Intro/Challenge
Rent Application digitizes the rental application process for landlords across the nation. Instead of a physical form, this service provides a digital medium of receiving tenant applications and obtaining reports.

Rent Application had a very specific issue. Approximately 80% of their first time users exited the site after viewing the dashboard. 

Our challenge as UX Designers was to solve this high drop-off rate with a potent dashboard-oriented solution.
This was our starting point. The original dashboard was a little chaotic and ambiguous. The navigation repeated itself, the price was confusing, and the CTA wasn’t clear.
Our client discussed that creating a powerful and intuitive dashboard was their primary goal. They recognized their design wasn't reflective of their user's goals. It didn't align with their vision of clarity and ease of use, which they attributed to their high drop-off.

Our scope had been defined and we were ready to dive into the landscape.
Exploring the landscape
Our client discussed that competitors typically offer a classic service or a bundled service, such as adding rent collection. 

Rent Application is a classic service and will remain as such, excelling by providing only application exchange and tenant reporting services.

After researching competitors, many companies presented strong design patterns and consistent visual language. We also confirmed that many companies indeed follow the two different branches of services.
Rent Application’s original landing page. The major concern here was the confusion with the language. It didn't feel consistent.
Cozy, a strong competitor’s landing page. Cozy provided clear language, strong navigation, proper design patterns, and a clear CTA.
Rent screener's home page. Very clear language instantly informed their audience.
We discovered the market was saturated with a lot of bundled services. Since Rent Application wanted to remain in the classic service, our next step was to speak with the users about how they can excel in this specific domain.
Speaking with our users
We began our research with a few questions addressing the current and future state this site.
We also tested the current usability. For new users we had them create an account and go through the process of creating an application and sending it. For current users, we asked them to explain their existing process.

During our interviews we gathered feedback from a variety of audiences - current and prospective landlords, property managers, and tenants.
Affinity mapping our findings into groups - such as frustrations, dashboard, pricing, and goals.
The bad results...

 I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing here... Am I logging in as a landlord? A tenant? I’m not sure. I thought this service was free. - New landlord user


The initial learning curve of the dashboard was very steep. We found landlords and prospective tenants were confused with the site. It was not immediately obvious to them why there were there, what was being offered, or how to achieve their specific goal.

People then experienced a lot of snags through the basic task flow. The dashboard information was ambiguous after signing up and was paired with a lengthy and tedious on-boarding walk through. The dashboard also did not accurately portray their site was free, and the current design patterns did not clearly represent an obvious CTA. 
Writing out our takeaways from our affinity mapping discussion. This is where we organized our good and bad results!
The good results!

 I love the free and hands-off service that rent application provides. It saves me a lot of time, and time is money.  - Current User


Once the learning curve was endured and the dashboard quirks was understood, current users enjoyed the simple and light approach to the site. With current users, it was a quick hands-off process after getting used to the initial snags of creating and sending applications. 

Many current users benefited from the services and had great words to say. People who had been using the site for awhile had overall positive remarks about the service. But, most of these people had previously interacted with customer service to sort their issues out. This was our first red flag.
The major takeaway, visualized
Overall, the current state offers a valuable and desired service. Excellent. It meets the goals of a typical landlord wanting a light, free, and quick service that doesn’t interfere with their busy days.

The major problem, and cause of user drop-off, arises when new users do not have the patience for excessive frustrations and errors. Their frustration grew to a point of quitting the site altogether and looking elsewhere. 

Most interviewees expressed to us that they would “already have left the site by now” after briefly viewing the dashboard. This prompted our group to develop a visual of our findings.
On the left, the y-axis goes from positive to negative experience. The X-axis is time. As users go through the site, their experience becomes increasingly negative. It accumulates until the new user leaves the site.
Our journey map really helped our client visualize the current user drop-off. We represented the major snags effectively. 

From left to right, this journey map represents the initial confusion with the landing page, the increasing confusion with pricing and directions on the dashboard, and an incomplete logical flow of steps.
Summary
At this point of our research we've identified that the service itself is desirable. However, the user drop-off is due to the ambiguity of the language, lack of CTA, mediocre categorization, and no pagination of information. 

With our research showing our direction, it was time to create the foundation.
Setting the foundation
Overall, our research indicated that users desired:

1. Confidence in the service provider’s credibility
2. Clear directions and concise wording
3. A facilitated, nearly hands-off experience
4. A dashboard that makes sense right off the bat

At face value it can be argued that these values are just inherent to great design. Unfortunately, these principles were lacking needed to be addressed. 

We developed four design principles to address the current pitfalls while aiming to serve the future of Rent Application.

We then created the pixel pushing of UX — our problem statement. This scope was used with every decision moving forward. After healthy discussion we arrived at our statement:


How can we design interactions that guide users along a clear and efficient pathway toward screening tenants in order to increase user retention?


We presented our research conclusions to our client and they were thrilled with our direction (and eager for some concepts). 

Onto the next phase, we were excited to begin tackling our solution.
Addressing the major problems
Our process was simple but effective. After our research, we decided to address our four core areas where users felt most frustrated and confused.

1. Landing page
Users often couldn’t understand what was being offered to them upon entering the site. The language was unclear, the “try it for free now!” CTA made it feel like a scam, and the hero image language wasn’t clear who the service was for or what it really entailed.
Is this for landlords or tenants? Where do landlords enter? Often times tenants would end up creating accounts as landlords by accident.
2. Dashboard
Our largest concern since users will operate here most often. The setup of the dashboard did not logically guide the landlord. The dashboard also included prices haphazardly, which had users asking themselves quite frequently, “I thought this service was free?”
Who is paying the $20? This price tag confused landlords who were just told the service was free a moment ago.
3. Creating an application
The current application page offered clunky customization but overall lacked in in ease of use. We knew this would be the first step of a new landlord, so addressing this was crucial. 

On this page, user could fill out their own new application, which confused both landlords and tenants alike. Landlords thought it was tenant facing and therefore exited, and tenants, having created a wrong account, starting filling out the "create an application form". 
Customizing an application had a very long scroll and there always wasn’t an auto save. This caused a lot of havoc and fatigue.
4. On-boarding
The on-boarding was surprisingly long and convoluted. The on-boarding had an amazing number of steps, and each step was all over the screen - some even completely off the screen! 
The on-boarding process certainly was going to take longer than a minute with 16 steps. Most users clicked out of it instantly.
Moving forward
After we identified our four core areas we moved onto the next phase of concept development. We aimed to create three separate concepts that solved these core areas.
We began sketching out concepts in a round robin style. An idea was started, passed it off to a teammate to build off it, and repeated. Afterwards we dot voted. With over 90 sketches in action, we narrowed down the concepts that best embraced our vision - our research.
Our dot voting. These concepts addressed the dashboard, where most of our votes went towards a card display and high level CTA elements.
Dot voting on the round robin sketches from our group. We gave each group member a certain number of votes, and three overarching concepts emerged.
After voting and group discussion we identified three separate concepts that aligned with our principles and vision. These concepts focused on making the learning curve minimal while showing only what is necessary in a powerful manner - a concrete format that relates to the quick needs on everyday landlords. 
The three low-fidelity concepts
The mental model takes the visual pagination approach of physical folders and applies them to the dashboard. This means separating blank applications from filled out applications. This adheres to a traditional organization of landlords — what’s ready to hand out and what’s ready to evaluate, in a tabbed format.
The mental model readily informs the date sent, the status of the application, and a PDF download.
The professional concept embodies a usage of thorough language throughout the process. This ensures details are never skipped and everything is understood. The dashboard is presented in a very business like manner as well. This concept was most prominent with the on-boarding and the create an application area.
An example of an on-boarding page explaining everything there is to know about the dashboard’s capabilities.
The modern approach adheres to simplicity and minimalism with elements, information hierarchy, and language. This draws inspiration from Google doc design patterns, where plenty of white space is incorporated with single lines of text. It keeps the page very low on cognitive load.

On the left hand side of the application is the standard questions, while on the right the landlord can add on less frequently asked questions
How our concepts tested
To start, we discovered that our dashboard didn't require an on-boarding after all. During concept testing, users did not benefit from an additional explanation because they felt the designs "spoke for themselves". Surprised with the results, we removed it.

Our mental model tested very well specifically for our dashboard. Users resonated positively with the pagination of applications. “Ready to send” and “Sent to tenant” made sense. Users were able to translate the physical model of tabbing into a digital space with ease. We also discovered that users prefer their tenant applications be separated by property first, then name.
A low-fidelity concept idea with a physical folder interpretation.
Our professionalism concept was greatly appreciated when it came to providing credibility and logical categorization on the create an application page. Thorough explanations about reports and process was precisely what the landlords desired. It’s a careful process, and understanding every nook of the reports deliverables is valuable.
Adding plenty of explanation on this page instilled a ton of confidence with landlords.
The modern approach tested best on with the landing page. It consisted of a newspaper type of layout, plenty of whitespace, and concise wording. Users wanted a concise explanation of what Rent Application offers without lengthy passages of text. This is when we discovered the our language is extremely important on our landing page. Another important factor, users absolutely love testimonials.
Just by changing the language and the top right options, users responded very well.
Summary
Given our findings about our three concepts, we moved forward with the mental model as our center focus. We began there and revolved around this concept when creating new pages. 

But we did not ignore the other concepts. They all offered valuable solutions. We decided to use the modern approach for the landing page, and a professionalism concept for applications and reports. 

At this point, it was time to meld our designs and create our mid-fidelity wireframe.
Creating our final wireframes
Through our concept testing we found effective and powerful solutions! Here’s what we implemented for our final wireframes, and why.

Landing page
For our landing page we transferred over the newspaper style layout. We ensured our language in the hero image was clear as to what Rent Application provided. Throughout the page we maintained visual hierarchy and a proper CTA. We also added a tenant option for prospective tenants that happen to stumble onto the page.
The landing page incorporated our modern concept, providing whitespace, sweeping imagery, and clean, cohesive language and typography.

Our goal was to portray instant credibility. We did this by explaining the depth and accuracy of the reports, showing the steps, and the most importantly, showcasing landlord testimonials.
Testimonials boosted the credibility of Rent Application’s service instantly. Users felt at ease when they read about other successes with the website.
Our feedback on the landing page was incredibly positive. Users appreciated the white space and instantly knew what service was being offered to them.
Dashboard
Our dashboard embraced the pagination design pattern with clean cohesive elements. The pagination was visually updated to align with recent design patterns. This style of tabbing tested exceptionally well among all our users.
The main information of the website is contained within a card format, separating the tabs and the search bar
Our dashboard was split up into “Ready to Send” and “Submitted Applications”. Upon testing, the language was intuitive. 

All applications are assigned to properties rather than names. They’re ready to send in 2 clicks. Once landlords have an completed application available it will appear in the submitted applications tab. 
A full shot of the dashboard after a few applications have been created. The CTA is "send to applicant" on the right hand side. Below the properties is the history of sent applications.
Our dashboard features collapsible sections which were well received among our users. It helps organize information in a sensible way - showing only what is necessary by default. 

A few users mentioned that they wish their current website had the same feature. Other existing systems show all properties at once, which takes a lot of time to sift through dozens of properties. With this design, only what is new surfaces on first visit
All properties will be collapsible with all applicants nested underneath the name. Each new report will be marked unread until viewed.
Our submitted applications tab was further split into “New Reports” and “Viewed Reports"This was based off our research that users will enter the site with two goals:

1. Send an application.
2. Review a report. 

Simple as that. Therefore with goal #2, we cut down cognitive load by only showing new reports at first glance, with viewed reports just beneath. This resonated extremely well within users.
The submitted applications page will indicate with a notification number how many reports are new and unread.
Creating and sending an application
The application page portrays professionalism when explaining what the landlord is receiving and what they can expect for the selected services. We also paginated this part of website to make it more digestible. By putting the application into sections, this allowed the landlord to easily scan the document and customize it if desired.
This is the first page you see after choosing to create a new application. From this page you choose the type of report you desire before continuing to the customizing page.
The next step in the application process is viewing the standard application and making necessary changes. The landlord can customize their application here and can view the information in a paginated format.
Sending applications to prospective tenants is the core starting point of the website's functionality. Therefore, we made sending an application the primary CTA of the dashboard. We ensured it was simple. Just enter in the tenant info and send it off via a light box.
Every property has a send to applicant CTA, which we made clear to the UI designers that this should be the most prominent action.
Wrapping Up!
After user testing it was clear we significantly improved the areas we planned to solve. Many existing users exclaimed they would love to see this in the newest update, or in the existing service they use, such as collapsible sections. Among our users we greatly improved the drop-off rate.

When we presented our final wireframes to our client they loved our work. They were impressed with the solutions that we came up with and told us they would be applying UI to our wireframes as soon as possible.
Our clients (on the left) were smiling after showing them our final prototype! We were happy too. My teammates Sarah and Jason (on the right) were excellent designers to work with.
Future Considerations
This project is currently in development and expected to launch early 2017.

Given our tight scope, we unfortunately had to make a decision early on that we could not evenly split our focus between mobile and desktop. We realized through our interviews that landlords used their phone to send applications on the go. But percentage wise, most users visited the website through the desktop — confirmed through interviews and google analytics.

We wanted to ensure our desktop experience was well tested around our users rather than splitting up our resources among both platforms and ending up with two sets of mediocre wireframes. But we didn’t want to leave the client without any mobile direction. 

So although we did not explicitly test our mobile, we decided to provide our client with a few mobile wireframes. They were greatly appreciated.
Keeping in mind the primary action of an on-the-go landlord is sending applications, we ensured this CTA was the only prominent action on the Ready to Send tab.
Final Thoughts
During this client project was when I began to hit my stride with the design process. This a UX project with a client that is helping out thousands of small business owners. Our client was extremely impressed with our execution and final deliverables. Our designs are currently in the process of receiving UI and development. Overall, an incredible experience. 

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Designing my own travel app. Coming soon!
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