Homestory is an intelligent interior design app that allows you to visualize the furniture of your dreams within your own home using the power of augmented reality and artificial intelligence.
Over the course of 9 months, I helped lead a team of 3 including two engineers and one product manager to bring Homestory to life.
Role: UX Strategy, UX Research, Data Synthesis, Mobile Design & Web Design (IA, UX/UI Design, Wireframing, Prototyping), Usability Testing, Branding, Digital Marketing
- Homestory has been deprecated but you can view additional details about the app on Product Hunt
How can we make it easier and more enjoyable for people to design their own homes?
After extensive research and development in the interior design sector, we noticed how frustrating and difficult it was for people to design their own homes. We wanted to find a solution that would make it easier and more enjoyable for people to design - and dream of - a home or space that suits them and their needs.
We started to analyze and distinguish the different kinds of pain points people encountered when trying to design their own homes - looking to spot the most suitable moment for a digital product. We found that the common denominator was a person’s inability to make complicated home furnishing decisions due to an “imagination gap,” lack of inspiration, and/or interior design knowledge.
Bridging the gap between imagination and reality using AR
We wanted to find a way that we could bridge the gap between imagination and reality, which is why we were immediately drawn to the idea of Augmented Reality. AR allowed us to reach people all around the world and thus democratize interior design for all. We were able to focus on what matters most to people: their own place, which could be augmented through the camera on their smartphone.
With the power of AR we could allow people to visualize how a coffee table or sofa might look in their home before committing to it. We believe that this would not only make the design process easier and more enjoyable, but ultimately empower people to feel more confident when taking risks related to design changes in their own home.
Using AI to creating helpful furniture layout suggestions
While AR was helpful for users that already had an image in their mind of what type of furniture they like or how they might design their space, we needed to address the users that lacked inspiration or interior design knowledge altogether. Thus, an important part of what we set out to do was to make helpful suggestions for furniture layouts based on a person’s home and enable people to discover something new. But, in order to do so, we needed to find a way to actually understand their space.
This challenge led to the creation of what we call “homestaging automation,” which relies on the power of AI to understand a floor plan and then make meaningful suggestions that fit into the specified space. Unfortunately, the average person doesn’t have a floor plan of their home laying around, so we made it possible for a user to map out their floor plan using just the camera on their phone.
From there, we’re able to feed this data into an algorithm, based on tens of thousands of data points we’ve gathered from professional architects and designers, that is intelligent enough to understand the important factors that go into creating a beautiful space. With this in place, it was much easier to create recommendations because we could understand the full spectrum of how a potential space could be used, and what would fit into it in a way that adheres to learned architectural principles.
The challenges of designing for AR - a new frontier in design
Once we had our primary concept for Homestory in place, we started to explore how these ideas would translate into our design. The decision to make AR the foundation of Homestory was also the biggest challenge of its design. We had to rethink every UX and UI convention for smartphones that we were accustomed to and redefine what it means to design for digital.
We knew that the focus of our design had to be less about the screens people were using and rather the physical world they saw through them. Thus, in order for our design to be successful, we needed people to feel like what they’re interacting with is part of their environment - the world behind their screen - instead of the screen itself.
Natural behavior to influence the experience
We had to start thinking of digital interactions more like real-life ones: how we would interact with any real piece of furniture in our own home. This heavily influenced how we designed the experience of placing and interacting with furniture in AR.
We focused on two important interactions for placing furniture in AR; how the user picks up and moves a piece of furniture and how a product is placed.
When a product is picked up and moved in AR it hovers slightly above the floor and can be moved around or rotated with ease by dragging it around. This interaction reflects similar “real-life” actions we might take when picking something up and moving it around.
Similarly, when a product is placed, it lands on the floor with a little bounce emphasized with haptic feedback. This makes the experience feel more realistic and also offers a small element of delight.
An intelligent A.I. design assistant to furnish your space
We observed that the point in the design process that caused the most friction for users that lack inspiration or interior design knowledge was actually starting. Instead of letting these users struggle with an empty space, we needed to give them some guidance or inspiration, much like an interior designer would.
To solve this problem we developed an intelligent A.I. design assistant, based on our “home staging automation” algorithm, to furnish the space for you. Now all you have to do is map out your space using your smartphone, then the design assistant instantly creates a combination of furniture options that would fit best into the space you have available.
Eliminating existing furniture with Mixed Reality
A fun topic that our team explored was to find a way to remove existing furniture in a space. This would allow users to design on a clean slate, without the distraction of furniture getting in the way. While this is a more specific use case, this would be incredibly helpful for users that want to redesign an entire room that has existing furniture.
A furniture catalog that focuses on inspiration
Since a majority of our users don’t know exactly what piece of furniture they’re looking for, it was important that we created a furniture catalog that focuses on inspiring users instead of overwhelming them with a lengthy list of products. To encourage inspirational browsing, we grouped certain furniture under specific themes and styles as well as included typical categories such as “chairs” and “tables.”
We wanted to also encourage users to place furniture in AR by keeping the catalog design simple and white. Instead of having to provide a detailed list of product information associated with the furniture piece, people could now experience it. With 3D models, products are displayed almost accurate to size and materials can be seen just by getting closer.
When browsing the catalog we never wanted to remove people from their place entirely. Thus, we designed the catalog to be an overlay where a small portion of the physical space was visible at all times.
Defining the Homestory brand
In order to reinforce our mission to make home design fun and approachable, we chose typography that was playful but also simple enough to avoid distracting the user. We incorporated geometric shapes and a variety of organic textures to represent furniture in its simplest forms.
We continued to use geometric shapes and organic forms for illustrated components such as the onboarding and welcome screens. We created illustrated “characters” that were meant to help and encourage the user, especially during moments that could potentially lead to frustration such as failing to scan the floor properly.
Bringing in a mix of complementary pastel and vibrant colors, helped soften the Homestory brand and give it a quirky personality. The color palette also helped establish visual hierarchy, which was respected throughout the design.
To keep users engaged, small moments of animated delight were added to congratulate a user for completing a task or to draw their attention to a certain feature.
When thinking about how we wanted to communicate with people, we looked at natural behavior again and found the answer to be the most natural one: conversation. Developing a conversational voice was key because we wanted Homestory to feel more like a friend offering to help you rather than a distant robotic voice demanding orders at you. When giving advice and making requests the language should feel familiar and the tone should be suggestive, instead of commanding.
6000 downloads in 24 hours
Within the first 24 hours of launch, we had over 6,000 downloads in the app store. This was an incredibly proud moment for our team because we had to work against so many challenges including a limited amount of resources and the fact that we were designing for an entirely new digital space. Homestory was only meant to be a lighthouse project to showcase the company’s design automation tools, but in the end, its success demonstrated the potential for growth and fit within the marketplace.
"I would have loved to use this when I moved into my new place 7 months ago and bought all new furniture.” - Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt
"This app is just amazing! It has so many awesome furniture options to choose from. It’s super easy to use and opens up a whole new dimension regarding how to furnish my place."
"This app has been a joy to use in testing furniture layouts in my house. It has an awesome mode that lets you see what new furniture would look like even if you already have furniture in the room."
"I always wanted to know what certain types of furniture would look like in our house and now it’s possible with Homestory. Since I can look at it in advanced, I feel much more confident when I go to buy it"
What I learned
Be flexible in your role
When I was first hired on at Archilogic for this project, I was originally hired as a marketing manager. While many of my tasks revolved around marketing initially, working on a small team at a startup taught me how to be flexible in my role. Since I was the person on the team with the strongest design skills, I took over the role as the creative strategist as well as the UX designer for the Homestory project. To be honest, at some points I felt like I was in over my head, especially when I didn’t know how to do something. However, these challenging moments pushed me and my skills far beyond what I would’ve thought was possible before this project. I had to learn new skills quickly and become an effective leader in order to ensure that the project wouldn’t fall behind.
Don’t be afraid to shift direction
When we started the Homestory project, its primary state was based on 2D floor plans that the user would input instead of AR. However, about 3-4 months into the project Apple released ARKit which completely changed the way we could serve our target demographic. After this release, there was a lot of noise surrounding AR. This was because now this powerful technology could be accessed by everyone that has a supporting smartphone. We knew that in order to avoid falling behind, it was important to incorporate this new technology to advance Homestory further and push the boundaries in this space. This meant, however, that we would have to completely shift our project direction and go back to the drawing board. While the decision to pivot added more time to our project and was a major risk, I believe that in the end it paid off and resulted in success.