Homii, a house-searching website

Homii is a house-searching website aimed to solve the difficulty of finding a new living space or a new roommate. The website is created with UCSD students in mind so most of the features that we include in this website are ideal for all UCSD students.

This is my first design project and i’m doing it for my UX design class in UCSD. We are in teams of 5 or 6 and my team is called CSSeniors because we are all computer science major, we are seniors and we are graduating soon. The tea members are: Alvin, Hansen, Ryan, Sunbrye, Vania, and Wilson. Togehter we started a 5-week long process of designing this website and making it a reality.

Needfinding and User Research

We started our design process by doing a brainstorm on what kind of problem we want to tackle. We each come up with several ideas or problems that we think we can tackle in this project. After several hours of debate and brainstorming, we decided to tackle the difficult of finding housing as a student of UCSD. We also decided to broaden the problem to not only for house searching but also for roommate searching.

Our collection of ideas

In addition to problem definition, we also decided that our housing website will be a match-making website where user do not need to scroll through large number of listings to find their need. Instead, the website will filter those listings to suit the user’s need and preferences.

After deciding the goal and problem definition of this project, we proceed to do a user research. We asked several people to fill a Google survey we created beforehand. In the survey, we ask the users for their preference and behavior when looking for housing as well as their view on how much information they want to publicize online. We also interviewed some of the users in person.

The result of our user research showed us that users generally do not mind having some of their basic information shown online in order to find a suitable housing. The users also prefer to get their housing directly from the previous owner instead of from a housing agent. Our survey also revealed that the most common group looking for housing are undergraduate students, transfer students, and some graduate students.

Beside doing survey, our group also did a competitive analysis, basically an analysis of other solutions already existing on the market right now that also tackle the same problem as our project. We chose 3 kind of housing websites that people usually use to find housing. The first one is Zillows. This is a popular website that a lot of people used to find housing. It has a good location-based search that provides real-time result to the user. It also uses a map interface to make it easier for the user to visualize the location of the house. One feature that Zillows do not have is the ability to find shared housing.

Another website that we analyze is Craiglist, because a lot of people also uses Craiglist to find housing by directly contacting the house occupant. Craiglist is perfect for users who wants to find shared housing, roommates, as well as direct contact with house occupant. However, one drawback is that Craiglist has a bad reputation for scams and quality, leading some people to avoid this website for housing.The last website that we analyze is UCSD students’ housing page. We all agree that this page is good for finding roommates and shared housings. However, the lack of filters made this housing page a big mess of postings. It is hard to find one specific posting in mind and user have to manually scroll through all the postings to find his/her desired posting.

Craiglist page (left) and UCSD Student housing page on Facebook (right)

From this analysis, we conclude that there are 3 user needs that we have to fulfill; the need to find housing like Zillow, the need to find shared housing, and the need to find suitable roommates. Our website needs to have features that fulfills those 3 requirements. So with this in mind, we proceed to our next step in the design process..

Persona and Storyboarding

In this step, we created several personas that model the behavior of the users we encounter from our user research. Each persona will reflect some user needs and their situation or behavior based on the result of the research. Then to make the requirement clearer, we create several storyboards for each persona. Basically, we visualize how each persona will encounter a problem and use our website to solve that problem.

The personas that we created will be divided into 3 groups that we think represents the UCSD students as the user:

  • Undergraduate students who wants new roommates
  • Transfer students looking for place in San Diego for the first time
  • Graduate students who need to find shared housing.

The storyboards that we created ranged from general housing problem to specific problem. With these storyboards, we managed to visualize our website and its specific use more clearly.

Prototyping and User Testing:

After we get a clearer idea of how our website is going to be, we made lo-fi prototype of our website using pencil and paper or lo-fi prototyping tools such as Balsamiq.

Some prototypes that we made

Using these lo-fi prototypes, we did some user testing. We presented our prototype to several users and let them figure out the features and layout of the website themselves. With only occasional explanation from us, the users then played around with our prototype and gave feedback on various aspects of our website.

From the feedback that we received, we improved our prototype and made several final design decisions. After weeks of testing and prototyping and designing, we finally started our implementation step, the last step of the design process of this project

Implementation

For the implementation of this website, considering the limited time that we have, we decided to make the website using Axure, a high fidelity prototyping tool that has ability to create various pages and interactions a website might have. Using Axure, we managed to implement the front end part of our website easily and with better result. Moreover, Axure let us import our design into actual HTML and CSS code, so we can immediately integrate it with our back end server if needed.

Conclusion

I definitely learned a lot from this project. Overall, I am satisfied with how this project went, from initial needfinding all the way to implementation. Not only did I learned the steps of design process and the tools available to o each step, I also learned how important UX design is on the overall software development. I realized how significantly this design process will impact the end product. Homii has definitely broaden my understanding of a good software development process.

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