1. DISCOVERY
Identifying the Problem
Imagine yourself living in the basement of your parent's house in Chicago. Suddenly, you get a call - you just got hired by a tech company in San Francisco! And another big news comes in - it's a contract-to-hire job. Which means you work for that company for only a few months. If they like you, they will hire you after the contract is over. If they don't, you got to leave. They don't offer corporate housing, and you have to find a place to live on your own, in a city you have never visited before. What housing options would you have? Does this scenario sound familiar to you? 
Whether you are a "digital nomad" or someone just trying to survive in this economy, you are left with limited options when it comes to mid-term housing search — staying at a hotel? It would be too expensive. Airbnb is not so different from hotels these days, and Craigslist is infested with scammers. 
The problem is that It is challenging to find a place that would allow people to live for a few weeks to a few months. You might think, "Why don't you go find an apartment?" Yes, that is one of the options, but the management would require you to pay the deposit, first-month rent, and last month's rent at once which could sum up to several thousand dollars. Also, you will have to sign your mandatory 12-months contract, and they are going to chase you down until the end of time if you try to break the lease early and don't pay the early termination fee of another several thousand dollars. ​​​​​​​

Storyboard of the user

The Hypothesis
Mid-term housing seekers are frustrated because the antiquated housing system doesn't meet the standards of the workforce of today. 
Verifying my hypothesis
As I have created my hypothesis, I conducted secondary research to gather data and evidence that would back up my theory. 
What do people say on the internet? 
I've looked at online forums like Reddit, Quora, Nomad List to get a general idea of people would say and learn more about their experiences and opinions on the current housing system. 
Heuristic Evaluation of Competitors
I identified 3 competitors then analyzed their heuristics. The services were evaluated on the basis of four of the ten principles of the Nielsen Norman Usability Heuristics
User Survey and Interview
Recruit methods
Still, further research was needed to prove my hypothesis. I moved on to the fun part - user surveys and interviews. I posted a screener survey on my LinkedIn, Instagram and slack channels to gather participants. 
I wanted to verify my hypothesis using the data gathered from the secondary research, user survey, and interviews. I found user interviews the most crucial process among all the other research methods because of the deeper insights I could gain from talking one-on-one with actual target users.
User Quotes
The demography of the interviewees was quite diverse - an animator from South Korea currently living in Hollywood, A fiance specialist from New York, a Vietnamese graduate student living in Orange County, a Texan web developer, and a machinist born in Taiwan. Their occupation and cultural background were different but they all shared a similar experience when it comes to housing; they were not happy.
After all, I was able to validate my theory: the current housing system doesn't work and it makes people's lives miserable. Here are some of the notable quotes I gathered from the interviews.
During the user interview, I had to be careful not to make the interviewees predict the future. I avoided questions like "what is your plan?" or "Would you move to the UK if you get a job offer?" Instead, I asked questions about their past experiences and why and how they made their decisions. The items included, "What made you decide to move to your current place?" "Can you walk me through the process?" "What were the major things you had considered when you moved in?" "Have you ever moved to a different city or state? Why and why not?"
Then, I created an affinity map to distill the findings. I organized and categorized the results and prioritized them based on the data gathered from the survey and interviews.​​​​​​​
Empathy map
Before creating personas, I made the empathy maps to visualize the user's attitudes and behaviors. What they say, think, do, and feel could vary, and it was critical to identify those differences to make a more realistic user persona later on. 
Persona
I've created two personas, Destinee, who represents the upper-middle-income group and Amilia, who represents the lower-income group. Why did I categorize them into two different groups based on their income? Because I found from the user research that the need for mid-term housing applied the same to people with varying levels of income. Their motivation might be different, but their end goals would be the same. After all, they are all searching for a place to live.

Destinee's user journey.

User insights
Here are the essential findings I learned from the user surveys and interviews.

‣ They want a flexible length of stay without getting overcharged.
‣ They don't want to pay too much upfront costs when moving to a new place.
‣ They want to work and travel to different cities and countries.
‣ They want to live in a space that provides privacy. 
‣ They prefer a convenient location. 
The HMW statement
After I have identified the user's frustrations, needs, and wants, I came with How Might We questions, the key issues that I must answer when designing a product. 

‣ How might we help people find an affordable place to live that provides a convenient location, safety, privacy, and flexible length of stay?
‣ How might we offer a satisfactory experience for both tenants and landlords?
‣ How might we help people move to different cities without worrying about instability?
‣ How might we make the rental market a fair game for all parties?
2. DEFINE
User stories, MVP and IA
I categorized users into three different types - new user, returning user and the host. I identified tasks each user group would want to achieve then categorized the tasks based on the priority. The high priority tasks would be included in the MVP. As the priority is being figured out, I created sitemap and the userflow.
3. IDEATION
Divergent thinking
After I have completed my user research and created HMW statements, I continued to design thinking process. During the divergent thinking phase, I made a bunch of sketches. I took the notebook everywhere with me and just scribbled and jotted down whatever that came to my mind. I tried just to let my ideas run freely, even though some of the designs seemed a little too crazy and unrealistic. 
Convergent thinking
I filtered and merged down my ideas. I refined my crazy, free-flowing sketches and made deductive and analytical decisions. I still liked my hobo town idea, but it had to go. After reducing my ideas into a few solid ones, I imagined how the final design would look like and made sketches for those as well. Then, I moved on to wireframe sketches, and user flows. 
Wireframes
I made my initial rough sketches using pen and paper. After that, I transferred my initial sketches to iPad and refined the drawings. 
Guerilla testing
I conducted guerilla testing sessions with four participants after creating the wireframes. Instead of giving the participants specific tasks to complete, I let them look through the screens and asked about their thoughts.No significant usability issues were found during this phase. 

4. PROTOTYPE
I used Sketch app and InVision to create the interactive prototype for usability testing. 
5. VALIDATION
I have conducted 3 rounds of usability testing for this project.
1. Guerilla testing using low-fidelity wireframes
2. First round of usability testing using high-fidelity interactive prototype
3. Second round usability testing using revised high-fidelity interactive prototype
6. VISUAL DESIGN
Design inspirations
I studied the designs of other mobile apps on iOS and Android devices and applied my learnings to the hi-fi design. I concluded that going minimal and clean would be my best bet after analyzing the visual design of other mobile apps. I wanted to achieve a simple look for my visual design by using a lot of negative space and toned-down blue.
UI design 
I have created the final hi-fidelity mockup and interactive prototype to test out its usability. I used the atomic design methodology to craft an interface design system. 
I have recruited 5 participants for the usability testing using high-fidelity interactive prototype. There were three on-site moderated sessions, one remote moderated session, and one remote unmoderated session. My main focus was to identify obvious usability issues and hear the suggestions my test participants wanted to share.

I asked the participants to do the "think-out-loud" protocol. The tasks given to the participants were the following. 


‣ Interact with the onboarding screen
‣ Interact with Landing page
‣ Search for a room
‣ Book your room
‣ List a place as a host
After finishing the first round of usability testings using hi-fidelity prototype, I was surprised by the number of critical and major usability issues identified.
After identifying the usability issues, the first thing I did was redesigning the onboarding screen. 
I rephrased the copy and added more description below the header. Aso, I updated the illustrations so they would match the writing.
5 out 5 user testing participants answered the ID verification process was a necessity. One participant gave me a feedback that knowing that other hosts and guests are verified the same way made her feel safer than using the other rental finder apps.
Newly designed search results micro-interaction allow users to either use the toggle or swipe up and down motion to switch between the lists and the map in the same screen. ​​​​​​​
When talking to their host or guest, users have option to share photos, files, videos and location.
Conclusion
Similar to Uber and Airbnb, my project is based on the idea of sharing economy. As people's definition of car ownership and vacation rental has changed, people's definition of homeownership is also changing as well. Home is no longer a permanent thing like it used to be. It's becoming something that can be shared with our neighbors and even strangers. I think this social change will become more evident in the next few years. 

Thanks for reading!
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