This project was the result of a 6-week intensive design sprint in Design Interactive at UC Davis, from October 16th to December 1st, 2023. In this challenge, we specialized in human-centric solutions through multidisciplinary collaboration.
Awarded: Most Customer Centric UX
Meet the Team!
Our team tackled our project based on the following prompt:
Finding affordable, safe, and convenient off-campus housing can be a significant challenge for college students, especially those new to a city or university.
How might we create an online platform that connects students with verified housing options, provides rental guidance, and facilitates informed housing decisions?
While recognizing the significance of the issue, we also understood the diverse needs and constraints faced by students in their housing search. Our goal was not just to create a housing platform, but to provide a comprehensive tool that respects and responds to the varied, and often stressful, experiences of students in securing their ideal living situation.
First-time renters face a complex landscape in off-campus housing, dealing with high demand, affordability and finding the right roommates.
How can we streamline the housing search for students by uniting renters, roommates, and landlords in a simple, easy-to-navigate platform?
Meet Spots: A user-friendly housing app that streamlines the search for off-campus rentals while integrating social networking features. This compact platform allows you to connect with potential roommates, explore vetted properties, and directly communicate with landlords. It simplifies the housing hunt with a personalized matching quiz for roommates and properties. Spots aims to reduce the stress and complexity of finding housing, making the process more manageable and cost-effective for students.
- Streamline Housing Search: Make finding roommates and rentals easy and efficient.
- Offer Vetted Listings: Provide safe, reliable housing options.
- Personalize Matches: Use quizzes for tailored roommate and property connections.
- Empower with Information: Give students essential renting guidance in a simple format.
Literature Review → Competitive Analysis
We kicked off our research with 2 literature reviews by each team member. We looked at applications such as Zillow, Apartments.com and Airbnb. We then conducted a competitive analysis by comparing and contrasting different features that apps had and decided to integrate them into our project based on how useful and viable they were in our project. By using this method of comparison, we were able to identify strengths that we should take note of and take away from, along with which weaknesses we could use as opportunities.
We found some key strengths:
- User-Intuitive Layout: The majority of housing apps have an intuitive and easy-to-use interface.
- Comprehensive Information: Listings generally provide detailed specifics on accommodations, restrictions, etc.
As well as some key weaknesses:
- Missing Leasing Dates: Many apps lack crucial information about leasing dates.
- Limited Communication Tools: There’s an absence of platforms for potential roommates/housemates to communicate directly.
And opportunities for improvement:
- FAQ Integration: An FAQ page could be added to answer common questions students have during their housing search.
From our literature review and competitive analysis data, we landed on 5 main research goals for our surveys and interviews…
- Accessibility and Ease of Use: Investigate the primary challenges and barriers students face in using housing search platforms.
- App Functionality Preferences: Determine what features (such as roommate matching, communication with landlords, and property reviews) users prioritize in a housing app.
- Understanding User Needs: Explore what drives student decisions in choosing housing and roommates, focusing on diverse needs and preferences.
- Inclusivity in Housing Search: Assess how to make our platform more inclusive, catering to students from varied backgrounds and with different housing requirements.
- Ethical and Secure Use: Identify strategies to ensure ethical use of data and maintain user trust and security, especially in the context of personal housing information.
Quantitative Data: Surveys
We conducted a focused survey using Google Forms to gather student insights on off-campus housing searches. Our survey, featuring multiple choice, Likert scale, and open-ended questions, aimed to pinpoint key factors in housing and roommate selection. We also gauged the frequency of property visits and use of mobile apps vs desktop applications in the housing search process.
We received 52 responses to our 10-question survey.
These were our key findings:
- 80% of students highlighted affordability as a major challenge in housing.
- 73% emphasized proximity to campus as a deciding factor.
- 90% cited housing cost as a high priority.
- 90% of students preferred using desktop websites for housing searches.
The primary respondents were UC Davis students aged 18–22, either currently seeking or already in off-campus housing. Notably, our data underrepresented transfer students, who typically aren’t residing on campus before their housing search, unlike many students who transition from on-campus dormitories.
Qualitative Data: Interviews
Our team conducted 12 interviews to get more specific insight into individual thoughts and processes when finding off campus housing. We asked students about what steps they take when researching housing, and had them elaborate on their biggest pain points. We also asked about their priorities and deciding factors when choosing housing. Pricing and accessibility were most important when looking for housing. Students compared distance vs price when it came to housing. They constantly compared and contrasted, including housing quality and management administration.
Additionally, we asked questions regarding their experience when it came to the process of finding roommates. Most students relayed the difficulties they had with finding new roommates. Most made friends their 1st year or housed with friends from high school. When we asked them about the application process, students revealed struggles with transparency when signing applications and leases, and mentioned first-come-first-serve or raffle-style leasing.
Ideation & Synthesis
Based on the findings we received from our initial research, we found that the audience we were catering to were college students, particularly freshman and transfer students. Our user personas compiled the insights that we found most similar amongst our participants including their goals, needs, and pain points. Based on the information gathered within our user personas, we established what visualization tools and content design we would move forward with and began to think about how our users would interact with the application.
After affinity mapping, we synthesized potential features from the research insights. Our interview findings led us to determine which paint points we would address in our design and application. From here we found our focus in pricing, sociability, accessibility, comparability, transparency, and creating a resource hub.
Our first wireframes were initial steps we took in developing a user centric application. We all came up with designs based on our findings, then shared and compared with the rest of the group. This step was successful because of how much insight we were able to gain. From here, we had a solid starting point to design and organize content within our application.
During this stage, pre-prototyping, we were focused on developing a set list of tasks that would be implemented within our application. By synthesizing our research and sketching ideas we were able to come up with a user flow to help us visualize exactly what frames needed to be designed and prototyped in the next stage of the design process. This included our main tasks:
- Onboarding (blue)
- Listing page (green)
- Feed (purple)
- Profile page (yellow)
After finalizing the tasks, the user flow includes the steps our users would execute or experience while using Spots.
Home & Property Listing Page
After finishing the onboarding, users land on the Home page. Here, they can explore a variety of housing listings tailored to their preferences. Users can view details of each property, compare options, and even contact landlords directly. The Home page serves as a central hub for all housing-related searches, offering an intuitive and user-friendly experience.
The Explore page is where users engage with the social aspect of Spots. Here, they can browse posts from other students, share their own housing experiences, and connect with potential roommates. Each post offers details and the option to communicate, fostering a community-driven environment for housing searches.
Create a Post Form
For our Create a Post feature, we introduced a seamless way for users to share their housing needs and preferences with the Spots community. This form allows users to craft detailed posts, complete with photos and property information, to connect with potential roommates, sublease opportunities, and more. This user-friendly interface empowers users to effectively communicate their housing requirements and engage with others in their housing search journey.
We conducted user testing on our mid-fidelity prototype with 5 participants. Each user was tasked with:
- Completing the onboarding process and compatibility quiz.
- Accessing and reviewing the ‘Home’ page.
- Searching and viewing property listings.
- Messaging a landlord.
- Navigating to and interacting with the ‘Explore’ page.
- Messaging a potential roommate.
In response to user feedback, we made significant changes to our website’s layout and naming conventions. Originally, our “Home” page was set up like traditional property listing sites, featuring official housing properties. The secondary “Explore” page focused on social media, where users could post and connect with potential roommates. However, this setup was confusing for users. Feedback also emphasized the importance of our unique feature — the social aspect of the platform. Consequently, we renamed the “Explore” page to “myFeed” and the “Home” page to “Properties.” Crucially, “myFeed” was repositioned as the primary homepage, placing our platform’s distinctive social networking feature at the forefront. This adjustment better aligned with our objective of highlighting the unique social interactions our platform offers, reflecting key, actionable insights from user feedback.
Users also found the “Post a Listing” on the “Explore” page confusing and obstructive. To address this, we moved elements upwards and removed the Post a Listing widget to improve user experience and enhance platform clarity.
Our design system incorporates orange for its energetic and inviting qualities, adding vibrancy and visibility. Brown brings stability, warmth, and a connection to nature. Together with green and light blue, our palette creates a harmonious and inviting design that aligns with our user-centric approach.
Our onboarding process is designed to create a personalized user experience right from the start. It begins with a brief introduction to Spots, followed by a compatibility quiz. This quiz asks about lifestyle choices, sharing preferences, and housing needs, helping us match users with ideal roommates and properties. By gathering these details early on, we ensure that users see housing options that best fit their specific requirements.
In the final MyFeed page, users can seamlessly explore posts from fellow students, complete with photos and property details. The compatibility percentage helps users find ideal roommates or properties, and the messaging feature allows direct communication. Users are able to favorite posts to be viewed later in their Profile. Users can also create their posts and access linked listings, creating a vibrant and interactive community hub for housing searches.
The Properties page allows users to effortlessly browse housing listings, both houses and apartments. With a map-based search, users can explore available properties and click into each one to access detailed information. This includes past tenant/student reviews, apartment amenities, various pricing options, additional fees, and location details such as proximity to campus. Users can also contact landlords for houses, view upcoming deadlines and openings, and save listings for easy reference, providing a comprehensive and user-centric housing search experience.
Navigating to the Profile page, users can easily access their personal information from onboarding, allowing them to review and update their preferences. They can upload a profile picture for a personalized touch. Users can also retake the compatibility quiz to refine their roommate and property matches. Additionally, this section offers a consolidated view of saved listings, favorited posts, and drafted and posted content, providing a one-stop destination for managing their housing search activity and profile details.
Create a Post
Finally, on the Create a Post page, users have a dynamic form that adapts based on their preferences. Whether they have a property to offer or are looking for one, want roommates or tenants, or specify the type of property, the form guides them accordingly. Users can fill in property details, choose their posting audience (friends, public), and even save drafts for later. This versatile tool streamlines the process of sharing housing needs and preferences, catering to a wide range of user scenarios.
On presentation day, we presented our UX journey and final high-fidelity prototype to the Design Interactive community and judges from Meta, SoFi, and Paramount. Our 10-minute presentation highlighted our user-centered design process and innovative solutions to address real-world challenges in the realm of college housing. It was a culmination of our dedication, creativity, problem-solving and teamwork to creating a meaningful and user-centric product.
Our judges provided highly favorable feedback on our presentation, appreciating Spots as an effective solution to a real issue in college housing. They commended the user interface for its clarity and user-friendliness, and the color scheme was noted for its visual appeal and consistency. The judges expressed that they would personally utilize the website for college housing needs, affirming the platform’s practicality and appeal for the intended audience. Overall, the feedback underscored the project’s success in merging innovation, functionality, and aesthetic design in Spots.
We received constructive feedback on our Lo-Fi Sketches presentation, indicating areas for improvement. Suggestions included enhancing the visual quality of the sketches to improve clarity and coherence. Additionally, there was advice to reconsider the size of the buttons on the interface; they need not extend across the entire page. This feedback points to an opportunity for a more refined and streamlined design, focusing on a balanced and visually appealing layout. These insights are valuable for refining the user interface, guiding us towards a more polished and user-friendly design in future iterations of the project.
Initially, we faced challenges in formulating key questions to understand our users’ primary frustrations and motivations in housing searches. This crucial step guided us in prioritizing and developing features that addressed these pain points. During user testing, we realized the need to better communicate these frustrations through our feature design to enhance functionality. As we finalized our product features, it became crucial to seamlessly integrate them, ensuring a fluid user experience across the three pages. Despite our ambition to include numerous features, time constraints needed us to focus on the most impactful ones for our high-fidelity prototypes.
Based on the feedback we received, moving forward we should work more on bringing together and integrating each others design styles. Other implementations we may work on in the future are:
- Responsive Design — Working on a mobile app as our current design utilizes a desktop design only, bringing on-the-go convenience to our college demographic.
- Micro-interactions — Using subtle animations to enhance user experiences and make the interface more engaging.
- Research — Gaining a better understanding of what design trends are being used in other housing or roommate applications.