After speaking with both power users and novices on Clubhouse, the hottest new app on the social media scene, I uncovered some specific pain points with wayfinding and discoverability,
I embarked on a full redesign where I reimagined Clubhouse from the ground up with users and business goals in mind.
My comprehensive, systems-thinking approach in this project was featured in Prototype and Case Study Club.
User Research, UX/UI Design,
Prototyping, Usability Testing
Disclaimer: I do not work for Clubhouse, and the views in this case study are strictly my own. As a budding designer, I acknowledge that my vision for this project may be overly ambitious and at times reliant on assumptions of business goals. In a perfect world, I'd be working alongside the Clubhouse team with direct access to these resources to guide my work. Until then, this case study is meant to be an exploratory learning experience on a product I deeply admire.
It's difficult to understate the excitement around Clubhouse, the audio chat app where members can move around virtual rooms discussing topics ranging from culture to politics.
Beyond its success with investors, Clubhouse has amassed a fiercely loyal user base, whose creativity has spanned from a 24-hour continuous room dedicated to new user onboarding to a live production of The Lion King.
As an early beta user on the invite-only platform, I had the unique perspective of following the product's updates (and exponential success) in real-time, and sought to challenge myself with my most ambitious project yet: redesigning Silicon Valley's most exciting app in recent memory. No pressure.
The high-level goals of this project were:
• Improving discoverability within Clubhouse, allowing users to more easily find new rooms, people, and clubs to engage with
• Creating a more seamless Hallway experience, where users can filter find the most relevant rooms to them
Business Model: A Blue Ocean Strategy
A survey of the current charitable donation landscape revealed there was considerable room for innovation. I found that charitable organization platforms fall into three main categories:
• Siloed: each individual organization has its own web or mobile platform
• Congregated: a large (read: overwhelming) resource of many organizations with high-level filter and search functionality
• Crowdfunded: most often used as a buoy for systemic state failures
Moreover, of the few micro-donation platforms on the market, none were focused on mutual aid, nor were exceptionally effective at facilitating discoverability of organizations or conveying the impact donations on the platform were having.
By leveraging the power and impact of mutual aid organizations, the innovation and ease of micro-financing, and the simplicity of a service-fee-based revenue model, Be the Change is poised to be an empowering life-raft in a blue ocean of possibility in the charitable donation space.
After brainstorming with my mentor, I intentionally decided to focus on Mutual Aid Funds for this platform. In systems of mutual aid, communities take on the responsibility for caring for one another, rather than forcing individuals to fend for themselves, or for government assistance, which has unfortunately proved to be an unsustainable lifeline in desperate times of need.
Rather than centralized organizations where one person is giving to another (effectively creating yet another dependent relationship negotiating access to material resources), mutual aid creates a symbiotic relationship, where all people offer material goods or assistance to one another. Mutual aid organizing is volunteer-run, transparent, and driven by the needs articulated by community members - all values my research found donors to charity highly regard.
Put simply, allies want to make a meaningful impact where it's needed most, and mutual aid organizations are a noble and mighty vehicle to drive such impact. Be the Change is the marriage of these harmonious truths.
One of the main considerations I had to take into account was the hierarchy of the main components users can interact within the app:
• People (other users of the app)
• Rooms (a virtual meeting place for audio conversations), and
• Clubs (interest-based groups rooms can be hosted under)
Beyond this, I had to consider how each of these components were connected, both interpersonally and through time: currently, a Clubhouse user's Hallway (home screen) shows live rooms connected to the people and clubs they follow (which I'll refer to throughout this case study as "in-network"). This makes it difficult for users to easily keep track of upcoming rooms in their network, as well as join new, out-of-network rooms.
This became a major dichotomy throughout my work: I needed to find a balance between making each of these individual parts of Clubhouse easily discoverable while maintaining - and simplifying- the web that weaves them together.
Another unique aspect of this project was the direct access beta users have to the Clubhouse founders every Sunday during Clubhouse Townhall, an open forum where they share the week's latest product updates, their upcoming roadmap, business goals, and top priorities, as well as user-submitted Q&As.
Between Clubhouse Townhalls, recap rooms, and both official and community-run new member onboarding rooms, I spent on average 5 hours a week for 6 weeks gaining as many business insights and goals as I possibly could from my limited vantage point.
From these discussions, the overarching goals of the Clubhouse team are:
• Making Clubhouse accessible for everyone: Paul always made it clear that the team's top priority was to scale Clubhouse as quickly as possible while not sacrificing quality
• Putting creators first: another point Paul never understated was the team's prioritization of the platform's creators, building tools that would allow for creator monetization
• Improving discoverability and suggested content: at the time of this project, Clubhouse was actively building out their topics directory and algorithms that would make finding relevant rooms progressively easier.
I spoke with Clubhouse users - both power users and more casual community members - to uncover friction points they currently had with the app's discovery experience. These interviews showed:
• Keep it lightweight: most users preferred room discovery to be a spontaneous experience, not necessarily wanting to schedule upcoming rooms in their personal calendars
• Cluttered Hallway: most users were confused by how the hallway was currently curated, and who of the people they followed were in any given room present
• Hallway as a source of discovery: despite the cluttered hallway experience, most users still relied on the hallway to find new rooms, despite there being an existing (but not yet robust) "Explore" tab
• Friends first: when deciding which rooms to join in the hallway, users unanimously wanted to see which of their friends were in any given room
I developed a simple yet powerful UI that makes wayfinding within your hallway and rooms easier, and bringing rooms found through the discover page into your hallway a breeze.
In order for this solution to feel cohesive and not siloed, I needed to implement a near-full redesign Clubhouse, broken up into 5 main experiences.
Users wanted their hallway experience to feel more intentional and within their control. To achieve this, I established a top-level hierarchy of:
• Ongoing vs. upcoming, to allow users to not only see active rooms but get a quick overview of scheduled rooms within their network
• Filters by topics of interest, selected by the user during onboarding, and
• Sort rooms in your hallway by people vs clubs you follow
An additional UI decision was to only present people you follow within the rooms in your hallway. This would alleviate the current issue of ambiguity surrounding the names users currently see in the room cards in their hallways.
Currently in Clubhouse, clicking on a room in a hallway immediately drops you into that room's conversation.
Since identifying friends in any given room was a high decision factor for users joining a room, I wanted to design a way for users to see who they know inside before committing to join.
Currently, discovery in Clubhouse is siphoned: users go to the Explore tab to discover people and clubs by categories and keywords, and to the calendar tab to discover both active and upcoming rooms across all of Clubhouse.
Most users actually didn't use these tabs to achieve their primary goal of discovery, instead adopting workarounds such as:
• discovering clubs through user profiles,
• discovering people through rooms, and
• discovering rooms primarily through their hallway,
limiting the scope of content they were being exposed to.
While I designed UI solutions to make these workarounds more seamless, I wanted the discover page to be the go-to destination to accommodate for all these use cases, allowing users to search for people, clubs, and rooms by Clubhouse's growing topics directory, in addition to keywords.
I also integrated an additional sort functionality to further facilitate discovery.
Users also wanted an easy, lightweight solution to discover and access out-of-network rooms.
The ability to send a room from the discover feed to your hallway without committing to following that room's moderators, corresponding club, or scheduling in your personal calendar was the biggest challenge of this project, involving many iterations in order to feel intuitive.
A close cousin to the hallway, your active users screen is where all your Clubhouse people and clubs that are currently online live. 83% of users interviewed mentioned scanning this screen to quickly identify what rooms their friends are in.
I added a much-requested search bar to further facilitate friend finding, as well as a sort drop-down menu to reach an even more important distinction: who's actively participating in a room vs. just listening in.
87% of users discover suitable clubs to follow via user profiles directly. There exists a further hierarchy within clubs: followers (who receive notifications and see club-branded rooms in their hallway), and members (who, in addition to the above, can also start club-branded rooms themselves).
In Clubhouse's current design, the clubs a user follows vs. clubs a user is a member of are in disparate locations: in the user's following list and at the bottom of their user profile, respectively. This was confusing to users wanting scan all the clubs associated with a particular person.
By making clubs associated with a user a consolidated metric, users visiting that profile can more easily see what clubs that person belongs to, and immediately follow without visiting a new screen.
On the club level, being able to access metadata such as previously held rooms, upcoming rooms, and club admins can help a user get a more effective overview of the club.
In bringing all the pieces of this experience together, it became clear that adding too many visual elements would disrupt the visual hierarchy needed to move through the app with ease.
Additionally, the typical user experience on Clubhouse is already so immersive and emotive, often spanning all hours of the night - I wanted to take advantage of this use case and implement an elegant UI that emphasized Clubhouse's few content types harmoniously.
After conducting my usability tests, I created an affinity map with insights, behaviors, and findings during the tests. Most users moved through the app with little to no missteps, but for many participants, there was one main point of friction that disrupted a key pillar of this redesign:
• It was still unclear how to access a room you saved from the Discovery page to your Hallway.
Going into this project, I knew this would be an ambitious challenge for a young designer. What I didn't know was just how intricate and all-encompassing that challenge would be.
I learned that working on a highly publicized and highly beloved product comes with a lot of external pressure and internal emotions to do right by (seemingly) everyone: power users with fierce attachment to existing structures, new users who can't fully experience the nuance of an audio app as a static prototype, and the small but mighty Clubhouse team, who are actively iterating their product on a weekly basis, potentially launching imaginative solutions themselves for the same challenges I'm working on, or others I haven't even imagined yet. Against a constant stream of public conversation over an exciting product that felt almost ethereal, I'll humbly admit that there were times where this pressure got the best of me and I felt like a total imposture who bit off way more than she could ever chew.
The biggest lessons this project taught me were the delicate balance between perseverance when faced with complex challenges, grace in the wake of perceived failure, and when to be okay with "good enough" (for this iteration, of course).
In the end, I'm extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish with this project at this stage in my design journey, and often reminded myself of my favorite mantra that led me to product design in the first place:
“All I wanted was a job like a book so good I'd be finishing it for the rest of my life.”
Product design is that job for me, and I'm proud to say that while this project (and all my others) will never be fully finished, I breathed as much life into it as much as I could - I hope you enjoyed it!