An app that builds trust between pen pals.
1. The problem & exercise
I received a short design exercise from Airbnb while I was interviewing with them! Here it is: "Design a mobile messaging experience that helps build trust between you and a new pen pal. Consider communication methods, and how/why people trust each other. Creativity, exploration, and how you work are things we want to see. We aren't looking for final designs. Take just a few hours to explore the problem and mock something up. (A few screens will suffice)"
2. Product goals
I would consider this product successful if it enhanced the relationship between two people far from each other in a fun way. My solution to the problem was to gamify the experience. I would do some usability studies on this to see if this product actually solved the problem.
I knew this project was going to be challenging because I knew nothing about pen pals! Even typing pen pal is hard, I keep on typing/saying Paypal! I had to do a lot of research when I first started this. I first started by just surfing around the web and reading up on whatever I could find about pen pals and about trust. I found Quora to be really useful. Some questions included:
After spending some time doing a little bit of research, browsing through the web, and having small conversations with friends, I jotted some notes down and made some assumptions of my own. Here's a few of my notes and ideas.
I then decided I wanted to learn more about pen pals from people who actually have them. I created a Google Form Survey and reached out on Facebook and Twitter. I wanted to talk to individuals who already demonstrated interest in being connected to other people or have actually had a pen pal before. I received a total of 12 responses and got some valuable information from this.
Here's a PDF of the responses if you want to check it out!
Based on my results, I created two use cases: one for long distance friendships and one for young students to explore other cultures and people. I decided that the other use cases (military, prison, etc) weren't very fitting with this product because of a few constraints (e.g. lack of smart phone).
Since I only had a short amount of time to do this project, I made a quick decision based on the research and decided on a direction to go for. Since my target was a younger crowd, I decided on a game-like route. This would be fun and would help build trust between users. Normally, I would try to come up with more solutions and maybe interview people about this but I decided to go this route and explore a little bit more on it. Here's my thought process on defining the app.
So as you can see, I want to create a simple product where you can either message people you know, or meet new people. Each conversation starts out anonymous and as you get to know each other more, more information about each person can be revealed.
Based on the survey, people believe that time and honesty are key parts of building trust. When either of you send a message, your chat receives a trust point. When you get enough trust points, your trust level increases. At certain trust levels, different information can be provided. For example, if you get to Level 2, your name is revealed. Originally, I had this as an automatic thing but since different people have different views on trust, it's now optional. You get to Level 2, you can show your name or you can wait a little bit longer but that option will be there from now on.
Originally, I was going to target this to really young elementary school students, but after some exploration, there are too many constraints and drawbacks that would make it a little harder to define the product. My target is now students ages 13-18.
Here are some sketches of what I had in mind.
I took the sketches to actual wireframes.
I did some research on the Facebook problem. According to a study done in 2012, 38% of kids on Facebook are actually under the age of 13. Since this was done a couple years ago, that number is probably a little higher now. And since I'm changing the demographic to students over 13 now, I'm going to go back to having Facebook the default log in, to make sure that they are real people signing up for this. In the future, I'd like to really encompass this into schools and have them sign up through their school with the possibility of schools partnering with each other.
Here are the high-fidelity visual designs I came up with. Because of the younger audience, I chose some pretty clean and bright colors with illustrations that would appeal more to them. I decided to go with just a standard messaging screen but I would definitely want to explore other options. What if this was took the literal sense of the letter and had an envelope you can open when you received a message? What if you could sign your name? Just throwing out some ideas but I'm pretty happy with how these turned out! :)
Moving forward, this was a pretty cool project to work on. Because of the limited time, I wasn't able to fully explore all the use cases and edge cases. Also, how else can students learn more about culture and diversity through this? Another thing is the main problem, trust. Is gamifying the best way for people to gain trust with each other? Do people want to talk to each other just to gain points or should it be more of an emotional thing? Also another thing is the anticipation of waiting! What if they can choose how long it is until their messages send?
I would definitely want to get this in the hands of users and see what they think. The next step I would do would be to conduct some usability studies and see if this product is doing it's job, which is building trust. Or is it just giving entertainment? In the end, it was a fun project and I may actually want to continue working on it. :)