A mobile search experience that encourage people to explore and discover rooms and roommates through a chain of posts that are linked through people's desire and needs. This experience was designed with the goal to help people find a room and/or roommate that fulfills their needs without revealing too much about themselves.
Many people on the rental market have a hard time finding an apartment in their price range and desired location. One solution is to live with roommates. But what do you do when you don't already have potential roommates lined up? Design the search & results screen for a mobile app that helps people find available rooms in shared houses or apartments near a selected area.
To afford to live in their desired place, a common scenario is that they must find someone to split the bills with, but also to share the same space everyday. Not everyone has the perfect roommate lined up before they move, as this in itself is something people spend a lot of time to pick carefully.
Finding the right place is even more difficult when you’re struggling to find the perfect roommate. So I narrowed down the scope by framing the problem around improving the experience of finding roommates, in order to improve the current experience within room finding.
After looking into different services and how people find roommates, I learned that the primary method of finding roommates is through Craigslist. Craigslist is powerful because it let’s people post whenever, wherever, and browse with ease without registering for an account. It allows people to get the job done with a small barrier of entry.
Despite being the go-to platform for room/roommate finding, Craigslist holds numerous problems within its community. Safety has always been a concern, especially with posts for roommates, as users must be careful with the information they give out online.
For this reason, anonymity was one of the main concepts behind the user experience, yet it also conflicted with the idea of Safety. Remaining anonymous is one reason why a service would feel safe for users since they aren’t required to reveal any personal information, but this small-ask lowers the barrier of entry for scammers. The down side to this is that this concept of an open community contain inconsistencies in terms of the legitimacy of the posts and responses.
People continue to use Craigslist because they know other people use it as well. More users mean more results. Craigslist also contains the most unfiltered results and despite the scammers, many posts are in fact relevant. The interface may not be the best but it’s simple and easy to use for people to find what they need.
When beginning the room finding process, people either look for roommates first and find a place together, or find a new place they like and then seek for potential roommates who are interested. Although this is a matter of preference, the latter is more popular since the person will get more control when making decisions down the road, such as interviewing potential roommates, deciding how to split the bill, etc.
When sketching UI concepts, I began thinking about what content users would want to see first. At first, I drew out the UI to only offer one path, to find roommate(s) first and find a place with that roommate, with the assumption that this approach would encourage people to get along with their new roommates. But what if people don’t want to be friends with their roommates? The UI must allow users to choose what to search for based on their needs.
When designing the interface, I dissected the current experience behind finding roommates online. Existing services fail to attract users since the features they offer don’t provide enough value for the user to continue using it. Instead they add a layer of friction to the experience.
Plus the accuracy of these matches are questionable so people end up spending more time than they should be. It’s not worth answering surveys or revealing personal information if it isn’t making the process any faster or easier for people.
Although it is almost impossible to pick new roommates for people accurately, we could help by improving the experience prior to deciding who to meet in-person with. By doing so, the user's expecations when using the service is lowered since they are required to find the right match on their own.
People are dissatisfied with existing services because they are expecting the service to find their roommate for them. This experience would be more similar to Craigslist, except people would be given the help of algorithms that gather different results based on their desire and needs. The goal was to help people build a reliable list of potential candidates that they could consider to meet and discuss in-person. It was about encouraging users meet in-person with more assurance.
After looking into existing UI patterns with the concept of search, I realized how the iOS Maps and Google Maps, which contain an interactive map with card overlay, are more aimed for a “search and find” experience, whereas Airbnb and Kijiji, which contain the bottom navigation bar, are both more catered towards a “search and browse” experience. Of course this is due to the purpose of the product and the UX/UI reflecting the context. I wondered how I could apply these concepts in this particular context.
With these insights I gathered through market research, I aimed for an experience that allow for a quick exploration without registering, with accessibility and people's privacy in mind, while emphasizing the discoverability and relevancy of each post.
The screen on the left is the tab specifically for room finding. Users are presented with a map and a list of available rooms around their current location. Users would be able to adjust their location and radius by scaling the map or by adjusting the setting on the top left.
Because this sector lacks long-term users, I implemented the option to toggle between "Active" and "Passive" to communicate who is actively or casually looking for roommates. And since asking users to pay for the entire service is a high barrier, I chose an experience that provides both, free and paid service, similar to other subscription services such as Spotify or Headspace.
The bottom navigation bar allows users to see their options upfront while intertwining the content to make different results discoverable. Switching the bottom navigation bar when the user opens a post was done with the aim to encourage users to continue exploreing through different posts. It’s a lot easier to explore content when you don’t have to go through different pages, so I thought scrolling and swiping was the best interaction to afford such experience.
My response to the idea of anonymity was to integrate Bitmoji into the experience. With this, users don’t have to fully reveal themselves but can still give a glimpse of their identity through the digital space. This allows users to remain anonymous while presenting themselves in a playful way.
Bitmoji act as a middle-ground between a selfie and a silhouette, or an emoji. It communicates what emojis cannot, which is “identity”. An emoji could be anyone in the world, but a Bitmoji becomes a symbolic representation of yourself. In this context, Bitmoji is your digital identity.
Bitmoji also give users an incentive to create an account since only account holders would be able to use Bitmoji. Another benefit of creating an account would be the ability to bookmark posts.
With the idea of quick evaluation in mind, I initially made multiple iterations to reduce the visual weight that comes with the blocks of text. Yet I chose to scrap these iterations since this interface would require additional interactions.
Instead, the solution was to simply scroll with given preset headers that users could fill on their own. I chose the following preset headers based on numerous Craigslist posts and various perspectives on writing the best ad on Craigslist to find roommates.
One feature that only paid members would have access to is the ability to view the rooms other seekers have saved on their list to see if you have any mutual interest. In addition to the ability to find seekers with similar interest, this feature also allows the user to look for rooms based on people with similar needs. With this approach, I was able to interwine the search experience for rooms and roommates.
By swiping the headline horizontally, users are able to sift through posts individually, rather than having to return to the list of results. With this interaction, they’re able to quickly evaluate potential roommates and hopefully find a new friend.
If a seeker found a room first and is now looking for a roommate to move in with, they’re able to include the location of the new place inside ‘Desired Location’, so people who are browsing can tap on the address and identify the location immediately.
Creating these pockets that afford a quick transition between rooms and roommates was possible with the rising card laying on top of the map. Adopting this model from the iOS map opened up many opportunities for a quick exploration.
Creating a system that encourage users to create an account and be part of a community was made possible by providing additional benefits such as saving a post and integrating Bitmoji.
My intent was to give users just enough incentive for users to create an account without becoming a distraction of the content users seek for.
I chose to include a “Request Call” option for each roommates since making a video call was the closest online experience to mimic an in-person meeting. Video calls act as a filter that builds assurance for people who aren't comfortable meeting strangers. By actually seeing each other's faces, users are able to make a better evaluation without actually meeting in-person.