A Digital Approach to Sustainable Homeownership.
Design Research, User Experience Design, Interaction Design, Problem Framing, Co-creation
NeighborWorks America is a congressionally chartered nonprofit supporting 200+ independent organizations (NWOs) across the country. These organizations help low-income families navigate the path to sustainable homeownership. But in an unstable economy with grant funding tenuous, continuing to do that good work requires an entrepreneurial bent. Andculture was one of three consultants brought in to research NeighborWorks, its NWOs and the people who rely on them to develop a plan for a secure future.
We conducted site visits to a handful of NeighborWorks Organizations (NWOs) around the country. These visits helped us better understand day-to-day NWO processes. While most of these organizations operate on similar underpinnings, each were very different—particularly in terms of the technologies used. We complemented our site visits with further research: We looked at the national real estate market and the technology used within that market, and interviewed recent homebuyers and real estate professionals to understand their experiences during the homebuying process.
The creation of a customer journey map and various personae helped us identify opportunity areas for our target audiences. These visualizations gave us a fundamental understanding of the NWOs' priorities and day-to-day activities, and how they fit within the greater real estate industry. They also helped us understand first-time homebuyer needs and pain points.
Our team designed two tools that focused on customer engagement for us to test in the marketplace. Each tool offered a very different approach to the homebuying process, but they both had one goal: to prepare first-time homebuyers. We also developed an in-depth set of recommendations that could be applied across the entire organization. These recommendations ranged from simple, cost-effective solutions that would bring paper-based processes into digital form, to sophisticated, multi-phase changes that would replace existing technology platforms and processes.
Testing & Resynthesis
Andculture team members traveled to NWOs in Brockton, Mass., Dayton, Ohio, and San Bernardino, Calif., to test with NeighborWorks clients and staff. Testing focused on an A/B comparison between the two tool concepts. We guided participants through screen-by-screen tours, which were accompanied by a series of questions designed to uncover preferences, dislikes, as well as areas for improvement and further development.
Once testing was complete, we synthesized our findings again. We found that user behavior and preference varied wildly. Testing also confirmed that NWOs’ high-touch relationships with their clients cannot be discounted or undervalued, as this is a universal value point and means of providing effective services. Most importantly, we found that there was a demand for digital tools that would complement the homebuying process from start to finish.
We iterated upon the two tools based on user feedback collected during testing and additional synthesis. The project concluded with a formal presentation of our research and final tool concepts and recommendations to the NeighborWorks stakeholder team.