Housing Assist Update

In the last blog post update, I mentioned that I am developing the details of the Housing Assist online application. The big task was to create the initial intake in its entirety. By last week, I had an outline of the initial intake, and in this past week I developed and did usability testing of the screens. In this blog post, I’ll go into the details and give a glimpse of what I’ve created.


The initial intake is the most important part of the application for residents applying for housing repair assistance. The Housing Assist initial intake gives residents quickly tests’ residents’ eligibility for a wide variety of programs. To make the intake, I needed to analyze and synthesize all the possible applications residents could fill out. I developed this analysis with help from experts such as John Lyons, the Program Manager at Meals on Wheels, the largest housing repair provider in Central Texas.

I then developed a logical workflow diagram that illustrated the shortest possible paths for residents to take through the initial intake. Based on those questions, the logic directs residents to answer more or fewer questions, and, based on their responses, residents finish the 20-30 minute intake with a clear indication of their eligibility for any program available in the region.


This week I created wireframes for the whole intake.

Housing Assist Landing Page
The Housing Assist landing page is where users start their application.


Basic info wireframe
This sample screen illustrates the conversational and minimalist design of the wireframes. These design principles allow for older residents to more easily navigate the application independent of intake specialists. This screen shows all questions, however a user would only see questions such as mailing address fields if they click yes. This conditional logic is applied throughout the online application.

Usability Testing

After creating wireframes, I then did usability testing with five individuals. The usability testing method I followed is called the think-aloud protocol. I gave testers the task of completing the application starting from the landing page. I did not prompt them at all as to what to do on each screen. As they made their way through the online application and filled it out, they spoke their thoughts aloud so I could better learn what they noticed on each page and how they were confused or making decisions about what to “click” or fill out.

Usability testing
I completed usability testing with five individuals. Standard research has shown that 5 individuals is the optimal number to test before testing reveals too few remaining errors to be worthwhile.

The usability testing took about 15-45 minutes. The wide range of participants’ technology savvy correlated with the length of time it took for them to complete the application. Since many housing repair assistance applicants are older than sixty years old, and since technology use drops off for elderly users according to Pew research, and according to my own primary research in Austin, Housing Assist will be marketed to residents and also to their caregivers and children. With this in mind, I conducted usability testing with a seventy-nine-year-old who never uses computers and also with four individuals ranging from thirty to forty years old. Two of these younger individuals were professional housing repair application intake specialists. In addition to gaining normal usability insights, the specialists’ review of the prototype helped me identify errors or omissions in the form that would lead to inaccurately calculating residents’ eligibility.

Usability testing with elderly woman.
One usability tester was a seventy-nine-year-old woman who does not use computers. This proved extremely useful. If I can revise the application so that even she could use it, it would be usable by most anyone. In addition, her testing will help me revise language or question order so that if someone else were to help her complete the application, it will still be sensitive to her interpretation of the applications’ questions and format.

The past week was significant to advance the Housing Assist concept. The usability testing revealed many errors ranging from language use unfamiliar to users to text that was too small for some people to read. I also learned how to better orient users to the purpose of the application as well as to help them understand their orientation and progress within the application.

What’s Next

There’s less than two weeks until the final presentation, and this week I will be focusing on refining the wireframes and other assets to be better prepared for assembling the presentation deck. I plan to have a draft of that deck ready for next week’s blog post as well as refined wireframes, so stay tuned for the next Housing Assist blog update!