UniMate — A UX/UI Case Study on College Housing

Background info

For many people, college is the first time they start exploring the housing and housemate market. However, there is no centralized platform or guide students can refer to as they begin their search. Their inexperience and the lack of trustworthy resources, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing many from exploring campus neighborhoods, make the housing and housemate search especially hard for these first-timers.

The UniMate Team

Problem Statement

Undergraduates face the ongoing problem of searching for compatible housing and housemates and knowing where to start. That being said, many college students find it difficult to find housing or housemates, especially if they have not set foot on campus. This might be an even bigger problem with students moving back to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic.

How might we create a platform for college students to find housing and housemates?

A timeline of our remote six-week sprint

User Research

To learn more about the typical college housing and housemate search experience, we surveyed 71 and interviewed 10 undergraduate students, most of whom were second-years. From our surveys, we learned about the methods and platforms our target audience uses and the merits and drawbacks of these means, which we further explored in our in-depth user interviews.

  • 39.5% of respondents found the housing-searching process to be at least somewhat difficult.
  • The online platform that was used most by respondents to search for housing and/or housemates was Facebook Groups, which was followed by official apartment websites such as Zillow.
  • Students prioritize certain characteristics in their housemates. Over 2/3 of respondents identified good living habits (ex. cleanliness) as “very important” when looking for prospective housemates.

Ideation

We started ideating with an affinity map, from which we found the biggest problem among college students is finding housemates with a similar living style and accommodations with renting housing. Students have an easier time looking for housing when they’ve secured a compatible housemate. Finding accommodation was still a problem because our target audience was mostly first- and second-year undergraduates who have little to no experience renting housing or apartments.

The prioritized pain points we decided the focus on

How might we create a streamlined platform for college students to find housing catered to their needs and live with housemates that have matching living styles?

We took our research insights and began creating sketches that touched all parts of our user journey. To narrow down our numerous ideations, we decided to vote on certain features within each sketch to include in our mid-fi prototype.

Prototype

After voting on the design solution, we began digitizing the sketches on Figma to prototype mid-fidelity wireframes. In our mid-fidelity prototypes, we:

  • Added a simple student verification process to tackle security concerns.
  • Incorporated a filter-and-compare feature to guide users through their housing search.
  • Created a comprehensive preference selection system to tackle compatibility concerns between housemates.
A few of our initial prototype screens

Usability Testing

Together, we conducted a total of eight usability tests on various undergraduates, ranging from incoming freshmen to seniors. Our main goal was to evaluate users’ ability to navigate our current prototype and to learn which features they’ll use most.

  • Unclear Icons: Some of our icons were unclear and inconsistent across the app, mainly the “Save” button and map pinpoints. This led to longer task completion times and neglected elements.
  • Difficult Navigation: Users were confused about how to navigate the app due to an unconventional menu and the lack of back buttons. Several prototyping issues also got users stuck due to limited path options.
  • Convoluted Process: Several users found some steps to be repetitive and overwhelming, such as the profile selection process and save-and-compare screens. They were unsure why a screen was necessary and confused about what to look at and what to do.

Hi-Fi Prototyping

After going through our usability test findings, we went back and revised our initial designs and moved on to create our design system. Our design system stems from our research insights: our users reported that they felt unsafe on other platforms due to the likelihood of scams and found the housing and housemate-searching process to be stressful.

  • Colors: Based on color theory, we chose turquoise, which represents a blend of trust and community, and orange, which represents fun, as our main color palette.
  • Typeface: We chose Univers for its friendly, modern, and simplistic style.
  • Component Styles: We softened harsh corners and utilized icons from Feather Icons, a Figma plugin, as the icons accurately symbolized certain functions in our product.

UniMate: The App

With all these changes, we now present to you the main features of UniMate, the app that unites you with your dream college housing and housemate.

Verification

Confirm your student identity for a secure searching process

Find Compatible Housemates

Set your preferences to match with your future housemates

Search and Find Housing

Explore and find housing options catered to your needs

Compare Saved Housing

Revisit and compare housing profiles to finalize your decision

Schedule Tours

View housing virtually or in-person

Challenges

  • The COVID-19 pandemic: Our restriction of working remotely led to difficulties with team coordination and maintaining design consistency.
  • A short time frame: Due to academic and other personal obligations, especially during the pandemic, it was difficult to devote our full attention toward conceiving the utmost effective, user-centric design solution.
  • Designing a simple yet streamlined, functional product: While we believe that our current design addresses the problem, we think that there are features that can be further improved and consolidated, such as the survey and housemate matches pages.

Next Steps

  • With more time and resources, we plan to conduct a competitive analysis on other online platforms to better understand our target audience.
  • We would like to make our solution more streamlined and comprehensive through feedback from additional usability tests and consistent designs.
  • We plan to incorporate social media platforms into our app to increase student interaction when finding new housemates.

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