Case Study: Helping a Young Start-Up Develop its Space in the Sharing Economy

This is a case study documenting the process I went through as part of a five member team of students from RED Academy working together to help our first community partner, SpaceiShare.

Setting the Scene

The third project I worked on as part of the UX Design program at RED Academy continued to up the ante compared to previous ones. Like the project before, it would be a team effort, but this time not just between my UX chums — Now it would include more UI!

It spanned the course of three weeks where the initial days had the main focus from the UX team. Followed by a passing of the baton to our UI ally to help take our mid fidelity designs and transform them into beautifully realized high fidelity screens for our prototype. Something that would surely impress our stakeholder, in this case a dreaded community partner.

When I say dreaded I am referring to how we as a team might be feeling now working with a real life business! As opposed to a theoretical one. The research, insights and design decisions we would end up making could have real world implications this time around.

The Benefactor of all our hard Work

We worked with a relatively new start up called SpaceiShare who were looking to make a mark in the sharing economy. They are in the business of connecting people who NEED space with people who HAVE space. Focusing on the areas of storage, parking and event spaces. Less than two years old, they had only put their website online within the past six months. And now they were looking at having us develop a mobile app version to compliment it.

Rising to the Occasion

Looking at the company website it was plain to see that there was a LOT of room for improvement. Areas that we would need to document and keep in mind when it came to how it would translate to a mobile app environment. There would also be two distinct users (Renters/Hosts) that we would need to be mindful of and account for any unique pain points they might have. We would also need to identify what was important to new and existing users to the service in order for the community and the business to grow.

The Research Phase — Digging into the Data

Upon our initial interview with the three founders of the company we realized there wasn’t much user data they could provide us to help with garnering insights into what their members thought of the service and what they might want to see improved. It would be our challenge to dig up as much data as we could on both new and existing users that our community partner could use moving forward.

Fortunately we were provided with Google Analytics to sift through as well as names and contact information for 14 active SpaceiShare users that we could ask to answer a brief survey. Small mercies.

After constructing our user survey and emailing potential SpaceiShare participants we conducted a survey focused on the general public who weren’t familiar with the SpaceiShare service. It covered areas such as storage rentals, the sharing economy and the SpaceiShare service itself. We also conducted several follow up interviews based on the general survey.

Our key findings from these surveys and interviews included:

User Survey

  • Users are very dissatisfied with the payment system 
    (average rating: 1.75 out of 5 in satisfaction)
  • Users are dissatisfied with the current communication tool on the website (average rating: 2.75 out of 5 in satisfaction)
  • The website and general technical functionality and reliability is poor
  • Users didn’t like that agreements can’t be signed online (inconvenient)
  • Customer service/support is positive, pleasant, helpful, and respectful (average rating: 4.5 out of 5 in satisfaction)
  • All respondents said that they would use a SiS mobile app

(*own polling on sample size of 4)

General Survey

  • 81% consider the SpaceiShare concept a useful service
  • More than half the respondents said they were “very unlikely” or “unlikely” to use the service.
  • 18% said likely; 0% said very likely
  • 28% said they were on the fence
  • 95% of responses mentioned trust and/or security concerns as what they would need to consider in order to use SpaceiShare
  • Many people said in interviews that the largest deterrent is feeling uneasy and uncomfortable with leaving one’s belongings in a stranger’s house
  • We found that what would help attract new users would be: a trustworthy owner/member; and feeling like their belongings are safe and secure

(*own polling on sample size of 43)

With responses at hand we quickly filled up a spot on our classroom whiteboard with sticky notes to create an affinity diagram.

Affinity Diagram based on General Public and SiS user surveys
Affinity Diagram highlight

At this point I conducted a thorough review of the existing SpaceiShare website both in the form of a Usability Review and a less formal documenting of a website features and fixes wish list. This helped to illuminate areas of the website that we needed to look at addressing as we scaled down to the smaller mobile format. As well as identified some current issues relating to User Profiles and Space Listing pages.

My key findings included:

  • The search filters and map features on the Search Results pages completely dominate the screen and don’t allow the user to see the actual listings without having to scroll first
  • Important information is allowed to go uncompleted as part of both a User’s Profile and Space Listing page. Not exactly giving SpaceiShare a vote of confidence in the trust department
Examples of issues from the SpaceiShare website

As a group, the UX team divided up a list of companies in the sharing economy space and conducted a competitive/comparative analysis. We began by focusing on areas such as: Location, Description, Their Mission, Website Front Pages, Member Features and Insurance coverage.

Competitive/Comparative Analysis — Sharing Economy storage/parking services and related

Seeing as trust was very important to potential users before they would engage with a service such as SpaceiShare, we conducted a second comparison of popular companies within the sharing economy space to see how they were effectively addressing the challenge of garnering trust from their communities.

Competitive/Comparative Analysis — Sharing Economy garnering trust

We also collected all of our insights regarding SpaceiShare into a Concept Map to see the common themes.

SpaceiShare Concept Map

When the team looked at our research findings we found that what kept coming up over and over again was trust and security. These were the two main concerns and barriers to growth and success for many sharing economy platforms. So as a no-brainer we made them our focus in planning and designing the mobile app and features.

The Planning Phase — I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

By looking at what successful companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Couchsurfing and others have done really well we came up with a list of features and things to plan for the SpaceiShare mobile app design.

  1. Build confidence in SpaceiShare as a trustworthy brand/platform through On-boarding screens with Renter/Host testimonials.
  2. Add phone verification to give legitimacy of users and a stronger communication tool for people to interact with them more easily.
  3. Require that people provide photos and fill out bios explaining who they are and what brings them to the SpaceiShare community to improve user profiles and help make them feel more approachable.
  4. Add Social integration to speed up the joining process and bring some of a person’s reputation and credibility from their other social mediums with them.
  5. Tailor the messaging tool after traditional chat apps to improve ease of use and increase communications between members of the community.
  6. Modify copy on the form labels and elsewhere throughout the app to make it feel more welcoming and friendly. The SpaceiShare founders express a warmth that users liked, why shouldn’t the app?

I eventually went on to generate the final versions of the mobile app sitemap as well as a Renter user flow diagram. The user flow outlined how people sign up/login, conduct a search and filter the results, check their messages and add a listing to their Saved Listings page.

Sitemap and Renter Persona User Flow

The Design Phase — So What’s It Gonna Look Like?

From here the UX team moved forward with picking up our pencils and paper and transitioned to some design thinking based upon our list from the Planning phase. Based on the sitemap we divided up the design duties by section. I looked after the Home screen (with the dropdown search field), Search Results screen, Listing Details screen, Map screen and Filters screens. I later went on to revise the Post a Listing screens so that the look of the form elements would match with my Filters screens.

When it came to the Search Filters and Post a Listing screens I designed them to span across a number of screens in order to avoid a lot of scrolling to reach the end. The use of numbered progress buttons at the top of the screen gives the user a sense of how many steps are involved and informs them of where they are in the process of completion.

Pencil sketches for various mobile app screens

The second week of the project was where the UX team focused on creating the mid fidelity screens using Sketch. We divided them up in the same order as we created our initial pencil sketches. I began by creating an initial template file with established interface elements and type styles. Once all the different screens were created I took responsibility for them as a whole and finished off any needed tweaks for consistency. Then they were brought into InVision and our prototype was built and tested.

During this time our UI teammate was mapping out a style guide for the mobile app based off of her research and the colours from the SpaceiShare logo. Together we collaborated on upgrading our mid fidelity screens to high fidelity screens in Sketch. I worked with one other member of the UX team to implement the UI style guide as we had quite a few screens designed for the prototype to illustrate the user flow for both Renters and Hosts. Once again I took a lead role in finishing them and at this point was responsible for adding them to our prototype and making any needed updates to it.

Example of design progression from low to high fidelity

As the Design phase came to a close we addressed all the points outlined as wanting to incorporate into the app from the Planning phase.

Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat — The Prototype

Our prototype managed to feature most of the pages from the proposed mobile app sitemap (which was pretty amazing!) including: going through the On-boarding and Sign Up process, logging in and searching the listings, narrowing down a search using filters, requesting to rent a space, posting a listing and checking your messages area for communications from other users.

The prototype can be viewed using InVision by clicking on the image below.

Image link to prototype

Summary — So how does the story End?

In the end we presented our research findings and prototype to the SpaceiShare team who were very pleased and thankful — phew!

Without a lot of initial material to go on, we were able to gather research and gain insights into both the new and existing user experiences with the SpaceiShare service. From there we developed a mobile app prototype that addresses the expressed concerns. All to help the SpaceiShare team develop their community and business over time in order to occupy a larger space in the sharing economy.

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