Rentcycle — A UX Design Case Study

Design Interactive
20 min readJun 12, 2023

With the increasing popularity of online marketplaces, more and more people are buying and selling items they no longer need. However, individuals who only require temporary use of products may find buying them outright to be both costly and unnecessary. Unfortunately, finding a reliable and convenient platform for renting items can be quite challenging. Those willing to rent out their belongings may also feel uneasy about potential theft or damage.

How might we design a platform that allows individuals to rent and temporarily use items while providing a seamless and secure transaction experience?

Rentcycle was the result of a six-week design sprint at UC Davis in 2023, from April 17th to June 1st. Through a meticulous synthesis of research, ideations, testing, and prototyping in Figma, we created a high-fidelity prototype of an application that seeks to provide a reliable and secure platform for rental purchases, which reduces stressors while saving users money.

Awarded: Best Prototype

Meet the Team

Our Timeline

Research

Literature Review → Competitive Analysis

We kicked off user research with a general literature review. A few apps we researched were Airbnb, Turo, Idle, Zip Car, Rentle, and Mercari. We then conducted a competitive analysis chart by comparing apps that already exist for renting/selling. By using this method of comparison, we were able to identify which strengths we should pay attention to and which weaknesses/ opportunities other apps have.

Some key strengths were that a majority of these apps have an organizing messaging process, reviews, and a comprehensive listing page. Some weakness is that there is a lack of a system to systematize the availability of items. Lastly, an opportunity we found is that a majority of apps exist only to rent out specific products. From our literature review and competitive analysis data, we created 4 main research goals for our survey and interviews:

  • Rental Categories: Addressing limited availability and high demand for popular items in certain categories
  • Seller Concerns: Addressing uncertainties, financial risks, and legal liabilities
  • Rental Concerns: Addressing quality, reliability, cleanliness, potential additional costs
  • Why People Rent?: Identify contexts considering limited financial resources and temporary needs

Survey

We received 82 survey responses. We organized our survey into 3 main sections. One for general questions that inquired about the respondents about their occupation and their renting habits. Based on their answer they would be divided into “Yes, I am interested in renting” or “No, I am not interested in renting”. Respondents who answered “Yes” were asked a variety of questions that went deeply into how often they rented, why they would rent, and what they value when renting. Respondents who said “No” were asked why they wouldn’t rent and hypotheticals such as “If they were to rent what would they value.” All participants were asked to rank what types of items would they be willing to rent as well as their comfortability with being a seller.

Our critical data shows that there is a need and desire for our rental app concept. About 74.67% of respondents are open to renting items from other people, however, are more willing to rent for short-term use. People are also most popularly open to renting machinery/tools for fixing and crafting items. As the renter, 59% of survey respondents value the listing price and affordability.

Interviews

Our team conducted 8 interviews to get more specific insight into individual thoughts and processes when renting or selling items. The most popular worries as a renter are receiving return reminders, item condition upon receiving, affordability, insurance for more expensive items, accessibility, functionality, trial options, and cleanliness. As a seller people are worried about customer reliability, deposit requirements, secure transactions, potential damage, non-returns, and maintained condition upon return.

We also asked questions regarding what would drive them to rent items. According to the majority, short-term hobbies and activities would be more cost-efficient if items were rented. For example, baking, camping, and art supplies. They would also enjoy renting for traveling purposes or short-term living situations. For instance, staying in a city for a few months and only requiring an item temporarily. We also asked interviewees what would drive them to rent out their items as a seller. We received responses that said they would be willing to rent out items they rarely use, care less about, or know that their items will be taken care of. A majority had noted that a returnable deposit would be satisfactory to ensure that their item will be financially covered if there were any damages.

Why We Focused on College Students

  1. Budget-Conscious: college students often have limited financial resources and are constantly seeking cost-effective alternatives. They prioritize affordability making them more willing to rent and sell items.
  2. Time-limited Residency: The average college student lives in a college town for a relatively short period. This makes them more open to short-term or flexible services for renting items for temporary needs.
  3. Close Proximity: Our team worked within the scope of a college town. Based on our survey we found that a majority of renters would prefer to have the item either shipped to them or picked up from the seller. Therefore, quick shipments and meetings would require closer proximity.

College students are at a stage where a majority care about being cost-efficient. They also only live in a town for a short period of time.

Research — Reflection & Shortcomings

Limited Scope of Research Goals: Affordability, rewards system, messaging, and convenience, could have been explored to understand the user persona more comprehensively.

Sellers Were Less Emphasized: The research had a disproportionate focus on the renters’ perspective, resulting in limited data to inform the development of a more tailored listing process for renters.

Small Number of Interviews: Our team only conducted a handful of interviews. This resulted in a smaller sample size and limited insights into the perspectives and experiences of the participants.

Ideation

Affinity Mapping

During the first part of the ideation process, we started out with a few stages of affinity mapping where we organized our key takeaways from our research. From there, we narrowed down the many takeaways by grouping them by general categories and topics that seemed to be worries or features the survey results showed might be good to add to Rentcycle. The list of filtered takeaways are as follows:

  • Price of Renting: Reminders of due dates and times of rented objects would help rentees return their items in a timely manner.
  • Renting Time Length: Renters and rentees alike are concerned about the dangers of breaking a rented object or receiving a damaged object during the rental process, and wonder who and how they would be reimbursed in those situations.
  • Condition of Product: Fair renting policies (3rd party regulator wanted) so no one gets scammed
  • Security of Transaction: Reviews of renters help with their perceived trustworthiness, while brands also help with feeling secure about renting and fair renting policies (3rd party regulator wanted) so no one gets scammed
  • Miscellaneous: Some people also listed “trying before buying” as a reason for renting, so they can use the rented item to decide if they want to purchase it or instructions included on how to use the item

User Goals

Through the organization of the research takeaways that we identified during the affinity mapping process, we noticed that these fell under two main categories that we grouped together in our user goals. These two user goals were a need for them to rent items for cheap prices in a timely manner, and for them to be secure in the logistics and safety of the process. And from these two user goals, we created somehow might we statements that became our problem statements that would drive the rest of our project. These how might we statements were as follows:

How might we ensure that both renters and sellers feel confident and secure in the rental process?

How might we assure sellers that they will receive items on time while maintaining a flexible renting experience for the renters?

How might we help renters easily rent items at an affordable price from other people?

Sketches

Using the problem statements as guidelines, we then moved forward into our initial brainstorming session where we sketched out potential solutions to the worries and concerns brought up by the research that would also look to satisfy the user goals. This step was incredibly beneficial for the further development of our app because we were able to brainstorm potential solutions to our user goals without having to commit or expand on them too much. This allowed for a quick burst of ideas to be produced, and we were able to play around with what features might work well together in a combination to make the overall app the most efficient, cohesive, and intuitive for the user. Some of the initial ideas we brainstormed included:

  • A saved page that would aid users in finding their wanted items in an efficient and timely manner, as they could save the items that they were interested in for easy access at a later point in time.
  • An inbox that would include messages and notifications so that renters could easily keep track of their rental dates could communicate with the sellers for all matters related to a specific renting process with a specific seller, and to increase the trust between the two parties within that transaction. This looked to mitigate the worries and concerns that were the focus of our second user goal — to ensure a safe and trustworthy renting process.
  • An item listing page that included location, reviews, and a pay-first system that would also look to decrease the sense of doubt in the process for both parties involved, making sure that the seller and renter both had good records in previous transactions and that the product would be in good condition. This feature was also created to create more trustworthiness within the renting process on Rentcycle.
  • A search system that included individual filters and prompts to help users easily find their item out of the many other items available for rent on the app. The filters were created in an effort to help users find their items as painlessly as possible.

Other features that were developed during this process included:

  • Rented items page
  • Selling page
  • Profile
  • Listing pages

User Flow

With our brainstormed ideas in mind, we looked to then organize them into a user flow to mimic how a user might go about using the app with all the potential features when looking to rent or sell an item out. Through this process, we were able to group all the features we wanted into four main pages and further specify which features might work well together with the existing pages and the flow that we had created. These four main navigation pages ended up being the profile, explore, saved, and inbox pages, which all held a spot on our main navigation bar in the final design.

Mid-Fi Prototyping

Each of us 4 designers used the user flows and sketches we had created in order to build our own versions of wireframes for each of the feature and page flows. From there, we took a look at each of our wireframes and chose our favorite solutions and depictions of features, and created a more flushed-out mid-fidelity prototype.

Our mid-fidelity prototype’s main features include:

  1. Explore page for easy browsing customized to the user’s preferences
  2. Ability to search for an item using various filters
  3. A full listing page for an item so user can see important information about the item and security information
  4. Profile page with reviews for the seller
  5. Access to notifications and messages to sellers through the inbox page
  6. Ability to save liked items into folders

These main features we had for our prototype worked to address multiple problems and pain points we identified in our user research. The explore and search page allowed users to find items they want to rent based on their personal criteria for the object. The listing page includes a lot of the important information and pictures that users noted in our user interview that they wanted to know about and see. The profile page with reviews works to address some of the concerns regarding the security of renting, holding renters and sellers accountable for how they interact with each other and treat the objects. The access to notifications and messages allows for clear communication between sellers and renters while also providing a space to notify users of discounts and important dates and reminders, which users noted would be important to them. The saved section also allows for more personalization and customization within the app. Once we completed, the mid-fi screens, we added prototype functions that allowed us to test the features with users.

Usability Testing

We created an overall scenario for the usability test based on our user research persona and the features of our prototype.

The Scenario

You are a college student living in an off-campus apartment. You are interested in picking up jewelry making as a hobby to fill up your free time, but you are not willing to invest a lot of money into equipment without knowing if you would enjoy it enough to commit to it. As a happy medium, you are now trying the app Rentcycle to pursue a new interest.

Renting Process Tasks

  1. Rent metal clippers
  2. Save an item for later
  3. Obtain specific information about a product and see lender reviews

Post Rental Process

  1. Check the return date of the current rental

Seller

  1. List an easel to rent out
  2. See where to view rental requests for your easel

Usability Test Primary Findings and Re-Tests

We conducted 8 usability tests in total across both rounds of usability testing, all of which were college students to stick with our primary target audience and demographic.

Pull Up Navigation Bar Insights

Through our usability tests, we identified some problems with the pull-up navigation bar we had on our listings page. Some of the users didn’t know how to interact with the bar at first and tried opening it by clicking on it, but we had only prototyped it to drag it up. Another issue uncovered was the current organization of pricing they wanted to see both the daily rate and the total on the menu. We worked to solve these problems by adding the edit button and more interactions with the nav bar so that when the bar is tapped, it slides up as well.

We retested this pull-up nav bar in the second round of usability testing and the users found the flow to be straightforward.

Inbox Pull-Up Nav Insights

In the first round of testing, the structure of the inbox page made it difficult for users to find where the notifications page was, and many overlooked the notification bell that opened up that page as well as the filtering toggle. To remedy these two insights, when moving on to hi-fi, we restructured the overall navigation of the inbox page and turned the toggle into a filtration dropdown system.

We also re-tested this page and the task-related in the second round of usability testing in which users found the flow and features intuitive.

Profile Insights

Another consistent insight found in a majority of our usability tests in the first round was part of our task about finding information about current rentals, past rentals, and items they were renting out as the seller. Most users would instinctively go to the profile for this information when given the task, which is something we didn’t even consider, we had just put it in the notification inbox originally we added features to the design to include that information on the profile page, such as viewing current rental dates and listing, adding a review to past rentals, and viewing information and reservation dates in the seller's listings. We also retested these pages in the second round of usability testing, where there was still a bit of confusion with the information hierarchy of the popups, which we then restructured after the tests.

We also retested the task related to this that caused confusion in the initial round of usability tests and there was some mild confusion about the information presented on the popups which we restructured after the second round of tests.

Hi-fi Prototyping

Design System (ft. Renty the Raccoon)

Moving into the hi-fi prototype, we applied changes based on our aforementioned user testing results, as well as our design system.

By the way, meet Renty the raccoon! He is the friendly face that follows you around the app and guides you through the exciting world of renting.

Our inspiration for Rentcycle’s color palette, name, and Renty’s design is the recycle icon. His body is composed of triangular shapes, and arrows are present in his fur pattern.

1. Explore

The main page is the starting point for all rentals! Here, you can sort items by categories, check recently viewed items, and scroll down to view other recommended items. You can tap on an item card to view the listing or tap on the top right heart icon to add it to your saved items.

2. Search

To begin a search, you tap on the search bar to bring yourself to the search page. Here, you can sort items by four main filters: item categories, the distance between your location and the item, dates in which the item is available for rent, and the item’s price range. After confirming your keywords and search filters, the map on the search results screen gives a quick visualization of items closest to your location, and below that are a collection of item cards that meet the search criterion.

3. Saved

If you find something you like, you can always find it again by saving it in your collection of saved items! On the saved page, you can organize them into folders you can freely name and arrange at your own leisure. This is particularly useful if you need to rent a collection of items for a particular activity.

4. Profile

The profile page is where you find your own listings, as well as your ongoing and past rentals. On the past rental page, you can tap on the item card to view a quick summary of your rental and its due dates. You also have the option to review the original item listing in full. For previous rental items, you can view their summaries and leave reviews for them as well.

5. Item Listing

The item listing page includes comprehensive details about the item. The navigation bar at the top helps people find the information they are looking for more quickly. Since a major concern from our research revolved around reliability and transparency, we included a review system that shows the previous experiences with any given buyer or seller. We also have an FAQ, safety tips, and rules for item use to help people feel secure while they rent: agreeing to rent the item is agreeing to the terms to use the item correctly.

6. Renting an Item

The system is rather simple and streamlined. After reviewing an item listing’s details, you tap reserve at the bottom of the screen to get started. Then, you select the dates you would like to rent the item for and tap confirm to proceed to the rest of the purchase. On the confirmation page, you can review all the necessary details before agreeing to rent the item.

7. Messages

Communication is important! The inbox page helps users stay connected and updated. The messages page gives users the ability to interact with an item both within and outside of a rental transaction. You can use the search bar or the filters to access a particular conversation quickly.

8. Notifications

On the other hand, the notifications page reminds users of due dates, informs them of rental requests, and updates them on currently saved items. Similarly to the messages page, you can filter notifications as well.

Link to Final Prototype on Figma

Presentation Day

On presentation day, we rushed through some of the information that we wanted to emphasize a little bit more and went over the 10-minute time limit. Although there were parts of the presentation that definitely did not go as perfectly as we might have wanted to, we displayed the prototype of Rentcycle, its features, and the reasoning behind its features that we developed through research and ideation in a way that was easily comprehensible for the audience.

Our judge, Joyaa, was very encouraging and supportive of Rentcycle. She pointed out and appreciated our prototyping as well as the thought that went into creating some of the features. She also gave very good advice and thought-provoking suggestions regarding future developments of the app that included features like sharing or implementing a space for established companies to rent out their services or goods.

The other judges were also incredibly encouraging and noted the well-organized payment and deposit system that lent towards increasing the trustworthiness of a specific transaction. They also complimented the general structure of the app as well as the clarity of the presentation in regards to showing “what is this a problem and why does it exist?” as well as our solution to it in the form of Rentcycle’s design choices through all stages of our design sprint.

Challenges

Throughout the process, we faced many challenges that served as great learning opportunities for us. But three, in particular, served to be the biggest obstacles throughout our journey of creating Rentcycle.

Creating a unique brand identity

While creating Rentcycle, we struggled with creating our own unique brand identity as we realized that they layout for a lot of the features that we were thinking of already had pre-existing, incredibly well-working, and effective designs residing in other apps. Some of these included the Saved Page and its similar functionality and look to Pinterest’s Wishlist as well as Rentcycle’s Listing Page and its resemblance to Airbnb’s own listing pages.

In the final design, we incorporated unique colors and a logo (Renty Raccoon) that was very specific to Rentcycle that gave the app its own feeling and experience. Because of this, we were able to mix the already in-use and well-received designs of some other apps mixed with our own design features to give Rentcycle its own look.

Details and their purpose or placement

Another large issue that we encountered was the purpose and placement of details within the app, such as button placement, which would affect the user’s flow when taking actions such as reserving an item. This came up very prominently on two separate occasions — the reserve button to bring the pop-up onto the screen in the listings page, and also the notifications section of the inbox.

In regards to the reserve button, we settled with its placement where it originally was as our user tests showed that people were generally able to figure out what it was used for and that it was a very clear call to action that they needed to follow. Because of this, we were able to settle on the final placement. For the notifications, we struggled with the organization of it due to the limited features that it held. It originally did not include the filtration system, so the purpose of the notification section became very unclear and cluttered with different messages from the system. To deal with this, we created the drop-down filters that eventually helped organize the inbox page and user-tested the feature in order to confirm that it worked as intended, which it did.

Limiting ideas

One of the most challenging parts of the process was to limit our ideas. Because a prominent, singular rental app does not exist yet, there was no way for us to draw inspiration when it came to renting out such a variety of items all in one app the way that Rentcycle allowed users to do. This lack of a pre-existing base structure led to a large amount of ideas from our team that sometimes contradicted each other, or simply had no use when put together with the other suggestions. But because so many ideas existed, it was difficult in the beginning to narrow down and focus on a set of ideas that worked together when it was so easy to be distracted and caught up with a new feature that we would think of that seemed to work well on its own.

We eventually got over this initial hump during the earlier stages of the process as we worked through affinity mapping and user flows, where we were able to place the many ideas that we had in conjuncture with each other to see how the many ideas would work together when they were placed in a flow or category with each other.

Next Steps

After presenting Rentcycle to the judges and completing our final prototype, we identified some next steps that we would have liked to take if we had a little more time to improve Rentcycle even more for users.

Sharing items

Sharing items with friends and family was a feature that we would have liked to pursue if we were given more time, as it would allow the app to expand in an organic manner as people would send items that they were interested in or that they thought others might be interested in. This would lead to more people joining the app and renting from other people, increasing the trustworthiness of the entire platform and encouraging people to be more open about the renting process while also opening up the opportunity for more items to be listed for rent by the increased amount of users.

Working with companies

If possible, it would have been nice to create some sort of verification system or partnership with companies on the app so that larger companies such as Home Depot or U-Haul that already have rental programs or services as a part of their business model could post those on Rentcycle. By providing this opportunity for large and trustworthy companies, it would help the users of the app feel more confident in the processes of the app and the process while also helping the app grow as already established companies would draw customers to Rentcycle.

Onboarding and sign-in

Finally, creating an onboarding and sign-in process would be a built-in feature that we’d like to implement that would help users navigate through the app for first-time visits and to help them familiarize themselves with the app. This would also serve to help cater towards the two user goals we identified during the ideation process as we would use the onboarding process as a means to help users learn how to easily find the items they want at the condition, price range and location that they would want it to be at. It would also help increase the trustworthiness of the app as it would create more of an impression on users that Rentcycle is there to help users through the process and the renting experience rather than just making money.

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