A Platform for College Students to Buy, Sell and Exchange Textbooks

Design a textbook exchange platform that optimizes convenience and value

Project Brief
Students spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks each year and are left with no method of selling them that offers both convenience and value. During this 10 week project, I worked with three other students to design, test, and implement a website that addresses this problem. Bookmate provides an easy way for students to buy, sell and exchange textbooks with others on campus.
Date: Spring 2015
Role: Project Lead, Visual Designer
Course: Advanced HCI
Collaborator: Maria Suhardi, Max Han, Sreedev Sidharthan
Core Functionality

Powerful filter and sort features makes finding the right book dead simple

Fast and simple communication between students

Facilitate the exchange of textbooks in lieu of cash

How Students Buy Textbooks

In order to better understand the current ways that students buy and sell their textbooks, I conducted interviews with 10 University of Washington undergraduates. Through this research, we recognized a clear tradeoff between price and convenience that is consistant across the textbook resources that students use most. For example, the campus bookstore is a very convenient option but yields very low value to both students buying and selling (back) textbooks.

Paper Prototype

Our initial user interviews provided enough insight to create an initial design. After discussing initial sketches with our team, I created a paper prototype of our initial design to be tested with users. The goal of this acitvity was to assess the organization and flow of the design and to understand what functionality students were expecting.

We captured three high level takeaways from this testing:
1. Importance of convenience.Given their hectic schedules, students are drawn to the option requires the least time and effort to get the textbooks they need.
2. Students compare options by price and quality. When choosing a book from a list of options, students will select the book for the lowest price that is considered acceptable quality.
3. Prioritize reaching a commitment.Students are both busy and flaky, users want to reach an agreement before hashing out the logistics with classmates.

We conducted several rounds of usability testing using paper prototyping and incorporated feedback into each design. This low-fidelity testing method allowed us to iterate very quickly.


In addition to paper prototyping, we created wireframes to begin to imagine the user flow. We used this wireframe to test the flow of our design at a higher fidelity.

Idea Highlight: Badges

Integrating cues to highlight specific and relevant information helped students distinguish between options. This insight inspired us to create "badges" to call out information about specific listings that students care about. For example, while students don't mind walking across campus to buy a textbook, finding a seller who lives in the same dorm is relevant and would influence their decision.

Initial Mockups

Multiple rounds of iterative prototyping and testing directed us in reaching a well informed design. Next, I created a digital mockup for each page of our interface. My digital mockups helped us to make tweaks to the visual design and establish a core visual language that is consistent throughout the interface. The mockups were also used as a design specification as we began to implement our website. Below are a few examples:

Implementation & Evaluative Testing

The final step was to implement our design into a real, functioning website. We streamlined this process by creating a database with hardcoded information that supported our key scenarios and a handful of textbooks (we didn't spend time building a scraper to gather all textbooks available). Once we implemented a functional prototype, I conducted a final round of evaluative testing with a couple students to assess whether our design was successful.

We received very helpful input, both confirming our initial insights and providing new understandings. I was able to implement many of the necessary tweaks to the front end design.

Search Results
The search results page is at the heart of Bookmate functionality. After searching for a textbook they need, users will use the information presented here to make a decision about what textbooks they want to make an offer for. Our understanding of what students care about and the process they go through as they make these decisions factored heavily into our design of this page. For example, whether a textbook has been highlighted or annotated is a important to many students. Therefore, we allow users to filter results based on this information.

Make an Offer
Once the user has found a textbook they want, they make an offer by identifying an offer price and notifying the seller when they need the book by. With a goal of making the communication process as seamless as possible, we put significant thought into what information should be transferred at each stage of the communication process. We found that students do not want to consider the specifics of when and where they would be available to complete a transaction before they have reached a commitment. At this stage of communication, the price and how soon the buyer needs the book is the most critical information that the seller needs in order to make a decision.

The Dashboard is where users keep track of the textbooks they are buying and selling, and coordinate with other students. Given the amount of information being shown, our layout prioritizes simplicity and organization. The buyer and seller dashboards are split into two seperate tabs, and textbooks at different stages of the transaction are organized into seperate groups. For example, textbooks in the buyer dashboard (shown here) are organized into Wishlist, Negotiating, and Ready for Pickup. This organization helps students to track their progress in acquiring the textbooks they need for the next academic term.

Once two students have reached an agreed upon price, they are able to chat freely directly within the Bookmate interface to coordinate the logistical details of their transaction. Notifications at each step prevent missed information and help communication moving quickly.

Final Thoughts
With only 9 weeks to design and implement a functioning prototype, our timeline and design process was very aggressive. Despite the fast-paced nature of the project, we committed significant time and effort to conducting thorough research throughout the process. I believe strongly in the importance of informing design concepts and iterations at each step of the design process. As shown by our work, gathering helpful insights through testing does not need to be time intensive; rapid testing and iteration can go a long way.

You can check out the full prototype here (username: cjung15, password: bookmate).

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