Reimagining Housing at Brown University A user interfaces project by Victoria Yom, Avery Crits-Cristoph, and Polina Tamarina

The Problem

Every year, Brown University administrators and Residential Life workers have to figure out how to get 6,000 undergraduates placed successfully into housing. They have to successfully execute the Housing Lottery (a process where students choose their rooms online in 2 minutes when it's their turn as dictated by a numerical lottery), handle room change requests, accommodate students with disabilities, figure out where to put students coming home from study abroad, make sure nothing is catching on fire, and keep everyone satisfied. As one might imagine, this is a difficult task. Currently, Brown University's main method of providing students with housing information and handling paperwork is the Residential Life website, and a couple other auxiliary sites. As we can see below, they're far from ideal. Many of them are confusing visually and logically, but most importantly none of them provide a flexible model for handling the high volume and complexity of input that constitutes students' needs during the housing process. The content is decentralized, and frequently non-visual.

"I went into the lottery for the first time as a sophomore, and it was one of the most stressful experiences I've had at Brown. There's no way to know what room you're really picking. You kind of just cross your fingers, choose before time runs out, and hope for the best." -3rd year student
"Information is... difficult to find and unclear." -2nd year student
"Some RPL's just make a PowerPoint about the Lottery for their residents- it's not our job, but a lot of the time we're their only real resource." - Brown RPL

Designing for 3 Personas

We knew we wanted our system to be helpful to a wide range of users, and we designed our interface around the main three: students, Residential Peer Leaders (RPL's), and administrators. We wanted to create a comprehensive system, but we also knew that catering to all involved, particularly the administration, would improve the viability of implementation.


We started thinking about our solution in two parts. The first was some kind of student profile to allow students to manage housing preferences and applications/paperwork in one place. The second was an interactive housing map, which students could use during their allotted two minutes of the Housing Lottery to investigate floor plans and building information (how many kitchens, common rooms, etc.)


We wanted the site to be simple, uncluttered, and easy for stressed students and overworked administrators to navigate. We experimented with different user flows- tab based versus one linear process. We split up preferences and paperwork between the Profile and a To-Do list, and started thinking more about how information would flow through the site and be approved by the curating administrators.

Final Product

After lots of iteration, we finally created this: the Brown Housing Portal.

The login screen to an administration curated Housing Portal for students and RPL's
. This is what a student profile would look like. The main function of this page is to centralize and organize basic student information. It provides an intuitive way for students to initiate paperwork and get accommodations by pressing Add and waiting for administrator approval. Visually, we wanted to keep everything simple, with lots of whitespace and one main accent color that matches Brown’s design language.
Any relevant paperwork that goes along with an accommodation initiated in the Profile would appear in the student’s To-Do list. Once a form is approved, the corresponding change would show up in the student's profile in the Approved column, and the student would receive a Brown email notification. In this way, currently hard-to-find PDF forms appear automatically and in one place. Administrators can keep better track of all submitted forms and can also get better engagement with polls and surveys by adding them to students’ To Do lists.
Some forms might be PDFs, and some forms might be built into the site and stylized for simplicity and efficiency, like this version of the Housing Lottery form.
The second part of our design is an interactive housing map. Because the housing lottery is so stressful and fast-paced, we wanted to keep everything minimalistic and intuitive. In the building view, students can filter for buildings that meet particular specifications, like kitchens, single gender housing, and non-greek housing. Students can also filter for quality by the way a room is rated in a particular category, like noise. We kept administrators in mind here by only allowing one of these quality filters at a time, preventing students from being dissatisfied by the lack of rooms with perfect scores.
Hovering over a building immediately shows the building’s basic information, and how many of the rooms in it are still available.
Clicking a building takes the student to the floor view. Here, they can switch between floors, and hover over rooms to see images of them, and how they’ve been rated in particular categories in the past. These ratings would be compiled from (slightly modified) room reviews that students all currently submit and promptly forget about. Students can also save rooms that they like. As we can see, our user has saved one room on this floor….
… which shows up here, so they can easily refer to it during the Lottery.
Finally, we wanted to play with what an RPL’s profile would look like in the system. Here, the RPL’s page would have an extra tab for their residents. They’d be able to look at their floor visually and mouse over rooms or use the search bar to look up their residents and their basic information like preferred pronouns or allergies. They could also submit reports to their Community Directors. This page would replace the Excel spreadsheets currently given to RPL's to keep track of their floors.


Our UI solution to the issues we saw essentially relied on building flexible models for two parts of the existing system: bureaucratic information flow and management (Profile & To-Do) and housing information access and management (Interactive Map). Our main priorities were to create a system that was intuitively learnable, and relied on existing conceptual models of online profiles and to do lists. Our map utilizes existing data- like room reports, building maps and floor plans- to create a tool that improves the quality of information students have access to when choosing their own housing, and the speed with which they can sift through this information during (and before) the fast paced Lottery. Ultimately, our UI benefits all 3 of our personas- the students and RPL's who benefit most directly from the streamlined system, and the administrators and Community Directors who are able to keep track of student information, pending paperwork, room conditions, and occupancy in a visual manner while reducing strain on Residential Life and Facilities staff due to questions and complaints.

Thank you for viewing our project!

Created By
Polina Tamarina

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