The Radical Side of Hospitality

Sierra Pilcher
May 22, 2018 · 12 min read

“Radical hospitality is more than a company, it is a movement. It assumes best intentions…It is not transactional. It is hospitality offered with no expectation of repayment, and every expectation of creating a more deeply connected world full of friends…”
— Christa Ovenell, Founder of Radical Hospitality

The Brief

Christa came to us with a big idea. She dreamt of a network of people around the globe all openly giving to one another without expecting anything in return. My team and I were tasked with designing an app that would give people like Christa a platform to connect, share, stay with, lend, and give to one another. At the end of the three weeks allocated for this project, we were expected to have a high fidelity, functioning digital prototype. The market for this app was so niche that we were anxious we were not going to be able to reach potential users for our research and testing. Another concern was that this app was going to be a rookie reboot of CouchSurfing. As a team, we had to really wrap our heads around what set us apart — our users. These people look for authentic connections and experiences with like-minded people, not just a free hotel. They cook meals for each other, lend their belongings to each other, and even just grab a coffee and give advice to those visiting from around the world.

The Team

The Dream Team

I was blessed with a team of four brilliant women. On the UX side, we had the minds of a psychology major, a marketing major, and an engineering major respective to the photo above. Combined with our very talented UI designers, one of which was also experienced in UX, I was confident that we would be able to create the best app we could for our client.

Thinking back to our initial meeting — when Christa first saw us, she said something along the lines of, “wow, an all-girl dream team!” In the end, I like to think this summed us up quite nicely. (#girlpower)



Initially, we focused on the lending aspect of Christa’s idea but it became apparent that we were not capturing the essence of the movement she wanted to start. Our first survey asked about the frustrations of lending and sharing with friends of friends and strangers. Our main finding was that people were skeptical of people they did not personally know and while that was helpful, we needed to ask different questions if we were changing direction.

Cue survey 2.0 — traveling and hospitality. This time around we focused on spending time with others and, most importantly, why our users would want to use the app. The UX girls and I started writing a survey to give us more insight into this. We asked questions like, “why do you host travellers?” and, “when choosing who to host, what do you primarily base your trust on?” in the hopes of finding the information we needed.

When asked why they hosted travellers, these were the answers given:

The top two answers were about connections and experiences. This demonstrated the motivations behind our users sharing their homes and time with other users — authentic, quality time spent getting to know another human being.

A key insight gained through this survey was that people are very open and willing to hosting people in their homes or be hosted. Following this, we found that our potential users’ main concerns revolved around safety, and not connecting with hosts/guests.

Competitive Analysis

Since the closest thing to Christa’s idea is CouchSurfing, we first had to find out why they people used the service and what these people valued about it. We also wanted to know what users thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the site so we could build and improve on them. To do this, we had a CouchSurfing section on our survey. We were lucky enough to have a few CouchSurfing users in our class. We interviewed them and found that they had the same opinions and views on CouchSurfing as our survey participants. Below are two quotes from CouchSurfing users.

Quotes from CouchSurfing Users

To sum up, we found that CouchSurfing was easy to use, had a very large user base and a good peer review system. However, there was a lack of genuine community, and therefore, a lack of the genuine connection people want with each other. Users did not want to pay for verification — something that makes them feel a lot more trusting of other users. Lastly, the site was full of freeloaders who are not looking for the same thing as our users are — connection, interaction, experiences and friendship.


User Personas, Scenarios, & Stories

Using an Affinity Diagram, we visually mapped out our users’ goals, motivations, and frustrations. Ideally, a user would be both a host and a traveller while using the app, but to ensure we were alleviating all of our users’ pain points, we created two personas:

User Scenario:

Alex is an avid, budget-conscious traveller who loves to meet new people from different cultures, learn about their experiences, and exchange stories. She mostly uses CouchSurfing to find hosts, but is wary about her safety. In addition, the growing cost of using the website and poor search algorithms are extremely frustrating. She hopes to find open-minded hosts that will provide her with an in-depth knowledge of the city, spend time with her and potentially become lifelong friends.

User Stories:

  • I want to find open-minded, friendly hosts so I can learn about their culture, hear their stories, and experience the city like a local.
  • I want to use a variety of filters when searching for hosts so I can easily find a host that matches what I’m looking for.
  • I want to see user verification and references so I can feel safe connecting with the host.


Jamie has had plenty of experiences travelling over 25 countries through CouchSurfing. Now a little older and with his own place, he wants to pay it forward by opening up his home. He wants to give travellers a memorable experience of his city, showing them the local gems and off-the-beaten path highlights. Open-minded, generous, and willing to learn, Jamie enjoys having insightful conversations with travellers and making them feel like they never left home.

Due to Couch Surfing’s latest marketing strategy, he finds that CouchSurfing is now overpopulated with freeloading users who are only interested in free accommodation. These users have no desire to be a part of a community that shares cultural and social experiences. He wants to be able to find like-minded travelers who match his upbeat, adventurous personality and has walked a different path of life.

User Stories:

  • I want to find respectful, trustworthy, and interesting travellers from other walks of life so we can exchange stories, share cultural norms, and gain new experiences.
  • I want to be contacted by like-minded travellers who are genuinely invested in building a sense of community.


As seen above, the two largest pain points for both of our personas are safety/security, and personality mismatch. In order to combat the safety and security concerns, we decided to make the app invite-only. Not only would this help build a genuine community, but it also puts responsibility on the users to keep their community full of like minded people and keep out freeloaders.

We decided to give users the option of verifying themselves for free. By submitting a picture of your government ID, users will feel more secure staying with a host as their address and identity will have been confirmed. Finally, we decided to show any mutual friends users have with each other on facebook. Coupled with this, we added a review system where users can say if they enjoyed their experience with a specific host, and whether they would recommend this host to other users or not. These two strategies would make users feel more connected and secure about hosts.

To combat the potential personality mismatch, we added interest tags to profiles. With this, you can see how many common interests you have with a host before you even message them. As well, we added open ended questions to the profile including, “Why I’m on Radical Hospitality,” “What I can share with hosts,” and “What I want to learn.” With the answers to these questions, users can gauge whether or not a host or traveller would be a good fit for them.

Solutions in Summary


We developed a storyboard to illustrate the use of our app:

User Journey Map

Expanding on the storyboard above, I focused on what the user would be feeling when go through the process of signing up and using the app to find a host.

Feature Prioritization

Before we started building, we needed to know what features were absolutely necessary and what features could be developed if we had extra time.

Must Haves:

  • Referral to the app/invite-only
  • Mutual friends on facebook
  • Reviews left by other users
  • Profile pages with interests and why they are on the app
  • Indicators to show what each hosts offer (hosting and/or activities)
  • Languages spoken
  • Whether the user is active (‘Typically reply within x hours/days,’ and ‘Last online x hours/days ago’)
  • Messaging function
  • Search functions for accommodation and for experiences
  • Filters (gender, age, what experiences they are offering)
  • Verification method (government ID, possibly a utility bill of some sort)

Nice to Haves:

  • Map view to connect with other hosts in the area
  • Pictures of the accommodation being offered
  • A forum page / city FAQ / advice / recommendations
  • Calendar for availability
  • Trip planner
  • Introduction via mutual friend (only connect to people you have mutual friends with)

Comparative Analysis

We had already done analyses on CouchSurfing and other websites that allowed people to host travellers for free. Now that we knew the features that our app was going to have, we did a comparative analysis against our competitors.

Site Map

The last step before we started wire-framing was knowing how each page connected to one another. To see this visually, I made a sitemap for our app.

Green boxes are pages accessible anytime via the apps bottom navigation bar. This would allow users to effortlessly switch between the main functions of the app.

User Flow

Following the site map, I made a few user flows to solidify the flow of the app. The two following flow diagrams assume that you have previously launched the app, created an account and gone through the onboarding process.


With all of our planning done, we moved onto wire-framing. Below are the iterations of the profile page. One can see that we refined it a little more each time. We wanted to ensure that the information important to our users was displayed and that it was located near the top of the profile.

To see our mid-fidelity prototype, click here.

Usability Testing

We tested both our low-fidelity paper wireframes, and our mid-fidelity digital wireframes.

We asked our users to complete the following tasks:

  • Sign up for the app without using facebook
  • Go through the onboarding screens, but do not complete your profile
  • Search for hosts in Athens, Greece
  • You want to stay with Jamie. Check out Jamie’s profile and make sure the room he has available is a good fit.
  • Look at Jamie’s references/reviews
  • Send Jamie a message asking to stay with him
  • You are now in Greece. Find locals to hang out with. (You want to have a home cooked meal)
  • Filter search results by females only
  • You are now back home and want to host a traveller. Edit your profile info.
  • Check your hosting availability, make sure it is to “I can host”


We had to change the bottom navigation bar quite a few times. The icons we initially used were confusing to users and most users had trouble differentiating searching for accommodation and searching for a host to share an experience with. To combat this, we changed the icons for each tab. For our Accommodation button, we changed our initial magnifying glass icon to a bed. Since our users are searching for more than just a place to rest their heads, we changed it to a house to encourage users to feel more at home with their hosts.

Iterations of the Accommodation Icon

We had initially put a calendar into the page where users select their availability, but it proved to be too confusing. For simplicity, and to foster communication between users, we took out the calendars and left the options “I can host,” for the dedicated hosts, “I can generally host,” for hosts who were not available most of the time, and “I cannot host.” Once again, ideally you would be able to host, but for those who do not currently have an extra bed or couch, we provided the latter option. Upon further testing, we found that users were not sure of what the middle option meant. When we explained it to them, they had more questions and were still hesitant in picking their option. To mitigate their confusion, we took the middle option out and left the simple options of, “I can host,” and, “I cannot host.”

As we tested, we found that users wanted to know key information about potential hosts without clicking into their profile. We added languages spoken, number of mutual friends, number of common interests, and their offered activities to the list of hosts to solve this.

Host Listings

The last crucial finding was that we needed to change the activities page. Initially called Explore, users did not know what this tab was used for. Although onboarding was added, we wanted to make sure that users who skipped the onboarding could still navigate through the pages on their own and figure out the purpose and functionality of each page. The first step was changing the name and icon for this tab. We renamed it Activities and changed the icon from a location pin to a number of people together, to a simple baseball to capture the activity aspect of it.

Iterations of the Activities Icon

The other thing we changed about this page was the list/map view. After a user selects what activity/activities they would like to do, we had displayed a map of all the available hosts in the area with a “view as list” button at the bottom of the page. We found that the overwhelming majority of users preferred to see a list of the hosts first, with the option of a map view.We incorporated this in the mid-fidelity prototype as well as the finalized version of the app.


Finally, here is a link to our digital prototype.


Future iterations of the app could include the following features:

  • Calendar — show exactly when a user is available to host
  • Trip planner — plan and confirm trips with hosts
  • Borrowing items from locals — give users the ability to list items they are wiling to lend out to travellers in the area
  • Forum page — tips, trick, and additional information on Radical Hospitality

In three weeks, my team and I were able to narrow the scope of an overwhelming movement and produce an app the client fell in love with. Through research, planning, design and testing, we created an app for a community of authentic, experience-hungry people to create meaningful connections, interactions, and experiences.

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