Couchsurfing, An User REsearch case

We Found Couchsurfing is Basically 'Tinder.'

User Researcher, Prototyping
5 Persons (A course project at Uni. of Twente)
Nov 2018 - Jan 2019


The large community and cultural significance of couchsurfing are evident with their user base of 15 million, including 400,000 active hosts. We found it interesting to note that, despite the seemingly poor interface of their smartphone companion app, the community continues to be active and vibrant.

For us, this raised the question: how can design play a role in shaping and forging the couchsurfing community, and in what way should it?


As Couchsurfing provides a lot of features, it's hard for us to define which feature we wanted to improve. Moreover, because Couchsurfing seldom updates their app, we found that the veteran users are already adapted to the existing interface and don't want to try new things.


We followed IDEO’s Human-Centered Design process to make sure that our design decisions were supported by user research and feedback. We used a research method called ‘Dilemma-driven Design’. Dilemma-driven design is an approach that considers emotional dilemmas as fruitful starting points for user-centered design activities. These Dilemmas involve conflicting personal goals or values, such as the conflict between health and indulgence.Dilemma-inspired products can draw users’ attention to emotional dilemmas and support them in productively managing dilemma experiences.This was a quarter-long project alongside 4 other coursemates under the mentorship of Dr. Deger Ozkaramanli.


To narrow down the scope of the project, we defined the user group with the following:


We first did a heuristic evaluation of the current Couchsurfing app. After analyzing the app in our team, we set out to gather more input from outside of the group.We recruited 5 participants with different levels of Couchsurfing experience. And from the interviews, we discovered three main dilemmas form the interviews:1. Available hangouts v.s. Keeping location private:
While users must share their locations in public when they want to hang out with others, they may face a dilemma between making friends and privacy.2. Having complete profile v.s. Using app quickly:
In the personal profile, users need to think of and fill a lot of information to complete it. Although users want to engage in the Couchsurfing community by sharing themselves, they also want to connect with others in a more efficient way.3. Finding a good host based on app's metrics v.s. Potential matching interests:
When users search for a host, they want to find someone they can trust. But on the other hand, they also want to find people who match their interests even though these people do not have references or are not verified users.To help us determine which dilemma to work on, 21 designers outside of the group were invited to vote. This revealed that the third, Finding a good host based on app metrics v.s. Potential matching interests, was the most popular and therefore determined as the most interesting dilemma to work with.


By taking our final dilemma as a starting point for design, we held creative sessions to think of solutions for the dilemma.

Converging Ideas

From the brainstorming session, two favored design directions arose:

Design Proposal

Usability Testing

To conduct the study, we recruited five participants from different experience levels with Couchsurfing.We conducted usability testing and collect data through a survey. We found that most people like the version of the results page with the two bar graphs for interest and ratings (the ‘metrics’ version). The version with the percentage match also was rated quite favorably, while the version with the couches was the least liked.Check Clickable Prototype Here


During the redesign project, we had several things we think we could improve upon or could be done better in the future.

Lacked experience for findings dilemmas
Through conducting multiple iterations of each process of the redesign from the beginning, we could better understand the potential results we need to generate from each process. Ultimately, during the redesign process, we did not understand why we needed to generate the dilemmas until we had used the dilemmas to develop the redesign ideas.

Lack of Experienced Participants.
If we had more time, we would conduct at least 10-15 sessions with users that have experience using the Couchsurfing app. As our goal is to improve the existing user flow and interface, it is better to collect the information from more experienced users.

Lack of Time
With enough time, we would like to redesign the whole experience of using the app, involving more interaction and functionality while increasing playful factors.Ultimately, we recognise that despite a surprisingly sub-par application, the Couchsurfing community remains vibrant and strong. We have attempted to reorient the application around interests, in the hope that the app can reflect the true values and desires of the current community so that meaningful connections can be made in a more frictionless way.
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