An app connects urban neighbors

Nocnoc was a self initiated UX design project created to connect urban residents with their neighbors.


Product design

When I first moved into my current apartment building, I wanted to get to know my neighbors. I soon realized that there are not many opportunities to meet them. Some of my friends have expressed the same frustration I had: it’s hard to engage with your neighbors in an urban environment.

As a personal project to explore the UX design process, I wanted to design an app that helps urban residents build trusted connections with their neighbors by providing them an online platform to exchange information and offer help.

A study by Pew Research Center in 2018 has shown that urban residents are less likely to know their neighbors.

Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted Deb. 26­—March 11, 2018. “What Unites and Divides Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities” Pew Research Center

Was it because of the frightening loss of privacy or having no interest in the people living next door? I conducted my interviews to understand what kept the urban residents from engaging with their neighbors.

I interviewed 6 users who live in downtown San Francisco and New York City.

The 6 participants I chose range between the ages of 24­—37, include males and females from different cultural backgrounds. I interviewed them individually face to face or over the phone.

I thought about just showing up with cookies at my neighbor’s door and saying, “Hi, we’re new!” but I’ve never actually done it.
— Sophie, 24, San Francisco

The research has confirmed my assumption that residents want to start a conversation with their neighbors, but breaking the ice is hard. I also discovered that while many wouldn’t consider their neighbors as friends, more than half are still willing to ask a favor or two.

The insights clearly illustrated a user’s frustrations and led to a strong persona that gave me the confidence to move towards concept development.

When I analyze the competitors, I found out that there are many avenues online that residents can take advantage of to engage with each other. They range from social media and freelance apps to advertisement websites.

Some of the avenues are more specific for neighborhoods, but they won’t help users connect with the neighbor across the hallway.

I believe an opportunity lies in designing an app that is focused on connecting urban residents with their neighbors by helping each other in a private network.

  • Nextdoor is a great place to exchange helpful information, goods, and services with people who live nearby. But it is an open network usually that covers several blocks.
  • Neighbor favors’ function is limited to labor exchange, and their app doesn’t offer an easy-to-use experience.
  • Mycoop is a great community hub, but it focuses on project planning and community building.
  • Craigslist, Facebook Group, and Slack are not designed specifically for residents' communication.

To develop the MVP,  I narrowed Nocnoc’s features down to the essentials.

I planned out an info structure that reflects the goals: to help urban residents engage with their neighbors so that they can help each other and build a sense of community.

Then I charted out user flows to frame how users can interact with the design to complete a task.

Task: offer to help a neighbor
Task: make a post to get help

With all the data at hand, I first made a simple prototype on paper to find out the necessary information to display on each screen when users are communicating with each other. 

I conducted usability tests with a low fidelity prototype for two tasks to evaluate the interactions and received valuable feedback. I iterated the prototype to address the problems raised. 

Task 1 - Offer to sit a neighbor’s cat
Task 2 - Look for a temporary motorcycle garage

Finally, I integrated all design assets and components into the high fidelity prototype. Check out the clickable on InVision.

Things I’ve learned
  • There’s not as much real estate on mobile devices as on desktops. It’s essential to keep the interface clean.
  • Low-fidelity prototypes have great flexibility, but when you are ready to gather more specific feedback, it’s ok to choose high-fidelity prototypes.
  • UX design is a never-ending process, use analytics and user feedback to improve the experience continually.