Sector: Property lettings
Challenge: Redesign the Canopy product and brand as “renter-centric” from the ground up
My role: User interviews, workshop facilitation, user research, interface specification, interface design, usability testing
Project time: 8 months
Canopy is an app that provides instant tenant referencing (Rent Passport) and deposit replacement insurance (Deposit Free). Joining the team as Creative & UX Director, I led a redesign of the product (Canopy 2.0), ensuring we operated with a deep sense of empathy to craft honest, inclusive and meaningful experiences.
So, who are our users? What do the want? What do they actually need?
In order to build user stories, we surveyed 5 lettings agents across London. The questions focused on jobs to be done by all parties and the main takeaways were:
- If tenant referencing was too thorough, it could prevent a landlord accepting an otherwise suitable tenant
- Agents provide an exceptional service by adapting to customer needs, establishing trust and building long-term relationships
- The tenant fee ban means that agencies have to find new ways to make the money back (do more with less)
- Agents use many different processes to complete their jobs, including CRMs, referencing applications, lead generation applications, deposit and rental transactions etc.
We proceeded to ask what the major and minor pain points of the current Canopy application were, having already made some assumptions based on analytical data.
- The Trust Score (a rating between 0 and 100 to communicate a tenant’s affordability) raised more questions than it answered in regards to a tenant’s eligibility to rent a property and explaining it wasted time
- Referencing through that app just wasn’t reliable enough, meaning another third party was used and paid for alongside it
- Landlords struggled to see the benefit to them if a tenant took out a Deposit Free policy over a traditional cash deposit
- No one knew which part of the transaction they were on, from referencing to purchasing Deposit Free policies
Canopy needs to be a less complex, jargon riddled experience, with deliberate notification of when action is required by any party. It should be a tool lettings agents use to enhance their proposition, minimising admin tasks and empowering them to deliver excellent customer service and relationship management.
Canopy should enable people to move more feely
We dropped the Trust Score in favour of a more binary decision indicator as agents, landlords and tenants only wanted to know whether they were able to rent or not. In case of any warnings on references, we created a green, amber, red system that would highlight any potential issues in an easy to understand manner.
Trust Score — solved.
Canopy’s tenant referencing solution is called Rent Passport. It contains all the information of a traditional reference in a digital format and is designed to act as a tenant’s verified rental history to be accessed each time they apply to a new rental property. To solve agents’ worry over the rigour of the Rent Passport, we compared property data directly with applicants to determine eligibility on a property by property basis. This also set the stage for potential future functionality of housemate matching and property listings.
Referencing — solved.
Deposit Free cover gives tenants and landlords better cover than a traditional cash deposit, covering them for 8 weeks worth of rent rather than 6. We ensured that Canopy 2.0 had all of the necessary information around Deposit Free, but also provided agents with some case studies, marketing material and training to help them sell the concept.
Deposit Free — solved.
The whole user experience of the current application was messy, providing function over fun. Agents and tenants would have to search or guess what stage of the referencing process they were at, resulting in daily calls to the Canopy support team. In order to fix this, we notified all parties at any time they needed to take action. This meant that users wouldn’t need to sift through vast amounts of data, such as properties and Rent Passport, but would be notified as and when action needed to be taken. (We also included a super powerful search for agents to make it feel more like their existing systems).
Notifications — solved.
Next, we created a pretty high-level prototype of the end to end Canopy process on mobile for agents:
- Sign up to Canopy
- Add a property to Canopy
- Request a tenant share their Rent Passports with a property
- Invite a tenant to rent a property
- Process the Deposit Free transaction
Feeling pretty damn pleased with ourselves and thinking we’d disrupted the lettings agent industry forever, we went went back to our real life human agents and presented our prototype. Despite being very well received, we learnt:
- The majority of agents feeling positive about streamlining their workflow to focus on client relationships
- Others were anxious about Canopy cannibalising their jobs
- The Rent Passport and interaction between applicants and agents was well received, but a traditional PDF version of the reference would be required for landlords
- Concern about adding properties to another application after having already added their portfolio to a mixture of CRMs
As time was of the essence and Canopy 2.0 was required before Christmas 2018, the MVP release was specifically designed to be iterated over the following months. A rough roadmap was formed from our research to target key user needs, but would later be fleshed out with further testing and metrics from the initial release.
To keep things manageable with a small team (after having some external help to conduct initial research and testing, UX, UI and product design was down to just me), we divided development into 4 milestones:
- Tenant onboarding
- Rent Passport creation
- Agent onboarding
- Agent CRUD
- Sharing Rent Passports
- Invite to rent (Deposit Free transaction)
Using a wagile software development structure, we were able to develop and iterate rapidly, whilst sticking to target deadlines.
Visualising these complex milestones, ensuring they fit together and communicating this to the development team was vital in delivering the game changing product we envisioned.
This was initially completed through low resolution swim lane diagrams to illustrate when each ‘actor’ was doing what and any system triggers that were required. This could be sending a notification or email or adding a Rent Passport to a property.
Once the low resolution swim lane wireframes were signed off by the CTO, high resolution screens of the first instances of each component were illustrated. These were designed and prototyped in Sketch, meaning we could present these prototypes and generate feedback whilst still developing and iterating a necessary.
With the release of a much superior product in Canopy 2.0, I was able to refine the brand. This involved creating a versatile 10pt design system with components and elements that could be reused many times over to save development time (similar to Atomic Design). Also, if we wanted to white label in the future, it would require minimum development effort.
In our quest for Canopy to penetrate many other financial product markets in the future, we needed a much more flexible brand identity.
Through various workshops with marketing and the leadership team, we refined the Canopy message to suite several audiences:
- Tenants and potential renters
This was a vast segment, but we initially focused on young London professionals
- Lettings agents and build to rent operators
Build to rent behave as agents and landlords at the same time
- Canopy investors
Each segment would receive bespoke messaging, highlighting parts of the product that were most relevant.
Canopy 2.0 is scheduled for release in early 2019 and will have been researched, designed and developed in 6 months. An exhausting, but truly inspiring time in our lifecycle, with collaborations with Direct Line Group, Experian, Deloitte, PwC, Barclays and TrueLayer.
There is much, much more to Canopy’s story, which I’ll write about in future articles to share my product design experiences. Any feedback on this article would be most appreciated :)