Designing for Trust in a Space Sharing Mobile App

Vivian Ngai
RED Academy
Published in
15 min readFeb 21, 2017


The beginning

As soon as our previous project was barely over, we sprinted (literally) onto this project. We were given several client projects to choose from, and I knew I wanted to work with SpaceiShare. They are a relatively new, Toronto-based platform — “the AirBnB for spaces,” if you will. That is, it’s an online peer-to-peer marketplace matching those who have extra space with those who need space for storage, parking, or events. I was drawn to them as a personal proponent of the sharing economy and alternate ways of doing things. I’m a part of AirBnB, Couchsurfing, and have used UBER, so this was up my alley.

Once we got with our new project team, I suggested that we do an initial team meeting to get to know each other better — from personality, background, availability, working styles, strengths, goals, and anything else that would help us familiarize ourselves with what resources we have within our team. Even though it was Friday afternoon, I think we all left feeling more pumped because we got to build some rapport and to open the communication gate. I definitely want to keep this as standard team work practice. Team Introverts!

The following Monday, we met the wonderful SpaceiShare (SiS) team: Karen, Sarah, and France, at RED for our kick-off meeting. After they told us a bit more about SiS, I led with our team’s questions in order to get clarification on needs, expectations, and so forth (I was the main point-of-contact with SiS’ point-of-contact through the project). We received our mission…to create a mobile app (prototype) for their platform (it’s currently just a website).

Team: 4 UX Designers + 1 UI Designer
Timeline: 3 weeks
Product: High-fidelity prototype for a mobile app
Fuel: Daily snacks supplied by Jason (fellow UX’er teammate)


We initially had a bit of a slow start. We mis-focused our efforts, partially jumping ahead with looking at competitors, and partially keeping things at a standstill waiting for user data and analytics. We needed to move forward, and quicker. We took a step back to get a better sense of the industry landscape that SiS sits in; and a step forward by creating a survey for potential SiS users (general survey).

The Industry Landscape

Though SiS is related to many industries (rental real estate, peer-to-peer marketplaces), I primarily focused on: 1) the self-storage industry, and 2) the sharing economy.

The self-storage industry in North America is booming

It’s a $2 billion industry in Canada alone with over 3,200 self-storages (the numbers in the US are exponentially higher) (source|source). It’s grown a lot over the past five years and will continue to do so from changes in the economy, lifestyle, and demographics — like the condo boom, baby boomers downsizing, death, and higher demand for more centralized urban storage.

The sharing economy is gaining traction

A sharing economy is an economic model in which individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else. (source)

The sharing economy as an alternative way to consume and offer goods and services through sharing has become more accepted and mainstream as AirBnB and UBER have become household names. It often provides a cheaper option to its conventional service provider (e.g., hotels, taxis), but offers a more personal experience. It also allows those who share with extra income, sparking an entrepreneurial avenue. However, it’s still a smaller subset of people who are participating in it as there’s still much hesitation into the security and safety of it. Those who participate in the shared economy aren’t necessarily more trusting of strangers, rather, it’s that it provides extra income/saving money and convenience which is enough to get some users to look past the discomfort and hesitancy (source).

Surveys & Interviews

We created two surveys — one was sent to current SiS users, and the other was a general one we sent to our direct and indirect social networks — those who could be potential SiS users (I also conducted some follow-up informal interviews for some in this group).

SiS User Survey

We want to know what SiS is doing well with (what to extend onto an app) and which aspects of the website or process could improve on through the app. Four users responded to the survey.

Key findings:

Things to improve:

  • 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)
  • Users don’t like that agreements can’t be signed online (inconvenient)

Things to continue rockin’ at:

  • Customer service/support is positive, pleasant, helpful, and respectful
    (average rating: 4.5 out of 5 in satisfaction)


  • All respondents say they would use a SiS mobile app

General Survey & Follow-up Interviews

We wanted to understand the general attitudes, behaviours, and experiences of potential users about self-storage, the sharing economy, and what they thought about SiS’s concept. There was a total of 43 respondents.

Key findings:

  • The top 3 things that people expect from storage space are: cleanliness/pest control; safety & security; and convenient access
  • The majority of people have never used AirBnB and/or Uber — the most popular and known sharing economy platforms
  • While over 80% think SiS is a useful service….
  • …they also admit they’re unlikely to use it — over half (53%) were “very unlikely” or “unlikely” to use SiS; with another 28% on the fence (average rating: 2.3 out of 5 in likelihood to use SiS)
  • Many people say that the largest deterrent is feeling uneasy and uncomfortable with leaving one’s belongings in a stranger’s house
  • These would help attract new users: a trustworthy owner/member; and feeling like their belongings are safe and secure

Before we go further, let’s put all the research together:

Affinity diagram
computing….keep scrolling…..

= BAM! Here’s a couple of folks that could use some SpaceiShare…

Renter persona

Meet Mandy. She’s in her mid-twenties and nomadic most of the time as a travel writer. She hopes to settle back down in Toronto in a year or two, but in the meantime is paying (way too much) for a self-storage unit in the suburbs (she normally stays downtown with her partner when she is in town). She’s storing furniture, seasonal clothes, and other things she’s collected from around the world. She’s looking for something cheaper, more convenient and accessible, and, hey, a more personal experience is a nice bonus. She is a bit wary, however, of where she stores her things so she needs to be able to find a trustworthy host with a safe space.

Host persona

Here’s Michael. He’s in his late-thirties and just got married and purchased his first home with his partner. These exciting life milestones, however, have left him house-poor and cash-strapped after the mortgage and bills are paid. He wants a passive income stream, while also fully utilizing space in his new home. When I say passive, I mean it. He just wants the money to come rolling in (on time, consistently).

$$ money, money, money $$

We have a problem: people are still wary & hesitant

So, the self-storage industry is thriving, and though sharing economy platforms like SpaceiShare offer a useful service, and continue to gain traction, trust and security remain as the largest deterrents of participating in a marketplace like SiS. While they can see it as a useful service, people are still hesitant at the idea of leaving their things in a stranger’s house through SiS.

Identifying our goal: establish trust and security

In order to grow the SiS community, and decrease the hesitancy of potential users, the goal we focused on with the app is to establish trust and security. While we initially looked at things like third-party ID verification, or increasing insurance coverage, these things are not only costly and unrealistic for a young company, but the design solution should be one that can stand on its own.

We had to dig deeper into what made sharing economy platforms like AirBnB, UBER, or Couchsurfing successful, and we found that it wasn’t so much about building trust amongst users, because, let’s face it, it’s natural for us to not trust those we don’t know (Darwinism?). An app ultimately wouldn’t be able to make people trust each other. However, we pivoted it around something we can control and that is building trust towards SiS as a brand and platform. When you use AirBnB, it’s not that you necessarily trust “Bob in Chicago” — but you trust AirBnB as a trustworthy platform.

We looked at various other sharing economies, marketplaces, and other reputable apps and looked at what made people trust certain platforms: by establishing trust towards the brand and therefore its members, by proxy of being a part of their community.

Mission: Build community!

Designing, Building, and Testing

We looked at various apps that had an establish sense of community and examined the specific features that helped with building trust and security. Some were from sharing economy apps, and others were just ones that did certain features really well (the features we chose are highlighted further below). We also did a Hook Canvas to look at how we can build a “hook” into the app so it not only attracts new users, but keeps them coming back.

Some apps we used for inspiration….WealthSimple, Green P Parking, AirBnB…amongst many others…

Here’s one of the user flows that I worked on which was initially based on the website’s flow. It helped for us to see what the various steps a user would take and how to translate this into app screens.

I worked on the user flow for hosts

I did some sketches of the preliminary forms with the aim of breaking these down into more digestible chunks. I liked how the WealthSimple app had their forms like a chat…but if we divided the forms we already had into a question per screen…it would be a lot of screens that would end up deterring anyone from wanting to complete it. We settled on a compromise of multiple (numbered) pages to break it down.

Some of my low-fi sketches of some screens and forms
Some preliminary mid-fi screens I created

Up to the mid-fi prototype, we divided up the screens since there were too many for one person to handle alone. Again, we wanted to keep, “how do we build community and trust?” in our minds through all of it.

Mid-Fi Screens Testing

Once these were done, we inputted into InVision and sent them out for people to test. The main scenarios were to 1) complete a signup, 2) book a storage space, 3) list a space for rent, and, 4) check out another member’s profile page. The feedback was mostly about a lack of clarity on things. We ended up adding more and more screens to the prototype including:

  • Additional onboarding screens — one to introduce SiS
  • A “loading” icon when a member submits their listing to be published
  • The Saved List in empty state

We made changes and put the screens into high-fidelity…here’s selected hi-fi app screens (see prototype link below)!

SpaceiShareMobile App Design Features

Primary Goal: Establish trust through Community-building on a peer-to-peer sharing economy platform


Integration with Facebook & Google

Being able to integrate the SiS account with Facebook and/or Google will be a large part of this. Many of us have already established our network on these social network platforms, so expanding these onto SiS can help build trust in many ways.

  • New members can sign up with their Facebook or Google account
  • Members can sign in through Facebook or Google
  • Relevant social information (like profile photo, and friends) will be imported into SiS
  • This helps makes the sign up process easier/faster
  • Integrating friends will allow for personal vouching (via References), as well as, being able to see how many mutual friends you have with another user. Knowing that you have friends in common (less degree of separation) makes other members seem less like a “stranger” and more towards an acquaintance or friend

A more personal profile creates connection

  • Currently on the SiS website, there are many profiles that are incomplete, missing photos and information. While some marketplaces are built on anonymity (e.g., Kijiji, Craigslist) in order to encourage long-term space relationships, there needs to be more accountability and (required and standardized) information about members to establish feeling part of an open and transparent community. Members need to know a bit more about each other to feel like they belong
  • We want to encourage it feeling like everyone’s a potential friend, neighbour, acquaintance and not just “a shady stranger from the internet” through transparency
  • During the sign-up process, new members must upload a photo of themselves (SiS could verify that they’re real facial photos)
  • New members must also write a short bio to appear on their profile
  • New members must also include why they’re on SiS. This is one thing every Member shares, and as a community, this helps bond people and allows others to see their motives

More personal(ity)

Having more personality of the brand shine through helps to break down the seriousness and walls that we build amongst “strangers”. We personally have met the team, and also saw from our research that the SiS team is very friendly, helpful, and supportive, and it’s important to continue to carry this onto the app and convey it to members (especially new ones).

  • We primarily did this through copy — having a more fun, casual, and friendly personality shine through language and wording
  • The interface also features the bright and fun brand colours
  • It’s important to keep balance here, though, and not get too casual and childlike…we want to build trust, remember?

Building reputation and credibility

Part of building trust is establishing a reputation through writing each other reviews and/or references which show up to all members on their profile page. It allows users to get a sense of what it’s like to deal with someone else, and also encourages members to behave knowing that there’s a transparent system.

  • Members are given the opportunity to write each other reviews once they’ve completed a transaction (or a first payment)
  • Since the app can be integrated to one’s Facebook and/or Google accounts, members are able to request references from their friends who are also on SiS. These are personal references for the member and space. If someone hasn’t listed or hosted yet, having friends personally vouch for them still builds credibility (especially if their friends also have a good reputation)
  • On the profile page — Members will also have a “Member since [month, year]” as a way to convey their experience


Contact information verification (email and mobile)

As part of the onboarding process, new members must submit their email (email will be sent for verification) and their mobile number which will be verified (a code will be sent by SMS).

  • This ensures that SiS has all members’ contact number if needed for mediation or intervention
  • This also is part of more effective communication (see Communication below)
  • With this as a standardized and mandatory procedure, it ensures that those who are signing up have a certain level of seriousness about it


While we want to foster an open and transparent community, there also needs to be a balance to help members feel safe and secure.

  • The first letter of last names are displayed publicly throughout the app.
  • Because the app integrates with your email and phone, members don’t have to give out their personal email address or phone number until they need/want to
  • Exact space addresses also aren’t displayed — it’s up to the host to reveal this when they’re ready

Secondary Goals: Improve Platform Communication and Ease-of-Use

From our initial kick-off meeting with the SiS team, and the user survey, it was seen that the existing communication tool is lacking.

  • Integrated with member’s smartphone so that full messages can be received and replied through email and/or SMS, in real-time, so communication can be quick and convenient
  • The current platform just sends an email notification, but users have to then log onto the website to see and reply to the message
  • Message notification can be set up as push notifications
  • Chat messages are organized in a familiar way — like a text message inbox


  • We’ve removed the inclusion of the “wanted” listings that are currently on the website’s map
  • Integrating these types of listings makes the map confusing as it’s not clear upfront, unnecessarily clutters the map, and can discourage members to be active in looking (e.g. hosts post; renters post, but that discourages searching)
  • Every part of the renting process can be done on the SiS app — from posting a listing, communicating between host and renter, booking, paying, and signing the contract. This is beneficial for privacy, safety, and record-keeping
  • We’ve added a “Saved” list where members can save listings of interest to them that they can refer back to at a later time

Hi-Fi Prototype

Ready for the grand reveal? Here’s the link for clickable prototype:

Keep in mind that not everything is linked or filled, but a lot of it is to mimic the actual working app.

Presentation Day

The SpaceiShare team couldn’t join us in person for the presentation, but were able to Skype in from Colorado where they’re at for an incubator program (exciting!). Despite some minor tech issues, it was an awesome feeling to see that they were happy and appreciative of all the work we’ve put in! We’re looking forward to catching up with them when they return.

App Proposal Report

Lastly, I took responsibility for the final report we delivered to our community partner. With this, I wanted to highlight the high-level research findings we found (which I’ve outlined above), and then how those translated into a core focus and into the app features (we also added some recommendations for the app or when they re-do their website).


All in all, it was a good experience from start to finish, with a fairly large team. It was still a bit challenging to “divide and conquer” all the moving pieces of the project, but eventually did get there. It was rewarding to work on a real client project, as well as experiencing how having a UI designer fits into the team. Seeing the whole thing come together as a high-fidelity prototype was really exciting. This is our biggest project so far, so it’s an insightful experience to see how all of the various moving parts come together as it would in the professional design world.

SpaceiShare is a great concept and one that many people can use. We hope that with the community-building features we’ve included into the app design, it will foster a larger and stronger community, so it can continue to grow and expand, offering people an alternative to the conventional ways we rent space.