The MetroMatcher app helps users find a city and/or neighborhood that is not only affordable but also enjoyable to live in based on custom criteria.
About the Project
As someone who has relocated to new cities a number of times, I’ve experienced the struggle of researching and painstakingly selecting what I can only hope is the best place to move. The ever-increasing cost of living in urban centers additionally makes this challenge more daunting.
Under the guidance of Kim Mats Mats, the Experience Director at Avanade, I designed the MetroMatcher app as a potential solution to this challenge that many people now face.
Before anything else, it was important to get a lay of the land by researching the other websites and tools that answered the question I was interested in solving:
How might we help people compare earning potentials and expenses in different cities then get matched with cities and neighborhoods based on lifestyle preferences?
In researching the market, I discovered online resources that help users compare cities based on cost and earning potential. They answered the question, “Where should I move?” quantitatively but not qualitatively.
Examining the other resources available, I was able to identify holes in the market and find ways to make the solution I was developing more valuable.
I decided to pivot from my initial goal (of matching people to locations based on earning potential and cost of living) and instead create an app that worked more like a dating site where users are matched to cities and neighborhoods based on their own preferences and can browse profiles with Yelp-like reviews. Because of this shift, the question I was answering became:
How might we improve the process of researching and selecting where to relocate based on what matters most to an individual or couple?
With this revised goal in mind, it was time to better understand the people this app aims to help.
Target Audience Interviews
While MetroMatcher would hopefully be of value to everyone, the target audience is 18- to 35-year-old Westerners who are interested in finding a new home. Fortunately, I knew quite a few people who fit into this demographic and were at different stages of their relocation process.
To better understand the needs of the target audience, I interviewed:
- a couple who was about a year away from moving (likely within the United States) to accommodate an upcoming career advancement opportunity
- a partnered woman who had been living a nomadic lifestyle with her partner for a few years and they were currently in search of a home-base
- a single man interested in relocating internationally (potentially multiple times) in a few years before putting down roots
- a wife and mother who was considering moving to a new neighborhood with her husband and two children
- a queer African immigrant who was looking to relocate internationally within a few months before her visa expired
While this user sample didn’t cover the full spectrum of people who could benefit from the app, it seemed to address a large enough segment to use their feedback confidently.
Interviews took place in person, over email, and via Skype. While I did my best to customize questions for each interview and ask follow-up questions, I aimed to ask all participants the following questions:
- How did you decide to move to [current location]? What were some of your main factors in making the decision?
- How did you choose [previous location]? Was your planning process any different?
- Have your deciding factors/priorities changed over time? If so, how?
- What do you wish you had known before moving to [location]?
- When talking about cities where you live/d, what do you usually tell people about them?
- In a perfect world, what type of tool would you want to have available for researching your options and selecting your next home?
- What’s been the most helpful resource you’ve found when you’re gearing up to relocate?
I learned a ton from the interviews as they brought up considerations I may not have come up with on my own. These considerations played a central role in determining the criteria by which users are matched to potential cities and neighborhoods.
To make sure I kept the needs of the target audience in mind throughout the design process, I developed a couple of user personas based on the interview findings.
I chose to create user personas for a couple as well as a single person since the needs of people in these two different situations seemed to vary greatly and I wanted to account for both.
While not as much of a priority for coupled individuals or those outside of marginalized groups, finding a community was central to people of color and queer interviewees and deserved a dedicated persona.
With the interviews and these personas in mind, I expanded my initial preference options to include categories such as diversity & communities, education & schools, and access to nature.
The Initial Prototype
The Pop-up Method
The ability to find city and neighborhood matches based on personal preferences sets MetroMatcher apart from its competition. For this reason, the primary goal of the app’s information architecture was to ensure that users were able to find the preferences section fairly quickly and use it easily.
To steer people to the section of the site where they can set their preferences, my initial prototype featured an automatic pop-up directing people to the top right of the screen. There, an icon denoted the preferences area.
Additional navigation was available at the bottom of the screen.
Putting this prototype to use, I conducted online and in-person usability testing with two of the initial interviewees as well as a less technologically savvy woman who had not been interviewed.
The image above depicts the different user flows available to new users. As you may notice, there are many paths people can take upon entrance.
The key takeaway from these usability tests was that not only did people ignore the pop-up but they also ignored the icon altogether in favor of the labeled icons at the bottom of the screen. This meant that they completely skipped over the preferences section, which was still the most important part of the app!
The Revised Prototype
New Onboarding Sequence
Based on the usability testing, I decided to create an onboarding sequence that would require new users to select and set their preferences and to create an account so that their preferences would be saved.
Once past the onboarding sequence, I simplified the navigation so that it all existing in the top right of the screen rather than being split between the top right and the bottom.
In addition to revising the layout of the navigation, I also updated the look-and-feel, shifting to a darker theme that uses more icons and relies less heavily on text.
Revised User Flow
With the new onboarding sequence and revised navigation, the user flow shifted between the first and second prototypes. Moving from six menu items to four also allowed for more streamlined exploration of the app.
For a closer look at the last iteration of the prototype, you can watch the video above or try it for yourself by clicking here.