Beating decision anxiety on a budget

Simplifying home decor with House2Home starter kits

home decor landing page on laptop

When was it?

February 2021

What did I do?

User research, storyboarding, visual design, prototyping, usability testing

What did I use?

Figma, Miro, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere

What is House2Home?

House2Home is an e-commerce site that sells small home decor and accessories. Most of the items fall in the $10-50 range, which is perfect for their younger customer base of college graduates. Many of their customers were moving to new apartments but were struggling to find the look they wanted — on a small budget — after moving.

The challenge

Customers knew the look they wanted but felt overwhelmed by the shopping process. House2Home saw an opportunity to make the shopping process easier with pre-built starter kits of items. How might we help customers overcome their anxiety and easily find that perfect look they desired while meeting House2Home’s requirements of selling starter kits on their desktop platform?

Understanding the problem

Synthesizing research

The first day of the sprint was all about understanding the problem. I started by looking at existing customers. The research team at House2Home provided initial marketing data and interview insights about customers’ experiences shopping for home decor.

Deena, a House2Home customer
Lauren, a House2Home customer
Ron, a House2Home customer

Customers like Deena, Lauren, and Ron shared common frustrations:

  • They knew the “look” they wanted, just not how to pull it off
  • It was hard to stay within a small budget
  • Searching for items felt exhausting

Empathizing with the common shopper

There was a common shopper among all of these customers and that person had a clear goal — to find all of the home decor items that fit their desired look and fell within a tight budget, without the accompanying decision anxiety.

I created an empathy map to visualize this shopper and get closer to their needs. Paul Boag’s model was helpful here because it provided a more focused look at the user experience. By adding tasks and influences, there was more real-world context for what the shopper wanted to accomplish and who or what was influencing them. The overall goal would ensure that I stayed aligned with the shopper’s mission.

Empathy map showing the persona's tasks, influences, feelings, pain points, and overall goal

Defining a persona

This was a good foundation, but these were basic characteristics that didn’t address the shopper’s entire identity. I added a story to the name and based it on the common House2Home customer profile of a first-time apartment renter who just finished college.

Meet Ally:

Ally, the customer persona

She was eager to decorate her new place but uncertain about how to get her dream look on a small budget remaining after moving. I added House2Home’s requirement of starter kits with multiple decor items and focused the problem statement:

How might we help Ally overcome her decision anxiety and find a personalized and affordable starter kit of home decor items?

A map led Ally to her goal

The next step was to explore possible solutions that would make it easy for Ally to find an affordable starter kit of items she desired. I created 3 user experience maps to break down the steps Ally would take to accomplish her goal.

There was a common denominator to each solution idea — an augmented reality (AR) simulation of a customer’s empty room with starter kit items populated in it. This idea was bold but got to the core of Ally’s decision anxiety by letting her see multiple items, matched with her tastes, inside her actual apartment. I chose the second map because it felt the least burdensome for determining style, making it even easier for Ally.

Ally's user experience map

Idea to image

Exploring and sketching

On Day Two of the sprint, I sketched the core of the design. I started by looking at a bunch of House2Home’s competitors to see how they handled helping customers choose multiple home decor items. There were four examples that felt like they would make it easiest for Ally to find the items she wanted:

Pinterest UI

With Pinterest, you can see an entire interior decoration and the item-by-item breakdown. Ally was used to this layout and it would be a great way to present a starter kit of items all at once.

Living Spaces UI

Living Spaces has a step-by-step 3D room builder that gives you an immersive look at what room styles look like. This provided inspiration for what an empty room with AR-populated items could look like.

Modsy UI

Modsy uses a visually engaging style quiz to help decorate your home. It’s simple because it’s so heavily image-based, a great way to ensure that Ally doesn’t get overwhelmed when selecting her style.

Mailchimp UI

Mailchimp was the outlier but I was inspired by the clarity of the progress bar during onboarding. This was another way to make the style selection process easy for the shopper.

Crazy 8’s

Using these four examples for inspiration, I sketched 8 versions of the most critical step in Ally’s user experience: browsing through the AR-populated starter kits. This was the point at which the shoppers felt they got their personalized assortment of items; it had to be clear and immersive or else they wouldn’t buy the items.

The second sketch seemed best, giving Ally a simple carousel of starter kits that she could see in action in her apartment. I then created a 3-panel board with that screen, adding a photo upload screen to show how the AR would work and a checkout screen indicating that Ally was happy with the items provided to her.

8 sketches of the most critical screen of Ally's user experience

Image to story

Deciding and storyboarding

On Day Three, I turned Ally’s user experience into a visual story. I created a storyboard that narrated the path she would take to complete her goal. This was essentially a light-weight wireframe for the upcoming prototype.

I started by laying out the plot of Ally’s user experience to complete her goal. Then I turned the written plot into a storyboard, below. This was easier because the plot was clear before sketching.

Post-it notes providing the written plot of Ally's user experience
A 13-panel storyboard showing Ally's user experience

I added additional steps to the initial experience map since it included several actions that needed to be broken down:

  • Ally initially deciding to go to House2Home’s site to shop for items for her new place
  • The call to action screen showing Ally the new feature to find home decor items
  • A “style results” screen giving Ally a short description of her taste in home decor and that recommended items would be based on this
  • Screens showing the process of selecting photos from her computer and uploading them to the site

Bringing the story to life

Prototyping

It was Day Four, and with a storyboard of Ally completing her goal, I brought her journey of finding home decor to life with a prototype. Below are some of the main screens; the full prototype is available at the end of the case study.

Choose a room to decorate

I started with room selection, using a simple dropdown over a clean background image.

Choose three images of styles you like

Then I moved on to a set of images Ally would choose from to visually determine her style.

Upload photos of your empty rooms

Ally would upload images of the room she wanted to decorate from her computer to activate the AR functionality.

Empty rooms populated with decor items using AR

Finally, the AR decoration algorithm would kick in and populate the room with suggested items based on the user’s style. The user would get to choose a “look” with multiple items — essentially a starter kit — and see it in the very room they uploaded.

Getting feedback

Testing

On the last day of the sprint, I was ready to test the prototype. I conducted five usability tests, about 15 minutes each. The snipet below shows feedback about the dropdown menu to select which room to decorate, at the beginning of the prototype.

There were two recommendations that were critical to helping Ally get through the decorating process easily: having distinct images of room styles when choosing her favorite look and having clear descriptions for each step, not just a title.

Delivering the solution

Outcomes and lessons

I revised the prototype, making the critical issues a priority. Overall, I made the design more image-heavy so that Ally and all of the House2Home customers would have a more concrete and simplified set of choices to make. Descriptions were a definite point of confusion for the previous participants.

Here’s the final prototype in action:

People who viewed the second iteration responded positively, saying that the AR-populated images felt convincing. You can try it out for yourself here.

“These items look like they belong inside of the photo of my apartment living room!”

Next steps

Simulating AR is intensive visual design — something to take into account when exploring such designs in a time-sensitive work environment. I would refine the AR simulation if I could, making it more prominent and appearing at the beginning of the design flow. This would delight customers earlier in their user experience and likely lead to even more starter kit conversions for House2Home.

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