To develop a fully independent concierge platform offering on-demand services to consumers and companies via chat and calls.
Business objective: Idea validation.
Book sharing apps come in various shapes and sizes. I chose to design for a native iOS app in which users can post information for their used books and can also browse and buy used books posted by other users.
I decided to go down this route, hypothesizing that users are more inclined to download and use a mobile marketplace app with a database of many books with equally many seller options, much like Amazon, than a haphazard marketplace like OLX.
Listing assumptions uncovered some questions I needed to learn from users. For example, I assumed that most people don’t prefer used books over new ones. But did they really?
I quickly interviewed 4 people (friends and family) I knew who read a lot and have used apps to buy books and other products online. Asking questions like, “Walk me through the last time you bought a book,” “How and why did you buy a used book,” and “Explain what do you do with books that you don’t need anymore,” I was able to nail down some user behaviors, needs, and goals and synthesized them into user types below.
I came across two types of book connoisseurs: The Novel Lover, and The Exam Preparer. (I’m assuming the Casual Researcher lies in between these two personas.)
”Once I have a novel in mind, I rush to the nearest Oxford Bookstore or Crossword Store to grab a copy of it. I love the fragrance and the feeling of holding a real physical copy in my hands.”
The hard-copy lover. Typically they always buy books from the same bookstore that they trust. They either call or search the catalog of the bookstore before they go and buy the book. They like collecting physical copies of books and are less likely to share them as used books because of the emotional attachment they develop towards books.
If they need to buy used books they go to local “book-mandi” market. For example, Chawri Bazaar, Chandni Chowk in Delhi. If they do need to get rid of some old books, they either donate them to a local library, or hand them over to a friend.
They need to examine the condition of a book before they buy it. Damn, perfectionists!
”I need all kinds of study material available to me, or else I can’t pass this exam. I will borrow them from friends, and get them photocopied. Or simple yet, I’d buy a copy of them from the market. “The kunji” with previous years solved papers will make me pass this exam quickly and I need it.”
They need hard copies where they can mark and solve questions, and do rough work. They ask for advise from their friends or college seniors as to which study material they should take. If they need to get rid of the material, they typically call a kabaadi-walaa.
They need a sense of trust on the seller, and (dead) cheap rates for used study material.
I also took a quick look at some of the apps and websites that users had mentioned:
A quick review of the competition gave me an inventory of existing mobile patterns, strengths and weaknesses to begin brainstorming designs for these different types of users.
I came up with a list of general requirements for a used books marketplace app and started to work through a user flow of buying a used book.
The structure will be like a typical online e-commerce marketplace app, as defined in the next section.
The Buyer would want to check the condition and price of the book, and will make a positive decision if the Seller is geographically closer. The Seller will want to make profit, and ensure that their ad is discoverable to Buyers.
I researched two ways that are tried and tested in the current market:
To keep things simple and to keep focus towards the app experience, I decided to go with option 1.
Once the payment logistics choice was made, the only feasible delivery logistic is that the buyer and seller actually physically meet at a geographically convenient location, and trade the book and payment. The chat interface aids in doing this by presenting short-cut text messages that the user can simply tap and select.
The above chart shows a tentative app flow and the process by which a buyer can shortlist and buy books, and a seller can post books that they want to sell.
The structure will be like a typical online e-commerce marketplace app, with screens for – login/signup, onboarding, search page, search results, product collections/categories, product, seller listing, and a chat interface instead of a cart. The app will also have an interface that allows users to post a free ads about a book that they might have to sell.
Rather than showing a gazillion different ads about the same book to the user, the app will have only one product page per book which will list the available sellers for that book on the same screen. The app will show the condition of the book and the price offered for each seller that is selling the same book. This is done to avoid cluttering of the marketplace, and leading the direction of the marketplace towards a book information community.
I assembled all the hi-fi mockups into InVision and made a working prototype of the app. This gave an almost realistic experience to the users with whom I tested the app.
Meanwhile, check the prototype out yourself:
I quickly iterated based on both user feedback and design critiques. While creating the hi-fi mockups, the focus was on the details and UI design. For example, users said, “Book images are the first thing I look at and want to see.”
The thumbnail icon in my lo-fi wireframes before felt too small. In my final mockups, the search results included wider image sizes and the pricing located right beneath. Adding in real imagery also helped reassess UI decisions.
Next steps would be to test again and see how these concepts fare in the hands of more users. I’d remind myself of the original goal:
We want to design a new app that helps millennials to be well read while keeping their pockets in mind, and also allow them to sell their books that they don’t need anymore via the same platform to the ones in need.
Testing for success and efficiency would be a usability test, which could measure how long it would take for users to buy a book, how successful they are in choosing a specific book based on the specified condition.
Next iterations would also work through more edge cases. Some examples:
I was surprised to learn that the users I interviewed honestly don’t use mobile apps to buy used book. Buying books, be it new or used — this behavior falls into a mental model of “career advancement.”
Users in “career advancement” mode need to review information in detail, deliberate with other stakeholders, research and read quality content over time. It makes sense why most users will defer to manual bookstores vs. apps.
Do mobile bookstore marketplace apps design for behavior change or not? That is the question!
In this exercise, I chose to design for existing behaviors. I learned that the best value a mobile used-book marketplace app can provide currently is during the initial browsing and curation phase of a user’s entire career advancement experience. However, I’m excited to see how our needs may change as we develop new behaviors around used books in the future.
Thank you for patiently reading!