Spare Room — a conceptual redesign

A conceptual look into how we could make the Spare Room website more engaging and trustworthy.

This was a two-week design sprint, embedded within the General Assembly UXDI40 course that I was enrolled in.

I worked in a group of 4 with Kylie Chung, Hongxi Li, and Christoph Duesing — my main areas of focus were research, followed by wireframing, then presenting our findings.

January 18th — 29th 2021

The Brief:

‘In light of the challenges encountered in coordinating flat-shares during COVID lockdown, Spare Room identified an opportunity to adapt their service to the changing times. With people spending more time at home, and more and more viewings being conducted virtually, Spare Room wanted to make it easier for people to find and choose flatmates aligned with their personality and interests.’

Our focus

From the brief, we were able to focus on three key areas — making profiles more prominent and engaging, making the profiles themselves easier to find, and making virtual interactions easier.

Discover:

As a team, we interviewed 12 people with the aim of digging deeper into people’s experiences in finding a flatmate both with Spare Room and by other means.

Firstly, interviewees spoke of their difficulties in finding enough information about potential flatmates, with one person saying

“it is very hard to know whether you have similar interests with a person by just reading their profile.”

On top of this, and unlike anything mentioned in the brief, we were also informed of the importance of security. One person lamented:

“I had a terrible experience as I was scammed once when I tried to use Spare Room. The user’s account was anonymous and not verified.”

We decided that not only did we need to make Spare Room more engaging, but also more trustworthy.

Competitor Research

To complete our initial research, we knew that we could gain some useful insights by looking at direct competitors of Spare Room. We found that security seemed to be a prevalent problem in all of these sites; there was a lack of ratings or verifications. This led us to look at Airbnb and Uber, two sites that have comprehensive review systems.

We concluded that there was a gap in the market for a rating system — a system that will allow users to feel safe and secure.

These weren’t the only sites that provided inspiration. We decided to think outside the box to tackle the issue of making profiles more engaging by examining dating sites. Of course, more than almost any other sort of platform, dating sites focus on making a person’s profile as appealing as possible.

Our conclusion was that clear photos complemented by ‘bright’ and ‘loud’ but limited text were the way forward. Spare Room is relatively text heavy at the moment, so a reduction of text and an improvement in size and clarity of image would go some way to making it both more engaging and more trustworthy.

Define

With our research phase yielding some valuable insights, we went on to creating problem statements. The objective was to define and articulate the problem that we were trying to solve (based off the brief and our research) and who we were going to design the solutions for.

Spare Room serves a different purpose for different users. Whilst some go on the site to find a room for themselves, others are posting a room for someone else to rent. This led to our having to consider different types of profiles; we were looking to make individuals more engaging and more trustworthy and the truth is only making one type of profile in this vain wouldn’t solve the problems identified.

To account for this we had to create two problem statements, which in turn led to the creation of two different personas: Fernando and Fatima.

Fernando was looking to rent out a room whereas Fatima was looking for a room for herself.

Fernando’s problem was that he ‘needs an easy way to verify the credibility of his potential flat mate because it is essential to be able to rent and share a flat with someone he can trust.’

Meanwhile, Fatima’s problem statement was that she ‘needs a fun and engaging way to find potential flat mates that have similar interests to her because it is important to her to live with someone she can relate to.’

Develop:

With our personas and research complete, we engaged in a design studio to start formulating our solutions. The objective of a design studio is to rapidly collate as many ideas as possible to attempt to solve the problems that you have identified in your research.

Starting with the sketches above, we tried to agree on features that we could incorporate/improve. After a lengthy voting process which you can see in action below, we realised that we were struggling to condense our ideas.

Below is a list to give an idea of the features that we considered. Keeping Fernando and Fatima in mind, we needed to make the site more engaging, fun, credible, and trustworthy.

There were simply too many ideas to explore in a relatively short period of time; so, to combat this problem, we created a Venn diagram to identify a ‘sweet spot’.

By assessing features that tackled the problems posed by both the brief and our user research, it appeared we could indeed narrow down our ideas. This was extremely useful as it allowed us to prioritise the features that would solve the most problems for the most users.

Deliver:

Upon agreeing on the sweet spot we started to move up from quick feature sketches to wireframes. To combat the trustworthiness issue, we implemented verifications. We also wanted to improve the quality of information on the profile page, making it more engaging for users.

We added pills in the ‘about me’ section which would appear as a result of improved filters in the search function — as our competitor research suggested, having ‘stand out’ information was more valuable than text-heavy profiles. We also wanted to make the images more prominent.

After 4 tests of our basic wireframes we were informed that the verifications worked well and would educate users on their potential flatmates. The ‘pills’ also were received favourably, but users stated that it was imperative that they were clear.

One user also suggested that perhaps we could implement a ‘what I’m looking for’ or requirements with ‘pills’ as well: this would make the profile even clearer.

Keeping this in mind, we iterated into digital designs. As can be seen below, we implemented all of our sketches into a low-fidelity wireframe.

After testing this with 6 more users, we received generally positive feedback, but were told that it would be nice to have a short intro about a person in their profile. Users also wanted to see a monthly budget. One stating

“I would need to know how much this person is looking to pay”

We were also informed of people’s weariness of including too many social media links. This linked back into the trustworthiness issue. During one test, a user suggested that we could have add a link to a Spotify playlist on the profile page to increase the ‘fun’ of engaging with other users.

Taking this feedback into account, we further iterated to reach mid-high fidelity. Below is a direct comparison of what the Spare Room site looks like currently versus our design.

We tested our high fidelity designs on 12 different people. The reduced text heaviness was reported as making the profile more enjoyable to read, whilst adding clear reviews and badges did indeed make the profiles more trustworthy.

With the profile being well received, we then focused on what users would see when they actually searched the website. During our previous tests, users had suggested we make the search results as similar to the profile page itself as possible to keep things simple and intuitive. We therefore changed the accessibility of the text when searching for profiles, as well as including the ‘pills’ to showcase interests so users don’t have to trawl through significant amounts of information. Users stated that it was very important to have the verifications and ratings at this stage too — one user observed:

“when I search I need to be able to see someone is trustworthy before I go on their full profile page, otherwise I’ll just skip past it.”

Another cool idea that we had seen briefly in our competitive research, which was then suggested by a couple of users during our second round of testing, was the idea of creating ‘interest groups’.

Users stated that it would be an ideal way to get in touch with like minded individuals on the site. I asked one user what they would expect to see in an interest group and they commented

“LBTQ friendly would be one definite, perhaps also eating habits”

Above are the interest groups that we created.

We felt that the interest group was a clear example of making the site more engaging and — if the designs were one day implemented — would love to test if it increased communication amongst users.

Finally, when running through our testing, we needed to ensure that we had a clear idea of the exact flow for both Fernando and Fatima — our two personas. The top path is the search that Fernando would be conducting, the bottom is for Fatima. This was essential to communicating what users should expect when conducting tests on our design.

Now for the prototype itself…

Prototype:

https://www.figma.com/proto/kKDy4TNCk3JhC8VzPHqbfW/ShareSpace?node-id=256%3A384&scaling=scale-down-width

Next steps:

We would love to further test the designs to understand if we have largely solved the issue of trustworthiness and engagement. With the limited time at our disposal, we also didn’t explore the issue of personal security so much; this would need to be examined in more detail, especially seeing as profiles can contain links to social media accounts.

What did I learn?

My main takeaway from this project was the importance of prioritising features. If you can work on a project for months on end then the scope for implementing new features drastically increases. However for a 2-week sprint such as this, it’s imperative that designers focus on what features are going to solve the most problems. Our Venn Diagram was a success and is something that I will certainly be using in future.

Thanks for reading!

UX Designer and student at General Assembly