Property management app design

UX Design Project, Fall 2020

The House Brownie is a property management app for tracking maintenance issues and inspections. The app provides centralised communication for authorised users, including tenants and property managers/landlords.

1 – Understand needs

User work roles

The profile and motivations of the user work roles are as follows:

Property manager

Hands-on, proactive, accountable for home health & safety. Conducts regular inspections. Maintains friendly, responsive relationship with both owner and tenants. Handles a lot of properties at once. Wants to save money and/or time, be more efficient, and uphold reputation of property management company.

Tenant

Profile is known to property manager and owner. Could be an individual, couple or group of flatmates. May have pets, kids. Feels anxiety about passing inspections and being a “good tenant”. Want things in the house fixed as soon as possible so that it’s safe and healthy to live in.

Property owner

Hands-off, does not communicate with tenants except through property manager, hires some contractors while delegating other jobs to the property manager, relies on property management to keep home safe and secure. Wants reassurance that their property is safe and in good hands with the tenant and property management company. 

Research

I also looked at similar apps in the New Zealand market such as MyRent.co.nz and Re-leased.com, noting what kind of features they’re offering and what kind of users they’re targeting.

I did not interview anyone to design this app for the course, but if I could, I would interview the following people for qualitative research and make user work notes based on these interviews:

  • My current property manager, to validate the concerns and motivations of residential property managers; as well as my dad who is a commercial property manager, to see if there’s anything relevant to residential property management 
  • Friends who also rent homes, to validate the concerns and motivations of tenants 
  • A homeowner who rents out their property to tenants 

As a tenant myself, I found some artefacts to show the tasks of tenants and property managers.

2 – Design solutions

Use cases

After identifying the user work roles, I made a mind map in Miro with detailed hypotheses about these users.

Mind map in Miro

Product features

I used the mind map to generate ideas and identify key features for the House Brownie.

User groups

Each app user should have a designated role so that the communication flows in specified directions. For example, tenants and owners do not communicate with each other. Tenants are associated with contact information like name, phone number and address. Tenants can add some more details about their home for contractors like pets, parking and keys. There can be a primary tenant, one per property, and secondary tenants who can view and comment on updates but are not used as points of contact. 

Inspection status updates

Property managers can inform tenants and/or owners when:

  • A new inspection is scheduled
  • A scheduled inspection is changed
  • A scheduled inspection is complete, with any notes from the property manager

Tenants can leave comments on the status updates. 

Maintenance issue list

Property managers can populate the list of maintenance issues based on the entry report. Issues may include the location inside/outside the house, a description of the issue, and photo attachments. Tenants can report maintenance issues at any time, but will be reminded to do so when an inspection is scheduled. They’re encouraged to share photos and videos. Both property managers & homeowners can see the list of issues and update the status of the issue from new to pending, contractor scheduled, or complete. They can also change the priority order of the issues. Both can also assign a contractor to a particular issue, which will start a work order for the contractor. All users will all be notified when an issue is added or the status of an issue is changed by anyone else.

Personas

Persona for property manager

Prav S. Property Portfolio Manager, 30s, Auckland, New Zealand

“It is the interaction with people from all walks of life that I love about working in the real estate industry. I meet someone different every day.”

Speaks English • Hindi • Fijian

Bio. Single. Grew up in Hamilton. Earned Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Victoria University in Wellington. Moved to Auckland in 2015 for work. Previously worked in hospitality and business management.

Personality. Organised, likes what’s tried-and-true, confident, friendly, outgoing.

Goals. Make tenants feel safe and happy. Reassure homeowners. Solve problems for his colleagues, tenants and homeowners.

Likes. Diversity. Urban lifestyle. Charity work. Rugby.

Dislikes. Poor customer service. Incompetence. Prejudice and ethnocentrism.

Affinities. SPCA, Starship Children’s Hospital, Friends of Fiji Health, UNESCO, NZ National Party

3 – Prototype candidates

Storyboard

I created a storyboard using Storyboard That for how users would use the House Brownie app to add a maintenance issue prior to a scheduled inspection.

Wireframes

I sketched some frames on paper, then created lo-fidelity wireframes in Axure.

Paper sketches

Paper sketches

My wireframe for adding an issue (no interaction, low fidelity) was in Axure: https://jdajiv.axshare.com

4 – Evaluate UX

Prototype with interaction

I added interaction, colours and typography to my prototype in Axure: https://67tzlt.axshare.com

Low versus high fidelity
Home screen
Comment screen

Evaluation

Evaluation with a user. I gave the user a scenario and a task to complete, and then he did a think-aloud walkthrough. I took notes while he did the walkthrough. Screen recording of user walkthrough

Self-evaluation. I then made a video of myself using the app in Axure as I described what it’s “supposed” to do, with some reflections on the user feedback and future iterations of the app. Screen recording of own walkthrough

Day in the life of a content designer

Read a composite account of the day in the life of a content designer.

When I open my calendar app, the first notification says “workflows”. Looks like today I’m rostered to check work requests from people who want to publish changes to the website. I’ll set aside some time to check the inbox; shouldn’t take too long.

I also plan to check the team inbox for any requests from parts of the business that don’t have their own content designers yet. There may be a few quick tasks I can do or that I can send to another chapter member for review.

Before I can open the inbox, I get a message from another content designer. “How do I update the banners on the device page?”

I’ll quickly send through the relevant URLs from Adobe Experience Manager. I’ll take a screen recording of the steps or maybe just a few screenshots. I’ll need to add this documentation to our Content Design wiki when I get a chance.

The rest of the day depends on the designer’s area of focus, either customer, product or brand:

Customer

As the content lead for the next flagship device launch, I’ll drop in to our daily stand-up. Pre-order is next week, so I’ve started working with customer marketers on the design for the landing page. The front-end developers from another squad are already working on it too, but I’ll need to create the page for them and add the banners.
I’m also waiting on images for some of the accessories that are accompanying this launch. I’ll raise that in stand up, otherwise we might be in a mad rush to get everything live by midnight on the day of pre-order.

Meanwhile, the monthly offers are changing out soon. Later in the afternoon I’ll spend a bit of time peer-reviewing the content and meta details for a new offer page that will be created by our agency partner. I’ll double-check the terms and conditions text for consistency, link formatting for accessibility, and other details, like whether the page shows up in the menu navigation. It’s all in the nitty-gritty!

Product

I also attend the stand-up for the new device launch. This launch is exciting because it’s accompanied by a new Pay Monthly plan and new technology that’s been enabled on our network just for this device. I’m working with the channel readiness team and the New Technology squad to draft the content for iBase and customer help pages.

When this launch is over, I’ll need to circle back to the Internet of Things (IoT) squad. I’m helping with the documentation they use to onboard new customers.

Brand

Today I’ll spend a bit of time making a mock-up page that we’re migrating from an older version to a newer version. In this case, it’s the Spark Music page. I’ll show the stakeholder my proposed design, which has elements of the page in a different order than originally envisioned. I made the changes to match our “One Spark” standards of content and visual design.

My squad has their sprint review today. I’ll present the work I did for my squad on the menu navigation under spark.co.nz/shop. It needed a bit of a tidy up. I’ll explain how I used data analytics to sort and organise the menu items that will make sense to customers.

Before I shut my computer for the day, I remember that there’s a new campaign from the Brand Experience Tribe going live in a few weeks that’s related to 5G. I need to find time to comment on the terms and conditions draft the team sent – hope we can get that done sooner rather than later because I want to focus on building the form for that campaign!​​​​​​​

Quick-start guide

I just handed over a piece of work I did for the Internet of Things (IoT) Foundation team at my company, Spark New Zealand Limited.

As part of a review of the customer journeys for one of our IoT products, I was asked to rewrite and redesign the “quick-start guide” for adding devices to a third-party portal.

Because my company doesn’t own the portal, it’s not possible to change the flow of account registration emails or anything inside the web app, like links to help topics, tool tips or UI improvements. Instead, we’re currently wrapping the help content around the third-party platform. Many customers end up emailing or calling the support team just because they forgot their password.

The existing content was a heavily highlighted Word document that was attached to a welcome email sent to all new customers. It was missing some steps, it was highly technical and it didn’t give a sense of hierarchy, in the sense that the most important information looked the same as trivial notes. I worked from this document along with the welcome email and the technical experts in the IoT team to redesign the content for web.

To organise my first draft, I mapped the content by sections to a customer journey map. We use the JUCCI framework, which stands for join, use, change, care, involve.

Then I rewrote the content within those sections to be customer-friendly, based on my own nonexistent knowledge of IoT and networks.

Finally, I did two rounds of user testing and observation using an actual field test device. When the user has followed the steps correctly, the device actually sends data to the online web app.

See it here: IoT Quick-Start Guide

Knowledge base

Soon after moving to New Zealand in 2018, I took on a short-term technical writing contract at Deane Apparel.

The project

Deane is a garment manufacturer and supplier in New Zealand and Australia. One of their key differentiators in the NZ/AU market is SILK, a uniform management system. Their clients can manage and track uniform allocations using this system.

As part of bringing this feature to the market, I created the initial technical documentation, including:

  • Release notes
  • Step-by-step guides with screenshots
  • Glossary
  • Troubleshooting
  • FAQ

The process

First, I explored the system, noting its features and options in a Microsoft Word document. I asked the development team a lot of questions at this stage.

Then I researched a few CMS solutions. The team and I agreed on Confluence because it’s integrated with Jira, which the development team already used.

In Confluence I created a new knowledge base, created templates for different kinds of pages, and started seeding the content. I used content fragments to reuse certain content across the site where necessary.

After I had documented most of the system, I conducted user testing sessions to find any potential UX issues in the knowledge base, including searching and understanding the instructions.

Finally, I sent the knowledge base for SME review to find technical inaccuracies.

One of the requirements was a customised help guide in PDF format for flagship clients. I tagged client-specific content, and created a PDF export setting in Confluence to export the content for only that client.

Before finishing my contract, I trained the team how to maintain Confluence and showed them templates they could use to add to the knowledge base as their product evolved.

See for yourself

See the knowledge base online

Or, you can download an excerpt of the user help guide as a PDF:

Environmental health writing

The project

In late 2015, I started working with Richard Crume on encyclopedia articles about environmental health. Rick came to Vanderbilt University and spoke about his work as a writer and editor, particularly in the field of environmental health science. He told us he was writing an encyclopedia for ABC-CLIO, and was looking for writers to contribute.

I wasn’t sure whether I was qualified. In fact, I wasn’t even enrolled in the class that Rick was visiting. But I convinced him to let me join his project by showing him the most recent issue of the environmentalist magazine I headed.

At that time, when I thought of the environment, the word “exploitation” came to mind. I’d studied the burning of rainforests in Indonesia to grow palm trees for oil, National Park tourists trampling wilderness areas, and tiny ocean zooplankton dissolving in carbonic acid in the ocean – all happening as we speak. I’d already written about many instances where people hurt the environment, including its animals, plants and systems.

But researching environmental health was a bit different. I took off my “eco-warrior” hat to write the encyclopedia articles. Instead I studied the ways that we as humans put ourselves at risk of adverse health effects when we swim, drink water, eat food, breathe air, and so on. In short, I learned the nuances between “environmental health” and “environmentalism”.

For the first book, I started with a 750-word article on ocean dumping and the Pacific garbage patch. I learned that every ocean has a garbage patch, not just the Pacific, although its garbage patch was discovered before the others. I saw pictures of albatross chicks whose stomachs were full of plastic, fed to them by unsuspecting parents. I felt my little environmentalist flame burn brighter.

I moved on to biomimicry solutions. A pretty feel-good topic, it’s all about getting inspiration from nature’s engineering solutions. The Shinkansen trains, modelled after the kingfisher beak, are modern and cool. No harm done.

I carried on through the remaining topics – unexploded ordnance, green packaging, personal care products, the health benefits of composting. I kept writing for these reasons:

I am an environmentalist, I wanted to see my name in print, I wanted to own a book with my writing in it, I wanted to be paid to write, I wanted to be “a writer.”

By January 2016, I’d written five articles. Then I signed onto write five more, eventually writing 11 in total. The last article I submitted was about the Exxon Valdez incident, wherein a ship leaked 260,000 barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

My favourite article was “Environmentalism.” It doesn’t get better than writing the entry on “Environmentalism” for an environmental encyclopedia. I tried to represent the topic in that neutral, omniscient voice that people expect from encyclopedias. (People don’t write encyclopedias. Encyclopedias are written.)

Here’s an excerpt:

Inspired by ecology, environmentalism promotes a sustainable relationship between humanity and the natural world.

I waited about 10 months between finishing the Exxon Valdez entry and holding the published 2-volume set – and the check from the publisher.

On the day I received the books, I posted a picture of the hardcopy on Instagram. I flipped to every entry that I wrote to see what the editors did to my writing (they inserted strange words like “life-forms”). I even read parts of the entries out loud to my parents.

Later, in 2018, I worked with Rick again on several book chapters about urban health issues. For that project, I graduated from 750 words to 2500 words. I still procrastinated, spent too much time on research, and re-wrote three times before sending it in. All to see my name in print again.

Citations

Contributor, Environmental Health in the 21st Century: From Air Pollution to Zoonotic Diseases. Ed. Richard Crume. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO (Greenwood Imprint), February 2018.

  • Biomimicry Solutions
  • Bisphenol A in the Environment
  • Communication of Environmental Risk (download sample entry)
  • Environmentalism
  • Exxon Valdez Incident
  • Green Packaging
  • Health Benefits of Composting
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Ocean Dumping
  • Personal Care Products
  • Unexploded Ordnance

Contributor, Urban Health Issues: Exploring the Impacts of Big-City Living. Ed. Richard Crume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO (Greenwood Imprint), April 2019.

  • Healthcare Access and Quality
  • Population Growth and Overcrowding

Tutoring

Varsity Tutors

In March 2018 I started tutoring with Varsity Tutors as an independent contractor. I was approved to tutor all levels of English reading and writing as well as test prep. See my profile on the Varsity Tutors site

My subjects included:

  • ACT: English, Reading, Science, Writing
  • PSAT: Critical Reading, Writing Skills
  • SAT: Reading, Writing and Language
  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP English Literature and Composition
  • AP Psychology (and other social sciences)
  • American Literature (College & High School)
  • English (College & High School)
  • College Application Essays

I’d been trained by the Vanderbilt Writing Studio as a writing tutor, but I’d never tutored test prep before joining Varsity Tutors. My first few sessions of ACT English tutoring were surely cringe-worthy.

But I really enjoyed tutoring. Soon, I had several clients with standing appointments. By May, at the height of end-of-year standardised tests, I was tutoring up to 6 hours a day.

A graph of my hours and sessions plotted against time from 25 March to 27 June 2018.

My approach

In my approach to tutoring, I generally relied on the study guides provided by Varsity Tutors, but I found so many mistakes in the SAT and ACT study guides that I started compiling the errata and emailing it to VT. So the process had a few kinks at the beginning.

But as I became increasingly familiar with the material, I knew exactly which sample passages to use during sessions to tackle various skill or knowledge deficits.

To help students brush up on their writing conventions, I selected errors I’d seen in real life. First, I would show the students some examples of various mistakes and explain them:

Sentence fragment
The red highlight is a fragment sentence.

Then, I would offer some examples that the students could fix on their own:

Fixit 4
Pronoun-antecedent errors
Fixit 2
“Affect,” not “effect”

I use a variety of resources to support my tutoring, including Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage, a staple on my bookshelf for many years and now free and searchable online. Explore Common Errors

I like gauging students’ level by asking them to explain the difference between different words and usages; it’s both educational for them and helpful to me.

Case study

One challenge in particular was helping to prepare a student for a specialised reading comprehension exam in the state of Missouri. Let’s call him Zach. Passing the exam was critical for Zach, yet few test-prep materials were available online.

His mom sent me a book in the mail with some sample passages that Zach had already worked through. So based on the topics covered in the exam, I cobbled together relevant passages from ACT, SAT, and even GRE study guides. I supplemented our sessions with selected poems from ReadWorks.org, a great free resource for educators. Go to ReadWorks

Outcomes

My students generally met their goals for tutoring. Here is some of the positive feedback I’ve received:

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 8.45.35 PM

“Very helpful introduction for the SAT!! Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you again.”

“Alisha is a spectacular tutor. My daughter adores her and wishes she could be her actual teacher. We are so thrilled to have found such a warm, kind, and enthusiastic tutor that makes a chore seem like a pleasure!”

“[Student] absolutely loves Alisha! Alisha is a fabulous tutor! Thanks so much for being so positive, warm and helpful!”

“Amazing!!! She knows everything backwards and forwards!!”

“She is a great tutor! [Student] loves her and she has seen such amazing results — highly recommend.”

Getting feedback like this is part of what made this job rewarding. I stayed active on the platform until I moved to New Zealand, when I then phased out support for my existing clients.

User help guide

The project

After studying information architecture principles for technical writing (DITA), I decided to test my knowledge by creating a user help guide where none existed. I created my guide using a free trial of ClickHelp, which I chose since it is browser-based. That meant I didn’t need any additional software or downloads. Go to the ClickHelp site

This platform is quite basic, but it suited my purposes since I wanted to be able to practice user guide documentation while demonstrating my ability to write clearly and concisely.

I created documentation for InTouch Language Inc, the phone-based English company I’m currently working with part-time. Their existing training for teachers exists in discrete documents scattered across emails, videos and various cloud drives. Not to mention, it’s not written by native English speakers.

Exhibit A: This PDF

My final version is, in fact, a draft, because I have created this independent of a team or subject matter expert. If this were more than a practice exercise, creating and maintaining user guides would be an iterative process.

Regardless, working on this project made me happy. I’d love to do more work like this in the future, especially with different platforms.

The guide exists in Word doc format and HTML. Here are some screenshots from the HTML version, which I’ve hosted on Github.

Below are some screenshots that go into more detail about the guide.

Child pages of sub-topics have breadcrumb navigation at the bottom of the page.
Child pages of sub-topics (“Comments & Evaluations”) have breadcrumb navigation at the bottom of the page.
Each sub-topic page contains a list of all the other sub-topics within that section.
Each sub-topic page (“Logging In”) contains a list of all the other sub-topics within that section (“Using the Learning Management System”).
Each topic contains a table of contents that lists all the sub-topics.
Each topic (“Using the Learning Management System”) contains a table of contents that lists all the sub-topics.
Each sub-topic contains a "mini" table of contents.
Each sub-topic (“Monthly Reports”) contains a “mini” table of contents.
On this "Discussion Topics" page, the question categories expand and collapse using accordions.
On this “Discussion Topics” page, the question categories expand and collapse.

Web content design

The project

In 2016 I signed myself up to be a web content intern with the Human Interface Technology Lab NZ at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand – also known as HIT Lab NZ. Go to the HITLabNZ website

As part of a special scholarship programme with my university, I had a stipend to use on research. So I contacted research labs affiliated with public universities in the South Island of New Zealand, offering my skills as a science writer and web designer.

My proposed internship was happily accepted by Rob Lindeman and Christoph Bartneck at the HIT Lab NZ.

So for about ten weeks, I worked part-time at the lab. I wrote new content and updated graphics and photography on the website.

New content

I interviewed students and staff to create content about the primary research areas at the HIT Lab:

I also wrote “featured student” profiles for several of the PhD candidates.

Featured student profile on the Virtual Reality landing page

Updated assets

I directed a professional photographer to take these shots. I then wrote the content that accompanies each photo.

New graphics

I used Adobe Creative Cloud tools to create new graphics that align with the lab’s refreshed branding guidelines.

Lifestyle blogging

I wrote for my university’s student life blog for nearly two years.

I started in fall 2013 as a first-year student and finished after spring break of 2015. During that time I wrote 65 posts.

insidedores-2012
The logo from 2012 when I started…
Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 3.01.28 PM
…and the slick update in 2017.

I applied to be a blogger because, well, I was already doing it on my own. Posting for the university’s blog, Inside ‘Dores, was an effortless way to earn a bit of extra spending money. (I used my earnings from the first semester of blogging to buy my family’s Christmas presents at the campus bookstore.)

My headshot from fall 2013
Say hi to freshman Alisha! (This headshot was taken for my bio on the Inside ‘Dores page.)

Since starting my own personal blog in 2010, I’d loved blogging because I loved my voice as a blogger. I’ve always thought the “Alisha” who keeps a blog is funny, cool, and unique — more articulate, more interesting, maybe even more honest than the “Alisha” you might meet at a dinner party. Maybe.

So by the time I started writing for Inside ‘Dores, I was comfortable with the format and the freestyle combination of photo essays, adventure stories, daily check-ins, and reflections on current events. All I had to do was include at least five links to Vanderbilt content and some photos.

(Looking back, I have to say, most of my photos are awful, like, Instagram-filter, iPad-photo bad. So just be warned.)

And because I’m not shy, I seriously wrote about everything, including campus sexual assault and interracial dating. An older, wiser Alisha does not throw her opinions or attempt conversations about controversial topics, but 19-year-old Alisha never hesitated.

I also enjoyed writing about my academics:

As Craig [the professor] predicted on the first day of class, it filled me with existential angst. We spent time on such topics as the concept of intelligence, the impact of context on our actions and beliefs, whether people could be replaced by machines, and the power of culture.

From “What is Cognitive Studies?”

During the summer, I thoroughly documented a service-learning trip to South Africa, sponsored by Vanderbilt. One of my favourites from this series was an acrostic of “South Africa,” which I designed using photos I took during a one-month trip around the country. Here’s the text for the “S”:

Solving problems was never the goal. I understood from the beginning that the parallels between our own great nation and the southern-most tip of Africa were strong enough that if I wanted to tackle the issues of poverty, community health, civil rights, or education, I needn’t look further than my own ZIP code. No, it wasn’t about solving problems; instead, I wanted to learn about South Africa, its history of colonization by the Dutch, decades of apartheid, and the process of reconciliation that is no older than myself. I wanted to shake hands with its people, look into their eyes, hear their stories.

From “South Africa, an acrostic”

Some more highlights from among the many, many posts, most of which even I could not be bothered to re-read:

Tips for International Travel

“Bring dry shampoo. I didn’t because I was afraid the pressurized can would explode in the airplane, but soon I wanted that stuff on hand for when I was really not feeling another cold shower.”

Seven South African Adventures

“The majority of our group took a scenic drive to the famous Cape of Good Hope, hiking up through the fynbos to see the waves crashing below the lighthouse on Cape Point. Here, two ocean currents meet and mix their temperatures, making it fertile for both sea life and fierce storms. This was one of my favorite stops of the entire trip—but then again, any old national park gets me excited!”

#VandyVegetarian

“Black bean & corn quesadilla from The Pub. If The Pub were my closet, this would be my favorite outfit. It’s served with chili-lime sour cream and salsa, and I always order it with guacamole on the side. The Pub also has one of the best atmospheres of any campus dining location.”

Screenshot of a blog post
A typical post with featured image, excerpt, tags, categories, and more.

While a blogger for the ‘Dores, I became an editor and even led part of a training workshop for the newest batch of bloggers, which I also live-tweeted. I mean, haven’t all the cool kids live-tweeted a blogging workshop?

In the end, I quit because I started to feel like a paid promoter of my university at a time when I wanted to figure out what I really valued. I also wanted to explore other writing projects and genres.

But I am grateful for the time I did spend on these posts. I now have a great snapshot of my life circa 2013–2015, as well as proof that I can blog with style — style guide adherence, that is!