House Scout App Mockup

App Design: House Scout

Designing an App to Help Cornell Students Match & Tour Off-Campus Housing Options

Made with Figma and Photoshop

The Problem

Housing is only guaranteed for two years for Cornell students. After that, it is up to the students to find housing for their junior and senior years. However, there aren't that many resources for students to use in order to find housing near campus.

Since information is difficult to find online, students must meet with the landlord or realtor in person, but the majority of offices close at 5pm, when many students still have classes or extracurriculars. On top of all this, the majority of housing options are taken within a few months of the beginning of Fall Semester, adding more stress within a limited time frame.

The Solution

As a team, we designed the app House Scout to help students find housing options that fit their preferences and assist them in scheduling in-person tours, as well as hiring someone to tour for them.

Target Audience

This app is mainly targeted at sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Cornell University. Sophomores have guaranteed housing, so they would depend less on the app, but nonetheless some choose to live off campus. Freshmen, however, are required to live on campus so the app would not benefit them. In addition, this app is designed to be used by Cornell University students in particular, so it may not be applicable at other universities.

User Research

Once we had established our target audience, we set out to interview the very people our app was being designed for. We interviewed 7 students, from sophomore year and older, asked them about their past experiences with the off-campus housing process, and what their ideal process would include. I was responsible for interviewing or taking notes for 3 of them. From those interviews, we created an affinity diagram, pictured below, and came up with the following takeaways:

  • Lack of centralized information or information in general made it difficult to search according to specific preferences
  • Difficulty balancing school work and touring since most offices close at 5pm (some have class at or near that time)
  • Lots of stress surrounding off-campus housing process due to general uncertainty and lack of guidance
Affinity Diagram Building the Affinity Diagram

Persona

From our user interviews we developed the following persona:

Persona - Credit to Carrie (Jiarui) Hu for making the visual design Credit to Carrie (Jiarui) Hu for creating the visual.

Ideation

Evaluating the Existing Solution Space

Before coming up with ideas, we needed to first evaluate the current solution space. This way, we wouldn't make a copy of an existing product, and could also learn from them. After doing our research, we listed the things that they do well and where they fall short.

Existing Solution Space Evaluation of Solution Space
Existing Solution Space and Evaluation

From our research, we found out that while sites like Zillow or Craigslist worked very well in big cities, they could not meet the needs of Cornell students in particular. The majority of housing found on these sites were located in downtown Ithaca, whereas the majority of off-campus students live within a 5 minute walk to campus. This area directly surrounding the campus is where our product aims to reach.

Brainstorming

Following our analysis of the existing solution space, we began brainstorming various ideas for our product:

Ideation Sketches of Tech and Non-Tech Solutions

Chosen Solution

Our chosen solution combined two of the most important features we had come up with, a way to search based on preferences and a way to schedule tours. From there we were able to establish the following 3 main tasks:

    Setting up housing preferences

    Scheduling In-Person Tours

    Hiring a Stand-In Tour

Task Relationship Task Relationship

Stand-In Tours was an idea that I thought would distinguish our app from other competitors. Nearly all the people we interviewed placed a lot of importance on being able to tour and see the property first, and mentioned difficulty scheduling tours due to various logistical obstacles. This feature gives the opportunity to pay someone else to tour in their place. While not perfect, this would allow for more insight than what could be gathered on the website alone.

Sketches

Once our idea was finalized, we sketched each of the tasks in our app. Since I was the one who came up with the Stand-In Tour idea, I was in charge of sketching and storyboarding those tasks.

Stand-In Sketches
Stand-In Storyboard

Paper Prototype

We built a paper prototype so that we could get useful feedback on the way our app works and to find out where any pain points were. I was responsible for facilitating one of the 3 user testing sessions.

Paper Prototype of the HouseScout App

User Feedback

From the 3 user testing sessions we received the following feedback:

    Housing Preferences:
  • Preference selection process takes too long
  • Questions can be unclear
  • Must/Preferred options don't fit every question
    Tours:
  • Provide explanation for "Stand-In Tour"
  • List frequently asked questions
  • Add confirmation page
    General:
  • Add a search function
  • Provide more information on housing
We also received some positive feedback on features that the users liked:
  • The matching ratio in the Housing Suggestions page is good to have.
  • The Stand-In tour idea is great, but only after it's explained.

Mid-Fidelity Prototype

For the Mid-Fidelity Prototype we made some changes based on the user feedback and created it using Balsamiq:

Mid-Fidelity Prototype of the HouseScout App

Mid-Fidelity Prototype Feedback

We presented our Mid-Fidelity Prototype to the class and received a lot of helpful feedback which we incorporated into our final design. Specifically, we were told that the process of setting preferences was extremely tedious and would cause users to quit the app before using the main features. In addition, there was no way to see contact information for the stand-in.

Heuristic Evaluation

After thoroughly evaluating the app design, we found that the Preferences pages violated many of usability heuristics. In addition, based on feedback from the Mid-Fidelity presentation, we completely revamped the Preferences section.

We redesigned the Preferences section to be divided into 4 sections, and instead of having interview-like questions for each, we made it similar to an online form with checkboxes, multiple choice, sliders, and a map.

High-Fidelity Prototype

Usability Testing

We conducted 4 usability testing sessions to make sure our High-Fidelity Prototype didn't have any major issues and was as refined as possible. I was responsible for conducting 2 of them. Because of how thoroughly we sought user feedback at every step of the way, the only changes we ended up having to make were very minor, giving us this final prototype:

Preferences Gif

Housing Preferences

When first opening the app, students are prompted to enter their housing preferences from which recommended housing options are based off of.

In-Person Tour Gif

In-Person Tour

Students can schedule in-person tours with different housing offices from a single app.

Stand-In Tour Gif

Stand-In Tour

Students can hire someone else to tour various properties for them through a single app with options to ask specific questions, take pictures, videos, or even FaceTime during the tour.

Conclusion

This was a group project for the class INFO 3450. My teammates were: Carrie (Jiarui) Hu, Phyllisia Angelia, and Jackson Rong. Together, we won an award for the Best Visual Design during the poster presentation at the end of the semester!

Even though this was only a class project, I think that it could have a really significant impact on the off-campus housing process if it were to be developed. Despite our award, I know that there is always room for improvement and in this case better accessibility. I realize that the color scheme wouldn't pass 508 compliance and it's something that's being kept in mind as I work to make this project a reality. Currently I'm working with a team right now on the website cornlet.com. Currently it only addresses the subletting need, but we hope to expand it in the future!

Picture of the Team Picture of the team at the poster presentation.