Moving to the United States from another country is a difficult experience. Immigrants experience a wide variety of challenges from culture shock to language barriers. Amongst these challenges, finding long term housing is often a particularly difficult one. Prospective immigrants will usually need to find a place to live before arriving in the United States; however, information regarding this can often be difficult to find or understand for one’s specific situation. For legal and financial information, this can be especially problematic — understanding this sort of information is hard as is, even for U.S. citizens and English speakers. Through our user research, the distinctions when it comes to finding housing between those coming from abroad and those already in the U.S. became even more apparent with nearly all of our participants mentioning hardships with communications and translations, using rental/buying websites, and unexpected legal obstacles. To help streamline this whole process of finding housing in the U.S., we introduce Homie — a better way to move to America!
Homie is an interactive application that allows users to get relevant housing information from a centralized source; it is easy to use and contains all the information needed to effectively get started with buying or renting in the U.S.! Homie allows users to interact with other users of the app going through similar housing searches, communication assistance for language differences, find accurate and updated legal information, alongside browse housing options. While all these components in one place makes Homie unique as is, our feature for browsing housing options is unique in itself as it works to ensure our users can find safe, affordable options while not having to worry about scamming, which is another frustration we found through our user research.
Paper Prototyping and Usability Testing
The first iteration of Homie was a paper prototype with 4 primary features: a message board, a housing searcher providing listings and neighborhood safety information clearly from reliable sources, a translator with some additional functionality to provide users with more help if something translated poorly, and a feature to give users tailored and relevant legal and financial information for securing housing in the U.S. For our message board, our aim is to have the application be widely used by those looking to move to the U.S. so that eventually.
In the first image with the 2 screens prompting the user to choose their state and community, what is being shown is part of our set up process for first time users in our paper prototype so that our users can get more tailored information to them through our application.
This second image is an image from a storyboard that reveals a scenario of how our app may be used. In this particular snapshot from the storyboard we see how the prototype provides means to help a user who used the app’s translation feature but still has a question.
To assess our interface’s effectiveness, we conducted multiple usability tests with the paper prototypes where we asked participants to complete tasks by going through the screens of the prototype as if they were actual phone screens. We utilized the insights from these tests to improve our interface as we moved on to taking our prototype to a digital form.
We made several improvements to our paper prototype before moving onto our digital mockups based on our usability tests, though in terms of functionality, the primary features are, in essence, the same. One key change was a modification to the “Get Help” option on the translation feature, which now sends the user to a relevant FAQ. At the bottom of the page, there is also a “Submit a New Question” button included if a user doesn’t find what they’re looking for in the FAQs. Additionally, we made modifications to the “Information” screen, which had been previously the page linked to by the “i” in the navigation bar at the bottom. We determined that it would be best to have it as a subsection of the home screen. The home screen now includes banners to allow for easier navigation (i.e. what each tab entails), including one for Personalized Information, which is the information based on the user’s individual situation, such as state moving to, country of origin, immigration status, etc, as well as one for General Information, which includes more basic resources for learning about the process of finding housing. Finally, we made some modifications to the pages related to searching for housing. When searching for neighborhoods, the user has the option to Filter by Safety rating, city & state. Upon clicking on a specific neighborhood, a window opens up showing details for that neighborhood. An example is shown with the Wallingford neighborhood.
We determined that a navigation bar with four options (Home, Question Board, Housing/Neighborhood Search, and Translation) was best to provide both simplicity and easy navigation throughout the app. For the color scheme, we determined that a simple and inoffensive color palette would be best, so we settled on a blue-scale palette combined with white, black, and grayscale in the interface.
View our entire digital mock-up here on Figma.
Between unclear immigration policies, dense housing contracts in a different language, and a patchwork of different platforms and sources for information make it immensely difficult to find a home in a new country. Overall, we heard loud and clear from the community that the process is grueling, tedious, and confusing. With Homie, we hope to ease some of that pain and make home-hunting a simple, streamlined process by providing a centralized source of information in multiple languages regarding housing and neighborhoods as well as offering our users a connection to existing immigrant communities in all areas across the country. Through Homie, the search for housing has become a little easier.