I love feeling like I know and can count on my neighbors
Helping out and making friends is a great feeling, especially when it’s someone right near you whom you might never have met otherwise
Being able to share with neighbors has saved me money and time

Neighborhood values are the heart of timebanking exchanges. Though exchanges around the world have seen over 1.6 million people helping people, each exchange is about local community. If you need help with your taxes, or have spare moving boxes to give away, or need a ride to the doctor, timebanking exchanges enable you to find or offer help within blocks, from or two people who may become part of a lifelong friendship and support network.

As a researcher and lead interaction designer working with teams at CMU, Penn State, and Xerox PARC, I took the lead on the interaction design of the next-generation mobile timebanking app.

We chose to focus on a mobile app for three reasons: the existing hOurworld app had an active user base; we knew the population saw their phones as their primary point of contact with the internet; and focusing on mobile enabled us to provide location-based, contextually aware features such as smart ride matching.

Context-aware matching feature suggests ride sharing based on existing transit patterns. Final visual design of prototype in partnership with Stephanie Snipes.

Context-aware matching feature suggests ride sharing based on existing transit patterns. Final visual design of prototype in partnership with Stephanie Snipes.

Our first hypothesis was to run with the social aspect of timebanking, thinking that the values of getting to know people could be more engaging than the Craigslist-like model of the existing app. But as with all hypotheses, we put it to the test. What can we learn about what motivates timebank users?

We conducted semi-structured interviews with dozens of peer-to-peer service users and service creators, asking about past actions, user goals, and listening to their experiences. We were surprised: though "make new friends" and "learn new things" were strong motivators, the top motivation was "get a thing/service".

For more detail, read about our award-winning CHI 2015 paper or read this Shareable article.

For more detail, read about our award-winning CHI 2015 paper or read this Shareable article.

As a result, to more closely align with user motivations, we moved back to a task-based focus for the app, with sharing goods, services, and rides the top actions.

offers_flow.png

Before moving to our design, I mapped the interaction architecture of the existing app. This gave us insight on where to simplify features and how users would be led through them. When we'd walked participants though the existing app, we saw many points of confusion and frustration; we wanted to eliminate the red (dead ends, loops, and other points of user difficulty).

This also allowed me to think about packaging modules of user flow, which would help speed up the design and development process.

Knowing what wasn't working, I began sketching to try to reduce the problematic parts and see what would work. This was helped by design thinking sessions with the whole team, building on our own experiences talking with and observing potential users.

Existing app (left), initial sketch (center), Balsamiq (right)

Existing app (left), initial sketch (center), Balsamiq (right)

I added a tab bar to break out information-related screens and action-related screens. We'd seen that there were tasks users would often try to access (check their profile settings, search) no matter what actions they may be using the app to take (make an offer of action, request help, donate goods). But there was still a problem with the matrix layout – it didn't allow for easy addition of new features, nor for ways to add explanations for features (e.g., "What's an Announcement?").

Existing app (left), later sketch (center), Photoshop (right)

Existing app (left), later sketch (center), Photoshop (right)

The higher-fidelity version helped us test whether we could integrate images of people (shown to drive engagement) with titles, notification badges, and a subhed for each feature. Quick testing showed a huge reduction in user confusion over what tap would lead to what content. In addition, this tiled interface would allow for easier addition of features than a grid would.

I also proposed and started building new features for the mobile app, which would be renamed hOurMobile to distinguish it from the existing app. Observations of both users and the IA of the existing app showed that users were forced to maintain their own (mental or noted elsewhere) list of what interactions they've had with other users, and that reporting hours (a vital task in timebanking) was an ad hoc affair, leading to underreporting or errors.

New Feature: My Timebanking

I conceived of My Timebanking as a top-level feature, providing to users an automatic list of tasks they've agreed to take on, tasks they've completed, and user-to-user messaging history. Prior to this feature, mobile and desktop timebank users would have to either remember all this data or note it down and find it outside of their timebanking experience. Early surveys and tests showed that this resulted in many users forgetting to record hours, leaving others in virtual arrears.

With the My Timebanking feature, users can track, within the same app, all this information, and see what they have or haven't reported. We have high hopes for testing this feature.

Revised sketch to test placement, taxonomy (left), initial prototype (Sketch), revised visual design showing action buttons (Sketch, with Stephanie Snipes)

Revised sketch to test placement, taxonomy (left), initial prototype (Sketch), revised visual design showing action buttons (Sketch, with Stephanie Snipes)

Revised Feature: Search

I also overhauled the Search feature. The existing app required users to dig down through set taxonomies of categories and subcategories, and remember which were where: a difficult layering of cognitive tasks. We're still prototyping and will A/B test with users to determine their preferred mental models for filtering (proximity? newest first? best match?).

Generating ideas for Search feature (left), a modal filtering feature (top right), filtering by segmented control (bottom right)

Generating ideas for Search feature (left), a modal filtering feature (top right), filtering by segmented control (bottom right)

MORE TO COME – STAY TUNED! (And follow along, and sign up for the app.)