UX Design: 40 Billion Reasons to Build a Concept App

Michelle Wasabi
Oct 23, 2018 · 11 min read

a case study demonstrating UX research, design thinking, and my psychological understanding of human behavior.

Project Summary

Homebody is a concept app that curates cohesive home decor items into “bento” box packages. I’m evolving my psychology career into tech and design so practicing and showcasing my work is imperative. I selected this project for 5 reasons:

  • practice usability testing
  • implement design thinking
  • improve wireframing
  • develop prototyping
  • conjure magic making.
bullet lists of problems, solution, industry tools used, and data collected
table of contents for each project section

1. Project Context

Remember when you walked into your friend’s apartment and felt that familiar creep of shame take over? Her living space appeared to be designed flawlessly as if Chip and Joanna showed up and worked their Magnolia Magic.

I love me some Fixer Upper so when I had to choose a project idea for my Springboard UX Bootcamp, I decided to go Texas-style →go big or go home m*****f*****s!

Let me edumacate (educate) you. Home decor is big business. Globally we are talking about 40 billion dollars-ish a year and growing. If that makes no sense to you let me put it in another way you can understand.

People give a shit about their living and working spaces!

Decor can serve as a representation of who we are as “unique” (womp womp) individuals. It can also connect us to similar people. Think about posters you hung up in your college dorm, sports paraphernalia, and trending furniture pieces.

“dresser beside sofa” by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

According to environmental psychologists, our environment has an impact on our mood, psyche, productivity, and ultimately our success. It may not be the only factor contributing to success but our surroundings are worth some attention.

2. Problem

Now that you have some context for my decision to build a home decor app let’s jump into the rest of the process.

Resolving shopper’s woes is quite complicated. It was necessary for me to identify specific challenges for people who enjoy decor shopping and therefore do it often enough for this product to matter. Prior to producing surveys and conducting interviews, I developed some theories on potential pain points.

Theories

  1. Shopping aka “the hunt” infringes on valuable time and resources
  2. Planning a cohesive space eats up mental and emotional real estate
  3. Feeling satisfied with decor items is hard to determine in the store

Example Story

“woman holding lighted sparklers” by Brynden on Unsplash

Meet Madison: Madison is 29 years-old. She works in a large customer service office. She lives independently in a cozy 600 sq.ft apartment in a metropolitan city. Madison has big dreams of starting a natural cosmetic line, but has not yet taken the steps to start. She’s far from content at her 9–5 so whenever she gets a little break she reaches for her phone and opens Pinterest to cosmetic pins. She does this because it offers an escape from an otherwise depressing reality.

One day she has an epiphany, “I don’t have to work here.” Instead of escaping to an imaginary world where she has a cosmetic line she decided to look for inspiration on how to get started. Prepare an inspiring office space in her apartment becomes her first step. She wants a productive space so she can use every waking-hour before and after work at making her dreams come true. On her search, she uses apps like Pinterest, Instagram, and Houzz not only as inspiration but as a shopping tool for personalizing her humble abode.

The Product

Homebody would serve as Madison’s primary source for preparing a productive and inspiring office space. Homebody narrows shoppers’ focus to small decor items and curates these items in cohesive packages. Keeping Madison in mind I’ll move you through the UX process that will help to design a digital product that improves the home decor shopping experience.

Design Goals

Design a shopping app that integrates the delightful escape of Pinterest, selection functionality of dating apps, and the value of Ikea’s model room concept.

Questions and Curiosities

  • How to successfully shift the user’s conceptual model?
  • What’s the best user flow and onboarding process for this shopping experience?
  • Would shoppers find value in thoughtfully curated decor items?

3. Preliminary Research

Survey

Thoughtful theories would not be enough to make design decisions. I wanted to remove as much bias and assumption as possible. While the concept app idea was born in 2017, the first iteration of the UX process started in January 2018. I luckily had the support of the Springboard UX Bootcamp community along with family and friends to navigate all the steps of this process. I made a survey of 10 questions on Typeform and posted it to the Springboard Community (past and current students). I also bullied my friends and family (joking they were happy to help) and simply waited.

screener survey with stats and data from participants

A total of 17 individual people completed the screener survey. Questions were formatted with multiple choice, opinion scales, and short answers.

Interview

Upon reviewing the survey results, I had four willing participants who agreed to be interviewed for further introspection. Interviews were conducted via phone or Skype. Each interview lasted under 15 minutes and the same 10 questions were asked to each interviewee.

Quick Stats: Three participants reported living with family and one participant lived alone. Two participants decorated with family while the other two participants decorated independently.

Overall, there was an overwhelming amount of positive responses to their home decor experiences. Participants discussed enjoying the hunt of shopping, identified feelings of accomplishment after succeeding, and reported some of their pain points in the process.

three common pain points reported by interviewees

Personas and Empathy Maps

Carissa’s Persona Infographic
Carissa’s Empathy Map

Carissa

A product designed for Carissa is reliable and well integrated to social media influences. I started to theorize that Homebody would do well if it not only functioned well but reminded user’s of popular apps they currently use.

Olivia’s Persona Infographic
Olivia’s Empathy Map

Olivia

Olivia’s location limits her from having the ideal shopping experience. She cannot browse in-store and make compulsive purchases. If she wants to create a space that is trending she has to order a majority of products online. She is therefore an ideal candidate for Homebody.

Persona Summary

User’s with limited mobility or geographic limitations need a product that stays current and continues to predict the needs of its ideal users. I took into account the brand names mentioned by the interviewees in addition to their decor styles and sources of influence. This information will be used to target the audience that is most likely to invest precious resources (i.e. time, money, and cognitive real estate) into the Homebody shopping experience.

4. Information Architecture

Card Sort

Instead of guessing the user flow, card sorts provide real-time data and value to your design process. Real people give insight into how they perceive data and content flow.

Data

  • Browsing and search: exploration and freedom were important to users
  • Create and Prep: guidance and filters to narrow their shopping scope
  • Shopping: finalizing their decision and checkout
  • Decorate: this is a future oriented feature for simulating their space with specific decor items
  • Profile: users would reference this feature for style and shopping preferences, purchase history, and a tailored decor guide.

User Stories

I narrowed down the most important features needed for the MVP by simply focusing on the data from users.

User Flow

Homebody went through two previous iterations before settling on this user flow. I tried to simplify the shopping experience and bring greater focus to user enjoyment.

user flow infographic

Microcopy

Subtle nudges, helpful rescues, or even a playful voice were elements I was determined to include in this project. My intention was to create a product that leaves users feeling confident about each decision, each click, and every interaction.

I’m simply fascinated by microcopy

Did I do that? No! Lack of helpful microcopy is one of the failures discussed in the last section. However, I love microcopy and I have every intention of continuing to level up my skills.

Here are a few attempts at microcopy.

microcopy examples

5. Solution

Re-enter Madison. She opens the app to a beautiful splash screen, smooth on-boarding process, and begins shopping immediately. Within minutes she selects a decor package to kickstart her office space mission.Before all of that could happen I needed to take out my paper and pencils to begin structuring a prototype from start to finish.

Lo-Fi Wireframes

Quick iterations on paper helped me realize my design direction before jumping onto Sketch App. I knew I wanted to create something minimal that included eye-catching images, and easy navigation for shoppers.

paper wireframes of splash page, onboarding items, product page, cart, and checkout

Digital Mid-Fi Wireframes

I stuck to monotone colors to maintain visual focus on layout and visual hierarchy. I also wanted increase my wireframing speed for good practice.

multiple mid-fi wireframes

Style Guide

original style guide with pink and mauve colors

Above you’ll see the first style guide. The primary colors were pink tones with a different shades of gray. I soon re-assessed my decision.

While building the app I realized that the pink was too distracting and did not support long-term branding. Good design must be inclusive and scalable. Since decor items are often bright and varied, I selected a warmer yet popular color.

Green tests well on users. Psychologically green is familiar, non-threatening, and we often crave natural green colors. Sometimes we satisfy that craving with indoor plants. Green is also relatable and has cross cultural positive responses. Comfort should be reflected in Homebody’s visual design as the name suggests.

Hi-Fi Wireframes

miultiple hi-fi wireframes

6. Results

Usability Testing

I was blown away by how quickly testing my app on real people produced invaluable feedback. Every sigh, look of frustration, dead end, puzzled look, and moment of silence left me at the edge of my seat as user’s navigated my app for the first time. However, it was not all bad news. Let’s quickly review the positives before the negatives.

The first round of testing done in person demonstrated that the overall visuals of the app were appreciated and several users commented on feeling inspired by the splash screen.

This screen gets me excited to shop and see what’s to come.

Data

3 out of 5 users: felt the app could save them time and meet their needs

4 out of 5 users: enjoyed filtering the rooms and the ability to browse products

4 out of 5 users: found the bottom navigation useful and responded positively to the concept of purchasing curated packages

Prototype

Click through the prototype hosted on Marvel.

7. Growth Areas

Fails

  • Onboarding questions frustrate users
  • App purpose not clearly defined
  • Instructional overlays are ignored therefore are useless to the user
  • Swiping function is confusing
  • Clearer more legible microcopy is needed
  • Primary color may be too dull

Onboarding

An unnecessary requirement so soon in the user experience. Shoppers should be able to complete some of the information as they check out and save it to their user profile. Useful questions to ask prior to their shopping experience would include preferences like room type, budget, and color schemes.

Instructions

Video guides and instructions would provide greater user engagement and potentially more delight as they learn the app. Video would clearly demonstrate how Homebody is similar to other apps and where it differs. Shoppers need to learn a new axiom of swiping to shop just as they do on some dating apps. I would conduct A/B testing for the video instruction feature to produce real data on conversion rates.

Limitations

The ability for shoppers to swap items from the packages would give shoppers more control which would better resemble true shopping experiences.

Microcopy

Some shoppers had a hard time reading the microcopy that informed them that an item was added to the cart or informed them of changes in their curated list of items. Font-type, size, and length of the announcement need to be modified. In fact, announcing those changes right across the screen would potentially create greater visibility for most shoppers.

Social integration

The current iteration has a social engagement feature that was highlighted during this case study. I am wary of using psychological manipulation to get users hooked on my product. In my clinical practice, I’ve seen the destruction of shopping habits on women and have no interests in perpetuating the ritual. However, women supporting each other in an ethical and healthy manner could build a community that combats shopping addiction. Designing content and a social feature that is a supportive community would be a feature I’d like to explore further on future projects.

Visuals

Color theory suggests green can represent growth and new beginnings.

Perfect!

Homebody’s original idea grew out of a desire to create super cozy spaces and eventually evolved into the idea you see today. While I personally love the shade of green used I would like to play with some alternative shades of green and neutral colors. I want to note that a more neutral color keeps the visual design minimal and maintains focus on the products being sold.

All done!

At least for now. I feel pretty good about what I learned from this experience. I think Homebody can rest now. If you have questions, feedback, or just want to chat with me please reach out on my portfolio. Thank you!

Michelle Wasabi

Written by

UX | UI | Front-end Designer | Psychologist in Miami trusting the process + evolving my career + living my best life. Next goal is a UX full-time position!

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