Moving to a new city is difficult and stressful. Over the course of three months, my colleagues and I heard story after story of people who moved assembling their own moving plans. These movers stayed on couches of distant friends, scoured the web for apartments and jimmied boxes into their cars. They weren’t just college kids; these movers were working professionals trying to find the best place to live that they could.
My team and I developed LaunchPad, a place to land and a network of support for a simpler move. Landing places for short-term stays and realtor networks give users (called “launchers” in our system) the chance to see homes in person before committing to a lease or purchase. Storage and moving partners make it easier to find people to deal with users’ stuff at a variety of price points. In-flight assistance like reliable neighborhood and moving information and CrashPacks, basic living supplies for short term stays, make it easy to access those extras that make the move easier.
On the team, I conducted half of the user interviews, led prototyping exercises with landlords and developed interface user flows and wireframes. I am currently in the process of developing the visual design of the native mobile app.
An Iterative Design Journey
Changing Attitudes Towards Homes and Ownership
For Millennials born between 1980 and 2000, the recession and housing crisis are likely to have long term impact. These adults are completing school later, marrying later and having children later in life than their parents and generations before. In fact, this generation has been dubbed “generation rent” as finances and traditional views of home ownership are being replaced by more flexible options. In fact, the average person in their twenties moves yearly and has held seven jobs.
Traditionally, renting is viewed as “throwing money away” paying for access to property which the renter doesn’t own. But Millennials are equally hesitant to buy property as it requires a significant upfront financial commitment and as one of our research participants said “buying is forever.”
Meanwhile Millennials take advantage of the shared economy, earning revenue and leverage the flexibility offered by services like Zipcar and Airbnb.
Documenting the Moving Journey
We interviewed eight Millennials between the age of 25 and 40. We interviewed one mover who had only moved once and several who had moved more than ten times in the last ten years. Through our interviews, we were able to identify the motivations behind moving, the methods to moving, and the challenges along the way.
What we discovered was a spectrum of moving behavior that ranged in a spectrum of settlers and hoppers. Settlers were least flexible; these movers preferred to stay close to local friends and family and rarely moved. If they did move, these people were essentially forced to for a career or important event that could cause great stress. Hoppers were able to create and detach from social networks and preferred new experiences to staying in a single place.
In general, we found that “hoppers” structured their lives to live flexibly. They avoid having stuff and love the feeling after purging. When they are choosing places to move they focus on a locale’s context, not the specifics of the place and are open to trade-offs. We also saw family and friends as important determining factors in deciding to move (as both roadblocks and enablers), including the life stage when people who move want to “put down roots,” or settle in a location long term.
As we examined what it takes to move, we saw five key stages in the process: deciding, preparing, transiting, arriving and acclimating.
Seeing Opportunities in Workarounds
The most surprising finding was that the arriving and acclimating phase was occupied by not just unpacking, but also looking for a home and neighborhood while living in short-term housing. People used these short-term spaces to “touch down” while looking for a longer-term living arrangement. Thanks in part to hotels and Airbnb, movers are able to find temporary living situations before committing to renting or buying a place. In many of these scenarios, movers were “hacking” together a set of services that helped them find a place; in some cases, Millennials might stay in two short term housing situations before finding their longer-term home.
The needs to find housing eats up large amounts of time. Internships, career opportunities and youthful exploring keep people on the move and there are few options other than sleeping on couches and subletting to support this lifestyle. Movers have to think about their housing in terms of seasons or semesters, but landlords we spoke in terms of years. For Millennials, staying in a home may not be counted in years, revealing a gap in the housing market. And in many cases, the few short-term housing options that are available are too expensive for people on limited budgets.
Our (Original) Idea
As a team, we asked ourselves whether we should reduce the need for short-term housing or support the behavior and occupy a new space in the housing market. As Millennials on the cusp of graduating graduate school, it seemed to us that this “landing” behavior would not be going away any time soon. As potential users, we saw an opportunity to systematically encourage this behavior, which to us, seemed to help movers achieve the goal of making more informed life decisions.
LaunchPad would be a specific location or group of curated locations in a variety of city neighborhoods that would be designed for short term moves. Using Airbnb as a starting point, we wanted to remove some of the shortcomings of that system to support people looking to stay more than a week or two who were bringing most of their stuff with them. Short term tenants could check in at any time with their smartphone or at a apartment key kiosk and apartments might be unfurnished or furnished. We also envisioned a network of storage locations, either on site or at central locations that gave tenants easy access to their stuff.
We knew the idea was resource intensive, but before fleshing out all the details to this system, we took our idea “on the road” for feedback from those stakeholders who mattered most.
Designing Experience Prototypes for Partners
As we had now defined our opportunity space as “landing spaces,” we proceeded to prototype the service for the core constituencies in the moving space: people who move, landlords and realtors. We used a variety of stimulus activities such as marketing materials, negotiation conversations and card sorts to elicit attitudes and stories.
Prototyping with Movers
We designed positioning ads in order to learn how people who move would be most drawn to the service. Even though social networks had a big impact in their decisions, they were confused by conflating moving as a social experience. If it was too aspirational, it would be confused as a travel service. Overall, people who move wanted the service to look professional, reputable and clean.
Prototyping with Landlords
We sat down with landlords to negotiate the means by which both our service and landlords could benefit from working together in support of short-term housing. We learned how time-consuming and expensive it was to find new tenants. Landlords have to market the home, show it to potential tenants and clean up and make necessary upgrades to the space. Filling an apartment takes the most time out of their day and costs them the most money in terms of expenditures and lost revenue.
They hated the idea of short term housing, because they would have to vet more clients over time and that process takes the most time in renting. Their goal is to get someone in the apartment for a long time. Even if the service vetted potential renters, they would still need to meet them in person and judge them on their own; landlords wanted to protect their investment from damage.
Pivoting the Concept
While gaining feedback through experience prototypes, we analyzed the market size, opportunities and costs associated with operating in Chicago to develop our business model. In targeting Millennials, we would be supporting people who move for full-time jobs, internships and school. We quickly learned that in order for the system to be solvent we needed to cease any control of the spaces offered for rent in the service. As there would be some seasonal fluctuations, we knew that in order to satisfy the desires of landlords and people who move, we needed to pivot our idea.
The toughest part of our business model was also the piece of our system that had already been solved (in a way) by Airbnb. It seemed that our service provided complementary services to one of the core value propositions of Airbnb.
The Final Solution: LaunchPad
LaunchPad is a network of support for a simpler move. Landing places provided by Airbnb’s extensive network of vetted locations offer short term housing locations. Networks of realtors, moving companies and storage companies provide people who move key resources that help them find their longer-term housing option. Additional information about neighborhoods offered as “in-flight assistance” provide unique local resources and basic living essentials organized in CrashPacks make it easy to get up and going.
CrashPacks, for example, may seem like a sweet gesture for someone with all their stuff in storage, but it also offers creates revenue opportunities for landlords with empty apartments and condos that are available between tenants.
Visualizing the Brand and Flow with Wireframes
The brand of this moving service needed to compliment the Airbnb brand while clearly differentiating from the core Airbnb vacation services. I developed all of the wireframes in Balsamiq in preparation for our final presentation.
For tasks such as finding places to stay and viewing search results, the wireframes utilize layouts and elements users would already be familiar with.
Elements like the CrashPack, offer opportunities for users to have fun compiling their own “survivor’s kit” that is tailored to their own whims. In the wireframe below, users could drag the desired items from the gallery below into the placeholder pack container.
LaunchPad also borrows cross-selling techniques from services like Travelocity (which offers rental car services and tour activities at key points in the checkout process).
The system also has a variety of notification systems to provide tips to movers as they organize services and execute their move.
Making it Real: Mobile UI Designs
In the limited time of the semester, my team was unable to visualize the concept beyond wireframes. However, I am currently in the process of designing the mobile experience of the LaunchPad native app. As I complete the visual design, I will be updating the screens posted below.
In crafting the visual design, the brand needed to blend seamlessly with the Airbnb style guide to communicate trust and affinity. Bold imagery and typography clearly communicates available actions and resources for mover use. To signal shifts in mover tasks, the grid changes shape, for example, a rectangular grid style distinguishes moving advice from location browsing in a square grid.