Project Overview

As part of the Springboard UX Design course, I took on the full UX process and developed an app with which digital nomads could find a mid-term homestay all over the world specifically suited to their needs.

Role: Product Designer
Duration: Sep. 2019 - March 2020
Methods: Desk Research, Heuristic Analysis, User Research, Affinity Mapping, Empathy Map, Personas, Sketching, Wireframing, Journey Map, UI Design, Prototyping, Testing
Tools: Pen & paper, Adobe XD, InVision, Marvel, UXPressia, Milanote, Miro

The Challenge

Loneliness and disconnectedness is a problem among many remote workers and especially digital nomads - remote workers who choose to travel while working online - find it difficult to make deeper connections.

The Solution

I developed the app philoxenía that helps digital nomads to find mid-term accommodation with a local host. The app would not only provide them with a stable work environment but their daily contact with their hosts could also open the door to a social life that is rooted in the local culture.

Process: discover, define, ideate, prototype, test

Secondary Research

The Future of Work is Remote

The Global Workplace Analytics Report defines “remote workers” as non-self-employed people who principally work from home at least half-time.

Remote work is becoming increasingly common in many countries around the world. The remote workforce in the U.S. has grown by 159% between 2005 and 2017, and 55% of hiring managers agree that remote work is becoming more common as compared to three years ago. These numbers don’t even include freelancers, entrepreneurs or business owners.

Remote work brings about various benefits:

  • productivity increase
  • cost reduction
  • access to global talent
  • beneficial for the environment.

However, working remotely also has its own set of challenges.

Loneliness - A Global Epidemic

As Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 report ascertains, the two main struggles of remote workers are:

  • loneliness (20%)
  • communication and collaboration (20%)

Even though loneliness has been labeled a "global epidemic" in general,  it also has real implications for businesses and has a negative effect on productivity. Because I’ve been working remotely myself for the past 5 years, I was really curious to explore this issue further.

The link between eating alone and feelings of unhappiness 

A crucial activity that brings colleagues together in a regular office setting is the lunch break. For remote workers, an opportunity to network and bond is lost and a study by the Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research has even shown that eating alone “is more strongly associated with unhappiness than any single factor other than having a mental illness.”

Because my initial idea was to develop a solution that would help remote workers connect over food, I researched the following questions in my primary research:

  • how and when remote workers experience loneliness
  • what strategies remote workers use to combat this feeling
  • if eating alone was causing substantial emotional distress to remote workers
  • if connecting over food would help remote workers feel less

Primary Research

Survey: Quantifying loneliness among remote workers

To explore the findings from my desk research, I conducted a survey with 83 participants. I recruited the participants using various social media platforms which resulted in a wide-ranging variety of participants: freelancers, employees and entrepreneurs.

  • 66.8% of participants experienced feelings of loneliness or disconnectedness ranging from “sometimes” to “(almost) all of the time”
  • 63.9% of participants ate alone at least every other day.

I also wanted to find out if homeworkers struggled more with loneliness than digital nomads. I deliberately avoided the term “digital nomad” in my survey since it might not be a label that everyone identifies with, so that’s why I asked about the participants’ travel habits.

  • 68% of participants indicated that they traveled at least a few times a year while working with 33% of these participants feeling lonely “often” to “(almost) all of the time”  
  • 15% of homeworkers experienced high levels of loneliness.

These numbers quantified the problem of loneliness among my participants (traveling or not) but they didn’t tell me anything about the context and why they felt lonely or disconnected.

I conducted interviews with eight participants who were working remotely at least four days a week. Five of the participants were full-time employees while three were working as freelancers in various fields and six of the participants were traveling at least a few times a year while continuing to work. This broad range of interviewees allowed me to get insights into the unique challenges that each individual was facing.

User Interviews

All of them were at least occasionally experiencing loneliness or disconnectedness but interviewees were also struggling with working overtime. This is an issue that has also been stipulated in my secondary research: there is a correlation between working remotely and having a burnout and can be due to several factors:

  • Some of my interviewees felt that they needed to work more than their non-remote colleagues because they felt that they had to prove more that they were actually working. 
  • Others noted that their work sometimes would serve as a distraction from other things (e.g. personal problems) as there were no practical restrictions as to when they could stop working.
"When I travel and work remote, I don't feel as disconnected."


"To be honest. I have decided not to travel for a while, it tired me out a lot and stressed me out. Because I was working so much, I wasn't really enjoying the trip."
Screenshot of a user interview

The interviewees who were traveling had mixed feelings about their work-life balance. Traveling seemed to ease feelings of loneliness for some while it brought more stress for others. Those who were working a lot and traveling at a fast pace, found it especially difficult to enjoy their travel experiences. The individually divided responses indicated that there was definitely room for improving individual travel experiences. 

Meeting people is easy - finding a deeper connection is not

An affinity map allowed me to bring all these different insights together in a structured manner. It also highlighted the importance of having a social network. As one interviewee said: "Knowing people in the place or knowing how to live a social life -  that impacts a lot the experience you have when you work remotely [...] because you spend the whole day alone." Most survey participants had come up with strategies to meet new people (e.g. through sites like Facebook or Meetup, parties, coffee shops and common interests). However, during the interviews, people pointed out that those connections usually didn’t develop into deep, long-lasting connections and friendships.

How might we reduce feelings of loneliness and disconnection among remote workers? 

Obviously, I only touched the tip of the iceberg during my interviews and many questions were left unanswered:

  • How are companies with remote employees currently addressing this issue?
  • Which solutions are feasible for remote workers living in rural areas?

I also saw two types of personas emerge from the interviews:

  • Type 1: A remote worker who works from home: someone who recently moved to a new place and doesn’t have a large social network.
  • Type 2: A “digital nomad”-type remote worker: someone who travels from country to country while working online.

The possibility to have lunch together with other remote workers seemed appealing to some interviewees but some also noted that such an app shouldn’t only be tailored to remote workers. It became clear to me that eating alone was only a small contributing factor to the feelings of loneliness for remote workers and that it would be difficult to develop an app that would target all remote workers since there are different types with different needs.

That's why I decided to narrow my target audience down and focus on one persona only - digital nomads like Josephine.

Persona Josephine, the digital nomad


How might we help digital nomads to feel less lonely while traveling?

I reviewed the results of my research, wrote down various ideas and went through several ideation exercises. I noticed during my research that many people didn’t have problems meeting fellow remote workers but actually rather struggled with building real connections. Especially when you’re traveling alone and meeting fellow travelers, connections are fleeting and temporary so I wanted to develop something that would provide a stable (work) environment and stimulate more profound connections.  

Facilitating profound connections for digital nomads  

The mixed feelings about traveling experiences were not only related to fleeting connections but also to accommodation:

  • Some interviewees liked to stay in hostels because they were always surrounded by other people there.
  • Other interviewees preferred to stay at an Airbnb because hostels couldn’t provide a good work environment. It can on the other hand make it difficult to connect to the local culture, which could also contribute to feelings of loneliness or disconnectedness.

Homestays for digital nomads

By using the mash-up method, an IDEO ideation technique, I came up with the idea of offering digital nomads a possibility to stay with local families while traveling - similar in a way to au pair host families.

Au pair families provide the traveler with a more profound connection with the local culture but the concept isn’t there to receive digital nomads or remote workers specifically. I decided to pivot from my initial idea because this app provided me with a very clear target audience and would try to solve a more tangible problem than loneliness among remote workers in general.

A competitive analysis revealed that even though there are several platforms offering homestays, none of them target remote workers in particular.

Airbnb could be the main competitor but:

  • it targets tourists and is therefore competing with other vacation rentals
  • it isn’t an ideal solution for those digital nomads who are cost-conscious.

Before I could start to develop this solution further, I needed to visualize what kind of experience a digital nomad like Josephine has when traveling to a new country right now and what her ideal trip should look like.

View the full journey map here.

Low-Fidelity Prototype

How should Josephine’s travel experience look like with our product? 

Creating a customer journey map and mapping the current and future state helped me in various ways:

  • I understood how Josephine is currently trying to solve the problem
  • I could conceptualize and visualize her ideal journey.

Afterwards, I used user stories to identify the functional needs of my product and decided which tasks would be included in my MVP. Writing down the user stories already confronted me with probably the biggest design challenge of this project: While so far I had been focusing on digital nomads - the guests - I would also need to consider the needs and requirements of the hosts. This also posed a challenge because these are not only different personas but also two types of users with very distinct user flows and I needed to figure out how they would get to interact with each other.

Two distinct user flows - guests and hosts

Through sketching, I worked through various possible solutions for the different user flows of guests and hosts:

  • There are no separate "host"-"guest" accounts but guests could function as hosts as well and the other way round with the same account and profile.
  • Users would have to choose whether they want to register as a host or guest during the onboarding process
  • Hosts would need to use a different app in order to be a host (in the way that Uber has two different apps for passengers and drivers).

I also needed to consider that several interviewees pointed out that they preferred to explore an app before registering: “I hate having to fill out forms before I can see what's in the app. If I can download the app, open it, and I already get some value out of it I’m 100 times more likely to then - when I need to - sign up.”

After several iterations, I decided that all users would be able to explore the app without creating an account in order to offer as much value and flexibility as possible. Only after registering they would need to decide whether they would want to create a profile as a host or as a guest. Designing the process of profile creation was also a challenge - how extensive should the host listings be and what do hosts want to know from their guests?

Guerilla Usability Testing: Always coming back to Nielsen’s heuristics

In order to test my initial assumptions, I conducted a guerilla usability test in a coffee shop. I gave a low-fidelity prototype to five different users and asked them to complete the sign-up process, fill in their profile (either as a guest or a host) and make a booking.

In general, the participants found the app easy to navigate. However, there were some minor usability issues which in hindsight were mainly related to two of Jacob Nielsen’s usability heuristics: #1: Visibility of system status and #3: User control and freedom:

  • the profile completion process needed to be refined in order to make it clear that all questions are optional and to allow users to go back and forth between different screens
  • some users couldn’t find the unread message that popped up in the inbox
  • it was a bit unclear to some users that they still had to pay a deposit
  • one user also asked about what the verification process for hosts would look like.

High-Fidelity Prototype

Moodboard & UI Design: A warm welcome

Luckily, most of these issues were quite easy to resolve. I decided to focus mostly on boosting feelings of safety and welcomeness:

  • Include guest and host references in the second iteration of the prototype. I wanted to see user’s reactions to this form of social trust before investing time in designing a whole new verification process.
  • Make the app look as inviting as the homes my users would stay in. he app should inspire positive emotions like happiness, confidence and warmth and therefore, I chose orange as my primary color and a very light warm yellow as the background color.
  • I also came up with a warm, hospitable name for the app, the Greek term “philoxenía” (φῐλοξενῐ́ᾱ), which literally means “friend to a stranger” and can be interpreted as the eagerness to show hospitality.

To appeal to my tech-savvy audience of millenials, I wanted to achieve an overall minimalist, slick and modern look. However, here again, I was confronted with the problem that I was designing for two types of users: What appeals to digital nomads like Josephine might not appeal to hosts like Nuur.

Who are our clients?

Granted, so far I had been mostly focusing on digital nomads. Obviously, my research had started with how to solve loneliness among remote workers but from a business perspective, the digital nomads-guests are also the clients of our product as they have to pay the additional booking fee.

I already took into account that the bigger process of setting up a sufficient amount of hosts came with a whole set of problems that I wouldn't be able to resolve within the skope of this capstone project:

  • hosts wouldn't just register on a completely new platform and open their home to complete strangers (even Airbnb had to actively recruit hosts and had tried to gain new members through a referral program)
  • even if hosts were to sign up in substantial amounts, the quality of the listings would still be left to chance (Airbnb sent professional photographers to people’s properties to deal with this issue)

For this reason, I decided to focus on the guests first when it came to the first round of remote moderated usability testing with two participants as potential guests via various digital nomad groups.

Because I also wanted to gain more insight into the expectations and motivations of hosts and verify the assumptions that my first host persona was based on, I also recruited two other participants as potential hosts via Couchsurfing and among acquaintances and relatives.

The goal in both cases was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the respective onboarding and booking process.

Usability Testing

First round: Motivating guests and hosts to sign up

As expected, I noticed many major and minor issues and inconsistencies that needed to be addressed which were mostly related to getting guests and hosts to complete the signup process.

Most prominently, the user flow for guests was different than expected:

  • Many guests first wanted to browse the listings (rather than scroll through the guest screen and register).
  • Guests usually skipped the onboarding screens that I had designed because they didn’t seem to offer any additional value.

Therefore, I needed to enable the option to search for a location without registering and redirect to the signup page when the user tried to request a stay.

On a positive note, guests found the app intuitive and really liked the look of the app, which justified my UI design decisions: “I like the color scheme. It's a very pleasing color. And it's not blue because I know a lot of travel apps are blue, because it's linked to travel (like subconsciously) but I actually find this very calming and pleasing to the eye.”

When it came to providing or receiving information, there were issues for both users that were solvable:

  • For hosts: one host found the process of filling in their profile tedious and whereas the other one wanted to provide as much information as possible and wanted more open text fields. A potential sollution strategy here could be to have internal staff members assist hosts with the signup process to make sure that all listings look impeccable. This would also solve the issue that hosts didn’t fully understand the value proposition of the app, i.e. why they should host on philoxenía instead of another platform.
  • For guests: they indicated that they lacked information on certain features of the accomodation. Providing sufficient information on things that matter to digital nomads (like the workspace) would help my app to differentiate itself from the competition.

Second round: Value first

In the second iteration of my high-fidelity prototype, I implemented various changes to offer as much value as possible to both users (guests and hosts) and reflect the real user flow.

For guests and hosts:

  • I designed the empty screens of the inbox and the favorite tab where I included a call to action to sign up.
  • I removed the initial onboarding screens as they didn’t provide a lot of value to guests and hosts. 
  • Smaller changes: status labels in the inbox (“confirmed”, “pending”, “declined”), a clearer structure of the individual listings (“About us”, “About our home”, “About our accommodation”) and an updated structure of the homescreen to emphasize the product’s USP.

For guests:

  • Guests could now start browsing for homestays immediately
  • Guests were asked to register only at the moment when they wanted to request a stay.

For hosts:

  • I added a link in the upper right corner of the homescreen to sign up.

It struck me that some users mostly commented on the information of the listing itself and I wanted to make sure that the user experience would not be negatively influenced by small inconsistencies or exemplary listings that didn’t provide enough information so I made the app as consistent and extensive as possible. 

“It looks like a lovely, lovely app.” -  Eureka! 

It seemed that my attention to detail had paid off during the second round of remote usability testing. This time, the feedback from the three guests was very positive:

“It looks like a lovely, lovely app. I know there's a little, a very little bit of fine tuning, but it looks so lovely [...] I think you have done a fabulous job.”

This fine tuning mainly involved tweaking some minor details: e.g. users were mentioning that the location of a home should be stated again on the listing, they wanted to know the demographics of people who left a reference and a few options for amenities and facilities were missing. 

The usability test for the two hosts that I had recruited also went smoother than the first time but there were still some unclarities. The altered user flow definitely helped but the app would actually benefit from having 2-3 onboarding screens that explain the concept and value proposition of the app to hosts.

However, these screens would need to be shown after the users have decided to sign up as hosts in order not to confuse guests. My estimation is that making the value proposition of the app clear to hosts is also something that should happen before hosts download the app, namely in marketing and recruitment efforts.

Key Takeaways

This project was a massive undertaking with many challenges and considerations.

  • The importance of good UX writing became clear to me when selecting and formulating the questions for guests and hosts to create their respective listings or profiles.
  • If this had been a real project, a lot more research - especially on hosts -  and iterations would have been needed to take into account different cultures, diversity, accessibility and varying expectations. 

Generally speaking, I was struck by how many people felt lonely. Loneliness and remote working isn’t necessarily causally linked, I believe that it’s rather just a symptom of the way that our society is socio-economically organized.

I do hope and think that such an app might alleviate certain feelings of disconnection for people who are travelling and working - which presumably will become even more common in the next decade - but there’s no doubt in my mind that it will take a more systematic change in order for us to feel more connected with one another.