to research and design for. Our team chose roommate finding experience at the University of Washington, but left the exact nature of the project flexible until our user research was complete.

Throughout the quarter, we progressed through the user-centered design process, which included: conducting user research, creating personas, brainstorming and sketching, wireframing, building an interactive prototype, conducting basic user testing, iterating our design, and producing a detailed functional specification for its hypothetical development.

Process

User Research

Before embarking on research, we developed a tentative design question: How can we improve the roommate finding experience for students at UW? The goal was intentionally vague, as we needed to know what ‘roommate finding experience’ really meant to our users.

After writing an initial project declaration, we began by conducting three forms of user research.

First, we conducted a competitive product analysis, intended to broadly understand ways in which target students might be underserved by existing solutions. This helped establish baseline feature sets.

Next, we sent out a survey to gather key criteria students used to identify potential roommates. We also left room for retrospective analysis of previous positive/negative roommate finding experiences.

Finally, we conducted a series of contextual inquiries, in which we had participants demonstrate their workflow so that we could get a more realistic snapshot of their search experience than what the survey provided.

After analyzing the data, we found that our target users desired friendship with their roommate, but they were unsure how to bridge cultural, habitual, and communications style differences. They were also concerned about conflicts arising from differences in lifestyle definitions, and they maximized their attention on either preventing or resolving disruptive conflicts.

We created a series of personas to try to capture the needs of the types of users we encountered. Our personas included:

  • an exchange student whose aim is to learn about the city and meet new people through her roommate (primary persona);
  • an international student whose inexperience with roommate finding and American culture left her confused about what to look for (secondary persona); and
  • a local student whose large social network allows her to secure a suitable roommate relatively quickly (negative persona).

From our research, we refined our design question: How can we make the roommate finding experience more accessible and seamless for out-of-state and international students at UW?

We narrowed the scope to include only out-of-state and international students because those from our sample that were native to the state relied on word of mouth referrals for potential matches. Since students from outside the state of Washington possess small, if any, social network to draw upon during their search, we felt that was a more compelling challenge to pursue.

Our goal was to help these students lessen the uncertainty of finding roommates from afar, and reduce the language and cultural barriers in order to give them better indication of who is most compatible and who they could quickly eliminate.

From our research, we also identified several design requirements that our final solution aims to address. Overall, our target users would be supported by a solution that:

  • helps them bring up topics that may feel too forward to address;
  • communicate thoughtfully about underlying habits that stem from cultural and lifestyle differences; and
  • assess the potential and certainty of a positive living experience.

Brainstorming & Sketching

With our design goals in mind, we brainstormed feature ideas and began sketching several solutions to our users’ various concerns and problems. We used an affinity diagramming to group similar ideas together, ultimately agreeing upon three that seemed to address our users’ needs most appropriately. From there, we evaluated our ideas based on four criteria (strengths, weaknesses, feasibility, and originality) and decided upon a mobile application.

Concept Mapping Ideas

Concept mapping and evaluating our ideas.

Our app centered around assessing potential roommates via their descriptive profile; completing a robust compatibility survey to populate a curated match list; and providing a range of communication options between potential roommates while on-the-go. From here, we explored how the parts could fit together and iterated on our initial sketches to develop wireframes for individual screens.

Wireframing & Prototyping

First, we created rough sketches of user flows to determine the basic navigation structures. We then created different versions of our screens, rapidly iterating as we thought back to the needs of our users. Once we were satisfied with the interface and design elements, we created an interactive click-through prototype using Proto.io.

User flow of mobile app

Sketching out user flows in the mobile app as a team.

Usability Testing

We conducted brief and informal user tests to catch any usability issues with our design by running four users through five scenarios in our prototype. We also surveyed each participant after the testing session to evaluate their overall experience with the app. With the feedback and findings from these user tests, we iterated on our designs again to fix issues that some users faced. These included renaming labels, changing feature locations, and removing redundant steps in the user flow.

Results

Ultimately, we created a revised click-through prototype that incorporated the design changes from our usability testing. We presented our project to our class in which we discussed the research process and provided an overview of the key features. Finally, we also created a detailed specification document detailing the design process, motivations, main features, and screen designs.

Lessons Learned

Since it was the first time I applied the user-centered design process, I wasn’t quite sure what the outcome would be. The most useful lesson I learned was to spend more time upfront defining the scope. Our feature set was too complicated, and our execution would have been better had we narrowed down on just a couple user stories.

Another lesson is to document everything during the project, even if you don’t think you’ll need it later. Pay attention to the quality and the size of the photos, for example. We didn’t record our work and document our decisions consistently, so that created difficulties when we wrote our spec documents.

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