SHARED ECONOMY; UNUSED VALUE IS WASTED VALUE
Although it’s not a very common topic, I thought it would be interesting to explain what is the role of user experience design in shared economy platforms (my personal opinion of course).
In the past few years, we have noticed a rising economic trend that we call “shared economy” or collaborative consumption. It’s basically a new way of exchanging goods and services between peers. Peer-to-peer consumption consists in sharing access to human and physical resources instead of having an individual ownership.
According to Rinne et al. 2013, sharing is one of the oldest human behaviors. In fact, humans have hunted in groups, farmed in cooperative and exchanged goods through trade networks for thousands of years. So in my opinion, shared economy is just about going back to basics!
MAIN REASONS FOR P2P GROWTH
Why has shared economies been rising so much? Well there are three main reasons:
- SOCIETY – We have reached a state of mass consumption where families, or the population in industrial countries, keep on increasing their consumption of natural and unnatural resources. Over the past few years, this increasing trend has started to stimulate different consumer behaviors; in fact, in order to live in a world that is actually sustainable, we are going to have to do a better job when it comes to sharing the resources that we have.
- ECONOMY – As after any financial crisis, in 2008, consumer behavior started to change and we could see that people were basically starting to think about what really mattered to them and what were their real needs. At that moment, we saw many shared economy organizations emerging, trying to offer solutions to the society based on the new needs. In many people’s opinion, it kind of makes sense because we do have more goods than needed and therefore why not share it and even monetize it?
- TECHNOLOGY – The model of sharing economy has been growing at an accelerated pace and technology obviously has something to do with it; it facilitates the processes and increases possibilities. Other than that, social media, mobile apps, big data and all new technologies enable businesses to “define and deliver highly targeted, very personal goods and services at the right time and location”.
USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN & SHARED ECONOMY
Although shared economy platforms keep on growing, there are still many people that need time to adapt to the concept or even to “adopt it”. In fact it’s very much based on trust; trusting a stranger. So yes, one of the biggest challenges for these organizations is trust.
That’s why User Experience Design is extremely important here; we absolutely need to offer an experience that is easy and fun, to encourage members to return to the platform. In fact, UX design is a customer centric approach that enable us to build the user’s confidence in a brand by providing him with an environment where he can feel comfortable while navigating an interface. I won’t go too much in UX design details but if it interests you, you can read more about it here.
If you talk about User Experience Design, you absolutely need to include User Research, or else, it’s just not a good UX Design.
Often, users don’t trust a brand if they feel that the services offered aren’t relevant to their needs; the fact that a website doesn’t meet people’s expectations make it kind of frustrating and will decrease the satisfaction of the customer. That’s why User Research is primordial to know what they actually want.
IMPORTANCE OF USER RESEARCH
What is UX research and why is it that important when it comes to the design of a product?
User Research is usually done at the beginning of the process of design, where you gather data in order to know more about the user, who they are, their needs, what they want, how do they actually act, etc.
Now, why is it important? It’s kind of simple and logic. You’re researching and testing on your user to be able to create the right product. No waste of work, or at least, you’re reducing the errors. Also, you are basing your decisions on real facts and data, you’re just increasing the chances of a user liking your product, because you’re considering him while designing it.
GREAT UX DESIGN: AIRBNB
Personally, when I think of great User Experience Design for shared economies, the first one that pops to my mind is Airbnb. Maybe it’s because I’ve used their platform a lot and feel quite comfortable with it or maybe it’s because I just know they do a great job in offering a seamless experience and have seen constant changes over the years, always making me feel like they were adapting the website to what I needed. I mean, when you use a platform and think to yourself that it would be nice to have X or Y option, and that two weeks later the option is added, you’re kind of amazed!
We have to keep in mind that trust, specially with Airbnb, is a very important characteristic; on the one side, you are hosting a stranger in your home and on the other side, you are staying at a stranger’s house. So of course, one of the challenges of Airbnb must have been to inspire trust through their platform in order to reassure users. How do they do that? By having an amazing UX Design. Here are a few examples of how they do it:
1 – PICTURES & CONTENT
If you visit the Airbnb website, straight away you will notice that many big pictures are used, with warm colors, it almost feels as if it’s sunny everywhere. They use a lot of visuals to try to make it feel cozy, using also videos in the backgrounds with just a tiny bit of movement as if it were a living picture. Also an important element is that in pictures, you can see people smiling, going on with their daily lives, having drinks, reading a book, cooking, walking down the street; nice, simple and realistic. That gives it a sort of home feeling. Finally, the words used everywhere on the page are comforting; house, home, “mi casa es tu casa”, welcome, etc.
It might seem basic, but their choices in pictures & content give a very dynamic feel and makes it an emotional place.
2 – THE PERFECT SEARCH
When it comes to research, User Interface is just amazing. It’s all made to make the user’s navigation easier while searching for the right place to stay at. First of all, automatically, the previous search that was done is saved, as well as the previous messages sent to other hosts, in order to have it all set. It’s actually very similar to luxurious customer services in the hospitality industry. Airbnb tries to provide this same human touch you get when you go to a hotel and that the receptionist remembers your preferences and name, etc. The difference is that it’s done online, but as a user, you feel like you’re interacting with someone who cares.
Obviously, there are many filters as; the price range, choosing the neighborhood (they even have city guides to inspire the travelers), number of bathrooms, etc.
The research results appear on the map, and for each listing, there is a mini image carousels that shows the pictures of the listing and therefore offering you the option to have an idea of what is offered without having to open a new page. Finally, when you move on the map, listings update automatically.
3 – SECURITY & SAFETY
Regarding security and safety, Airbnb found a way of making it reassuring because there are many characteristics that are just here to make you feel safe. On the profile page of the users, there’s a section that is quite visible, one of the first things you see, where you can see the “identity check” where basically they verify social media accounts, phone number, email, bank accounts, passport check, driving license, etc. So you can see that the person has been “verified”. Also you can see the evaluations of the person, so you can see previous comments of hosts or guests, and what’s also great about it is that you can’t delete them. This means that you are sure that a bad comment is here to stay!
4 – APP & WEB EXPERIENCE
First of all, as mentioned earlier, you can be either a host or a guest. There are two types of users but a single user can be both types. Airbnb perfectly adapted to that, to the users’ need. In the menu bar, you can choose to look at the page as a guest or as a host, that means that your inbox is separated, makes it less messy. Also, the experience is the same on the web and on the mobile app. In fact, the mobile app is used on a daily basis by the hosts, and as there is a response ratio, that means that the quicker you answer the better! So yes, having an app that is easy to use is kind of important. Finally, the mobile web obviously has a responsive design!
If you know of any other shared economy platforms that have amazing user experience design, please do mention them, we believe that it’s a very inspiring way of increasing trust and would like to know more companies that were able to get there!