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Furniture Customisation & Wood Waste App

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I’ve learned — and understand — that you don’t always get to work with on a project that you personally relate to, a mission you support, or with a client you love. This makes sense to me — after all, I came from six years of finance where at the best of times I was getting two of those three. Excitingly, getting the chance to work with InUse-ReUse in a three week sprint afforded me that opportunity. Most importantly: the team on this project was awesome.

My main tasks on this project were:

  1. Conducting research
  2. Determining user flows for both B2B and B2C experiences
  3. Focusing on, and testing, early stage wireframes before developing

As with all projects in this space, there was also significant conversation and input given to the UI designer to stay aligned.

InUse-ReUse is a pallet and wood waste collection company based in South London. They work with local municipalities, markets, and businesses to collect, process, and reuse or recycle the collected pallets. With today’s emphasis on a circular economy, there is a growing need for businesses to engage in sustainable practices across all facets of their work. Over the next few months, they’re also entering the upcycled furniture space. Their motto encompasses where they are, and where they’re going:

Reclaimed. Recycled. Reloved.

We worked with InUse-ReUse to tackle two problems: businesses throughout London do not have an easy way to organise and manage pallet collections, and consumers don’t have enough access to high quality, customisable, upcycled furniture. As InUse-ReUse’s core business at the time is around the pallet collection and recycling, we were asked to prioritise the business-facing problem.

To solve this problem, we designed a mobile application that could be used by businesses and consumers alike. Blending the two together into one ecosystem epitomised the concepts of a circular economy, and has not been done before.

With only three weeks to research, develop, design, and test an MVP, we had little time to become experts. While we knew that we’d want to get a survey out to consumers as soon as possible, it would be important to figure out what exactly we’d want to know from a larger population. Our first step was to conduct a competitive analysis and a series of interviews using contacts we received from the company.

On the business side (which I’ll refer to as B2B throughout), it quickly became obvious that there are a very significant number of “companies” around London offering pallet / wood waste collection services. I use companies loosely — in an age where anyone can throw together a website, it was difficult to tell who had established themselves within the industry as a reputable service, and who was a “man with a van” hoping for a call. Either way, most of the websites looked like they were from the early 2000s, hardly instilling a first impression of professionalism and trust. Further, every single site required the user to call, or fill out a contact form. We’d also learn from speaking with business owners that they did not want to spend this time scheduling / filling out forms, leading to more calls and scheduling — the process of environmental disposal, while important to them, was not their core business.

Some of the more premium services — and there were only a handful of them — offered a more professional, personal, and streamlined service. However, nearly all of them had minimum collection requirements of at least 100 pallets a week. For context, we were talking to businesses and collection companies that were using 100 a month. Interestingly, a number of these large companies had produced their own case studies — and all had the same themes in common: reliability and accountability. A quote at the beginning of a case study from the largest pallet collector around London read:

[Company] had a pallet collection arrangement in place however poor service due to missed collections meant valuable space on their sites was being taken up by the wooden packaging

It was incredible to us that this quote was their main value proposition. However, through continued interviews and research, these sentiments were echo’d by businesses on both sides of the transaction. One other pallet collector we spoke with stressed the importance of “just showing up” for the collections. He also cited his own logistical problems in the past — a van he thought he’d be able to use was no longer available, etc. This is frustrating and inconvenient for everyone involved, and with the tools at our disposal today this simply isn’t a problem that should exist.

Excitingly, in all our research, one key piece of data continued to hold true: While everyone we spoke to had a smartphone, there was no mobile application out there to solve this problem.

On the consumer front (you guessed it, B2C), there has been a movement towards sustainability on all fronts, and furniture has been no exception. Throughout our competitive analysis, we found plenty of companies that have upcycled offerings (at least 1 out of 3 of the major online retailers — Etsy, Amazon, Made, to name a few), but also recognised that the trend hasn’t fully entered the main stream.

Looking locally, we found a few companies around London that offered upcycled furniture. Most of them were linked to charities that worked with some form of social mission in mind, such as providing work for ex-prisoners who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to rebuild, or recovering addicts. We absolutely loved this mission. However, these were truly small companies, with limited (if any) web presence and this service was not often part of their core business objective.

We were able to use all of this information to better target our survey questions; the results of which were highly encouraging.

In general, people were not usually interested in a companies mission or the environmental impact when purchasing furniture. However, if they knew that the company had an environmental focus, that interest in the mission tripled. Even more encouraging, if the positive environmental impact of a product were prominently shown, it could more than double their appetite to purchase. Clearly, there’s something here.

It got better: 50% of people would pay more for the same good if they knew that it came from a fully upcycled process. Those stacked percents can start to multiply into real sales.

Our survey also had some other findings that helped to inform core features and business policies. In the initial conversations with InUse-ReUse, they rattled off a large number of customisable features that would be great to include. Knowing that they would be starting small (and having limited time ourselves), we wanted to ensure that we brought those key customised features forward. We found overwhelmingly that when thinking about customising furniture, people were interested in having control over the size, colour, and materials. Other features like branding and finishes were important, but received less than half the support as the others. We also understood that customising isn’t an overnight process, and there will be some iterating, so wanted to gauge the amount of time people would be willing to wait from order to delivery. Over 80% of people would wait up to 5–6 weeks.

After conducting all of this background analysis (can you tell we like research?), we put together an affinity diagram to highlight and organise themes, and created two core user personas to use throughout the remainder of the process.

It was important throughout the process to be both budget conscious and forward thinking. We knew that InUse-ReUse had ambitious goals, but with limited finances (typical of any new start-up), they also needed solutions that would work now. We took this challenge as an exciting opportunity, and it was important for us that our designs and features were dynamic enough to grow with the business.

We also knew that we had a real opportunity to blend the two worlds — B2B with B2C. The application would — on one platform — allow businesses to request a pallet collection, and consumers to purchase upcycled furniture using the same pallets that were collected from the business side.

One application to epitomise the InUse-ReUse motto: Reclaimed. Recycled. Reloved.

The key features for the B2B platform addressed transparency and seamless communication through an intuitive experience. As demonstrated in the following screens, both the business owners and InUse ReUse were able to easily share locations, timings, cost estimates, and pictures — to minimise the majority of pain points that came to light during research.

The key components of the B2C platform were showcasing the environmental impact of the company (and consumer’s contribution), offering high end products, and a range of furniture customisation. The screens below highlight the key points in the consumer’s journey.

One of the key adjustments on the B2B side of the application that came out of testing was on the order of the timeline on the dashboard. At first, we thought scheduled collections should be the “main” screen, and thus be in the middle. However, through testing, users were confused. To many, Historical -> Scheduled -> Pending was not intuitive, and a number commented that they viewed the timeline as Past -> Present -> Future. Based on this feedback, we changed the timeline order from Historical -> Scheduled -> Pending to Historical -> Pending -> Scheduled, which led to better interactions.

Click here to view the project `Final InUse ReUse`

This prototype brought to you by InVisionApp

As a bonus, Tanuj has experience with animating, and it gave us an opportunity to showcase a few of the key interactions in the application to the client.

In all, this was an ambitious and exciting project. Following the 3 week sprint, we were contacted about a continued relationship going forward, which was rewarding and showed the satisfaction and value of the product we built.

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