In 2019, a London-based startup approached me about designing and prototyping an idea for a property rental management service. The goal was to validate it and raise funding to continue the project.
RentID is a property rental management app for the UK market, that allows landlords and agents to effectively manage their portfolios, and ensure tenants have a degree of control over their tenancy.
I led the design of RentID mobile app concept, from feature ideas and user journeys, to the final prototype — including communication with product stakeholders and a remote development team.
I conducted “guerrilla research” to gather insights into how tenants perceive and manage their tenancies, translating concepts into features that address their behaviours and motivations.
I created journeys and prototypes to share the product vision and execution strategy. This helped to gain alignment and drive decision making.
I defined the product with the stakeholders. I was advocating for balancing customer goals and business goals, prioritised and negotiated features for the initial demo, MVP, and beyond.
I designed for mobile Web Platform, executed journeys, wireframes, prototypes and designs specs, preparing the UI for handover to the development team.
As with any self-funded startup, my commodity was time and scope; the former was limited to 6 weeks, the latter was initially too broad for an MVP.
Our challenge was to create a prototype that could show potential customers and investors, that self-management of rental properties could be simple, effective and prosperous for all involved.
RentID would start small, with just a basic set of functionality, but delivered in a package that could leave no question as to its purpose or quality, and offer a way for RentID to start making money from day one.
Before I was brought on-board for the project, the founders have done some market research on their intended audience. They have also already decided on how their app should function, without validating any of their theories first.
What they envisioned was a chatbot, but after a careful consideration backed by a breakdown of design and technical constraints, as well as an aggressive timeline, we decided that a chatbot-style app would be far too costly and time-consuming to produce, so we opted for a more conventional experience.
We worked in bi-weekly sprints using existing evidence from previous user research to form a basis for expanding our understanding of managing tenancies. To get the idea fast to the market, our strategy was set based on the MVP principles and the product thinking framework.
I spent the first few days on trying to better understand customers goals and motivations, before I was equipped with enough insight to start working on service concepts.
The primary segment are customers who own one or more properties for the sole purpose of renting them out to others. They lack the tools to effectively manage tenancies and to make sure their tenants stay happy, while keeping the costs of management relatively low.
The secondary segment are customers who rent out properties from landlords, either directly or indirectly. They lack the sense of control over the details and course of their tenancies, as well as direct tools to keep tenant-landlord communication clean and on-point, such as when reporting faults or issues.
Tertiary segment are people who manage lots of properties on a daily basis. They also lack the tools to do it effectively and keep both landlords and tenants happy, while they take the role of an intermediary. This group requires similar approach and tools as landlords, but designed to work at scale.
Our vision was to deliver a better solution for rental and tenancy management than any existing tools, most of which are reserved for property management companies and agencies, and don’t even consider tenants as their users.
We did not want to include everything in the prototype up front, but actually a slice of the entire experience that would help validate the idea and raise funding necessary to continue the project.
Together with property management, verification checks, and online marketing integrations with big names such as Zoopla or Rightmove, RentID could make one of the best tools a property owner or tenant could use.
It’s the value that makes the difference.
RentID is a property rental management app that allows landlords and agents to effectively manage their portfolios, and ensure tenants have a degree of control over their tenancy.
Landlords can edit advert details, and with a single tap automatically market their property at Rightmove and Zoopla, the biggest property search platforms in the UK.
Busy landlords can find it difficult to track what needs to be done at each of their properties, but with a built-in task manager their tenants can raise issues directly and stay on top of maintenance tasks and appointment schedules.
Landlords can add helpful information about the property, such as water stop valve location, default door entry codes, or bin collection days. In addition they can upload floor plans, safety certificates and other details that could help tenants, for example when acquiring contents insurance.
Based on the results of user research we understood that each of the three user groups have different motivations for using the service. We decided to prioritise landlords and tenants as primary personas for the initial phase, planning to later return to property managers at a later stage.
We leveraged “jobs to be done” and “point of view” frameworks, bypassing the need to build extensive personas, as they take time to do right, while often misguiding the design if done in a rush.
Based on our findings about the “start of tenancy” procedures I created a set of new, simplified processes and journeys which were aimed at dealing with tasks such as ID verification or marketing a vacant property on external platforms, simplifying them significantly in the process.
By leveraging RentID’s expertise and a heft of services they offer, we created a hands-off rental management experience for landlords and a centralised space for tenants, where they could collect and reference information about tenancies. This was aimed at contributing to a sense of trust between both parties, keep a legal audit trail, and ensure ending a tenancy would not leave any loose ends, such as unclaimed deposits, or outstanding bills.
The process was iterative, with frequent feedback loops, keeping us in line with RentID’s business objectives. Feedback and consultation was invaluable, as it led to plugging administrative and legal gaps in the processes I was working on.
In the end, we’ve reduced the scope of the project to a bare minimum required for the service to operate; by stripping back superfluous features and working on the core offering, we were able to focus more on delivering value to landlords and tenants, which directly contributes to the whole business model being profitable and as such attractive to investors.
Prototyping is a crucial step in the process of designing digital experiences, but it was even more important to the founders of RentID, since it was supposed to not only validate the idea, but also attract investors and prospective customers (landlords and property managers).
Since we’ve had no design system or branding guidelines, the process of designing the prototype involved a lot of experimentation, white-boarding, and sketching before I could start stitching the flows together.
To save time, I opted to use Sketch’s native prototyping mode, and although very simplistic it gave us all we needed to get the job done. We didn’t even bother with transitions between screens, and focused on the utility of the application, offering delight only where we thought it could really help elevate the experience.
We’ve then reviewed smaller chunks of the journeys together, to ensure it accomplishes the tasks we set out for them. Along the way, RentIDs visual language got an update too, drawing inspiration from their original colour palette and illustrations created for the app’s marketing website.
After several iterations on the journeys we were happy with the final result so much, we decided to create a more complex prototype for showcasing the entire landlord and tenant experiences from a single point of entry.
This proved to be problematic, because we’ve had two types of users involved and some of the screens were shared between flows. In particular, we struggled with maintaining the “state” of the app once certain actions were performed.
This ultimately led us to breaking the journeys into more manageable chunks, which also helped the development team better understand how particular journeys should work within the app.
Due to the tight schedule we did not have much time left to test the app with a lot of potential users as we developed the prototype, but after I handed over the finished piece, the team at RentID had a chance to engage several landlords and tenants in guerrilla user testing sessions.
I’m not able to tell what was discovered or changed based on the user testing due to an NDA, but the prototype resonated well with the audience and did the job: RentID secured enough funding to keep the project afloat for at least 6 months.
The final designs were handed over to the developers, who will be implementing them over the coming weeks, while the rest of the team is gearing up towards launching the service soon.
While developers are busy implementing the MVP, RentID is planning to revisit the designs and spend more than the initial six weeks on the user experience, polishing and solving complex issues such as multiple packages and upgrades, in addition to descoped tools for property managers.
RentID started developing the app some time before I was brought on-board, and as such they had no product direction beyond founders’ ideas. They focused on creating features rather than a consistent and helpful user experience, essentially wasting a lot of time on rewriting the application after my designs were validated and handed over for implementation.
Even when you think the sprint goals and priorities are on point, there might be something that could wedge in and derail the timeline. In our case it was the initial lack of consistency when it comes to founder’s priorities. Eventually we managed to get things going by agreeing to stop moving the goalposts half-way through each sprint.
Once we got to the prototyping stage, I decided to use Overflow, a relatively new prototyping tool that’s quite fast for linking up artboards. Unfortunately, I did not realise that Overflow does not work well on mobile, where the prototype would be showcased. This meant switching back to Sketch, as it delivers a more consistent mobile experience, and as such redoing some of the work.