Homesty

A design research project to support immigrant first-time homebuyers

Team Members

Aedan McCall: UX Designer (Brainstorming, Sketching, Task Flows, Paper and Digital Prototyping), Usability Testing Facilitator and “Computer”, UI Designer

Emma Sadjo: UX Designer (Brainstorming, Sketching, Task Flows, Paper and Digital Prototyping), Usability Testing “Computer” and Observer, UI Designer

Leah Tran: UX Designer (Brainstorming, Sketching, Task Flows, Paper and Digital Prototyping), Usability Testing Observer, UI Designer

Laying the Foundation

Purchasing housing for the first time involves many complexities, ranging from getting pre-approved for a mortgage and building the right credit score to communicating with real estate experts to find a place that meets one’s needs. For immigrants to the US, who are more likely to lack support and understanding of these fundamental systems, additional support can help ease the process. Our user research revealed a reliance on finding trustworthy experts to help throughout the process and the importance of developing actionable plans through research to prepare their credit and finances for acquiring a home. The other major discovery that we focused on was how critical learning from the experiences of friends, family, and other community members who had already been through the housing search process was for participants.

The Contractors’ Vision

Based on our user research, we decided to provide immigrants to the US with a way to find trustworthy people and advice through connections with others who have prior experience with the housing search process. Our project focuses on two main goals as our solution. The first was aiding immigrants to find experts who can help them throughout the process. The second was helping them to develop an actionable plan for building their credit and finances. To do this, our solution facilitates a community-based system for sharing knowledge and expertise pertaining to the housing process among immigrant communities to help build trust, foster relationships, and strengthen resilience. After they have followed the learnings from the app and acquired housing, users have the opportunity to give back by sharing their own knowledge and success.

Blueprints and Inspections

Our app’s design was developed through an iterative, multi-stage process. First, we developed an initial prototype that reflected the solutions to the problems we identified. Through Heuristic Evaluations, we then had some colleagues evaluate our prototype and give us some feedback on issues that we needed to handle before testing our design with potential users. Before this evaluation, our prototype had no login system. We embedded one into our product to allow different users on the same device to have their own plans, pictured below:

Our prototype’s earliest landing screen allows the user to fill in their housing search profile, including their name, desired location, budget range, years spent in the US and whether it was their first house or not.

Opening the prototype would bring the user immediately to a page to set up their profile, but there was no way for them to save their information to be accessed through another device.

The home screen we devised to give users a better idea of what they could do with our paper prototype.

This was the first draft of the home screen we created to introduce our users to the app.

After this major revision, we tested our mockup with three test users outside of our target population to see whether they could complete our primary tasks of finding credit advice and finding experts. Due to the quick turnaround between prototyping and testing, we were unable to recruit participants from our user group for usability testing. Users were tested by one of the designers who was co-present with them. The designer, acting as a facilitator, asked users to perform various tasks related to the two main ones, such as creating an account and viewing other users’ stories, and creating their own story. The rest of the team listened in remotely via video call, taking notes as the facilitator asked the user questions and directed their interactions with the prototype. This process produced several useful insights and revisions associated with those insights.

The first major change was informed by the fact that the home page we created found very little usage due to the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen.

Our initial screens for the user to get introduced to the app. The login and sign up buttons led to basic login and sign up screens, respectively. Once the user signs up, they are brought to the profile creation screen.

We removed the central home page and instead created a login landing page that users are presented with when they first open the app. Next, we found that our testers struggled with our search tool used to find advice based on some key words they were interested in. Our testers also indicated that they wanted better support for searching for other users and experts in particular, so we made major revisions to our “Explore Stories” and “Set Filters” screens to better fit those needs:

Our “Explore Stories” and “Set Filters” screens. “Edit Filters” and “Set Filters” were inconsistent across the two screens, and the search tool did not efficiently describe what constraints on tags there were.

We also found that our initial “Set Filters” and “Explore Stories” screens were too open-ended and lacked guiding reference points or constraints for the user to know what tags or filters they could set.

Our post-testing “Explore Stories” and “Set Filters” screens. They are more consistent with internal language and have clearer constraints on what searches are supported.

The third major revision we made was to the housing plan and story management screens. Our testing revealed that there were some organization and clarity issues with editing stories, so we restructured both screens to clarify their purpose and reduce clutter that made them hard to understand:

Our initial “My Stories” Plan Mode view and edit screens, which were difficult to read and limited in capacity to control what was visible.
Our post-testing “My Stories” Plan Mode view and edit screens, which centered on having the “To Do” steps at the top and an option to display some combination of “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Completed” steps.

Finally, we also edited our paper prototype to have more consistent language throughout after testers indicated that there were some buttons and text that did not align with their expectations while interacting with our prototype.

Scale Model

After the paper prototype and usability testing, we moved on to building our first digital prototype. Due to time constraints and the learning curve of Figma, we decided to prioritize the most important screens and the interaction flows for our primary tasks of building credit and finding experts.

Hi-fi prototype screenshots for steps to complete task one: signing up, creating user profile, searching for stories using filters, exploring search results, and adding steps to their story.

To get the full use out of our app, users need to create an account and input information about their experience in searching for housing. Then, they can search for stories that contain relevant advice by selecting tags from a predefined list of topics. Those pieces of information can then be added to their own story, where they view all the tips they have gathered and keep track of their progress towards acquiring housing.

Hi-fi prototype screenshots for steps to complete task two: exploring search results, scrolling to “Experts” sections of other users’ stories (screens 2 and 3), viewing details of experts, and adding experts to their story.

Users can also specifically search for experts that can help them through the process. When learning more about the experts that others have relied on, the user can view contact details as well as what other stories the expert has appeared in. Knowing that someone has been deemed credible by other individuals would help alleviate concerns regarding the trustworthiness and openness of the expert for our users.

For our final mockup, we needed to fix some important issues with the interface. A major problem we needed to address was figuring out how users would know that a piece of information is credible. We considered implementing a verification system for users, but were concerned about the fairness of whatever metric we would use to determine credibility and the consequences of labeling certain people as trustworthy or not. Instead, we decided to show a detailed popup of a specific story step, parallel to the expert page structure. With this, users could see similar pieces of advice in others’ stories and use that information to determine the advice’s trustworthiness. After this, we made improvements to the general usability, including moving the position of buttons for consistency within the app, building out the search tag options to inform users of what they can look for, and reformatting headings to make them stand out from the content on a screen.

View our final digital mockup here.

Closing

Buying a home is a significant milestone. As one of our user research participants put it, with their first house, they knew that “this house, it’s gonna be like a new beginning.” However, there’s a steep journey to buying a home for the first time, especially for immigrants who haven’t gotten the same exposure and opportunities to understand the US’s complex financial systems. Our user research underlined how immigrants have been left to their own devices to fill this knowledge gap, which poses an additional challenge for those without community connections they can rely on for advice. Stemming from the user interviews, there were two areas of opportunity to aid immigrants through the housing search process. The first was helping immigrants to do research into the credit and finances needed to prepare for purchasing a home. The second was helping them to connect with experts who can help them throughout the process. With Homesty, immigrants can learn from the successful stories of other immigrants who have gone through the housing search process. Our app lets users create their own stories and keep track of their progress as they work towards buying their own home. Users of Homesty can share their own experiences to help guide future first time home buyers who have immigrated to the US.

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