Couchsurfing Web Redesign

Couchsurfing's About Page

Couchsurfing's About Page

I worked with Couchsurfing to redesign their search, event, and member profile pages to include mapping and location services.  Couchsurfing connects open-minded travelers with one another through events, in-person meetings, and by arranging for surfers to experience new parts of the world through staying with a local host.   

The Challenge

Couchsurfing is a website which deals primarily in travel, a domain in which location is clearly important.  However, the site did not offer map and location-based search options, and they asked me to incorporate them into the site.  

Couchsurfing has two main user scenarios to consider.  The first is as a surfer seeking accommodations while traveling. Surfers want to be comfortably accommodated in a convenient location. The second is as a host generously providing free lodging in their home. Hosts want to be respected, to be viewed as more than a free hotel service, and to maintain their privacy until they've agreed to host someone. Both users share a primary goal - personal connection to other travelers and places. 

Given the importance of location to surfers, how could I provide some control over location, but in a way that didn't prioritize convenience over connection with the host?

The Solution

In order to support the core user goal, while also providing the locational information surfers wanted, I designed a system whereby surfers could search by host location, but with a twist. Since different neighborhoods mean different things to each host, all searches can be filtered by various types of neighborhood experiences through the use of user generated dataensuring a good lifestyle match between surfers and hosts.  Additionally, users could now search events and meetups by finding hosts planning to attend, and also those nearby.



Competitive Analysis Takeaways

  • Online travel services and apps are common and varied, though few exist for private residences.  
  • Competitors focus primarily on transactions and locations.
  • Couchsurfing's nearest competitor is AirBnb.  
    • Hosts are often absent during guests' stays and thus uninvolved in the experience
    • Since hosts are paid, there is a financial incentive to "market" their location.

What sets Couchsurfing apart:

  • Primary focus is connecting people.
  • Hosts are integral to travelers' experience.
  • Events and meetups are part of the service.
  • Hosts provide accommodations for free and thus have no incentive to "market" their listings.
  • The experience is unique, authentic and personal.

User Research Takeaways

Since this project had such a short timeframe, direct user research wasn't possible.  Instead I spent time combing through the site to glean insights from profile text, neighborhood descriptions, and reviews.

  • A main pain point for hosts was surfers who didn't want to connect with them as a person.
  • Hosts in popular areas shared multiple warnings that their availability was very limited.
  • Many hosts showed their fatigue by requiring special procedures be followed by surfers in order to filter out spam requests.
  • Surfers' most positive reactions centered around the local experiences and insider knowledge generated by connecting with their host - the actual accommodations were rarely mentioned. 
If your only intention of a couch request is to find a free “crash-pad” for the night, SORRY.. I am not your host.
Couchsurfers tend to be the most interesting of all travelers. They are adventurous, social, and are looking to participate in community.

Key Changes to the App

My Neighborhood Section

It doesn’t matter if the neighborhood is -known- for great coffee, it only matters if the host knows where to get a great cold brew.

I added a new page to the site to showcase the neighborhood information supplied by hosts.  

  • Hosts are asked to choose the top three aspects that they love about their neighborhood from a list.  
  • Surfers can search by neighborhood aspects.  
  • Regardless of the actual location that the host lives in, surfers can find hosts who value the same experiences.    
  • Hosts are also asked to list their three favorite attractions in the the neighborhood.  
  • Surfers are able to see what they'll experience with a host.  
  • The area containing the attractions also provides the scale for the neighborhood map displayed in the profile.  
  • Host's home is not displayed on the map for privacy, but surfers can tell what they need to know about the hosts location.  

Event-Based Search

  • Surfers can locate specific events on a map.
  • Surfers can search for a host near the event's location.
  • Hosts attending the event are listed first.
  • Below attendees, hosts are ordered by travel time from the event, instead of by distance.  
  • Travel time can be shown for foot, transit, and auto.

Location-Based Host Search

  • Hosts are initially listed by references and response rate.
  • If a surfer desires a location search, they can select the map at right. 
  • Hosts are shown on the map by circles containing the number of couches available within their radius.  
  • Host addresses are kept private, but general location is revealed.  
  • If no hosts are available, then surfers are shown available couches in nearby neighborhoods with similar experiences according to the hosts who live in them.
  • Host results are color coded to match map pins for clarity.

Next Steps

  • User testing.  
  • Card sorting to determine what the list of neighborhood aspects should be.
  • Explorations to encourage hosts to supply the content needed for the design to function at its best. 
  • Integrating neighborhood search with activities and interests data in order to better rank host search results.  

Thanks for checking out my work with Couchsurfing.  I also worked on an app with the VA, created a service design for Life Alert, and co-created a workshop.  Or, you could go back to that great view of the Sydney Harbor on my home page.