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Curio Marketplace

A reimagined marketplace that leverages storytelling to foster connection & alleviate homesickness for international students. Leverages persuasive design techniques to create subtle moments of connection.


Archana Ramakrishnan, Anna John, Tejas Sarvankar, Parvathy Anand, Fatima Salehbai

My Role

Design, Research and Strategy

Design Ideation

I ideated a broad range of ideas to address questions based on research findings

Synthesize Data

I gathered actionable takeaways from findings from research activities

Concept Direction

I embedded the design in the natural progression of the user's journey

Sketch Prototypes

I laid out concept maps and interactive lo-fi prototypes to test concepts

Why do people feel homesick?


For international students, moving across the world where they are unfamiliar with everyone and everything around them is tough to say the least. Through research, it was found that homesickness is a cyclical problem that leads to isolation and loneliness, triggering more homesickness.

Cyclical Problem.png

Through research, a few key reasons behind homesickness turned out to be ..


Starting all over in an unfamiliar setting

International students feel lonely because they are forced to leave behind an entire support system and initially do not have many friends and are unfamiliar with their neighborhood 


Barriers to forming new connections

Students feel limited in expressing themselves because of language barriers and time management challenges. Due to these difficulties they find it hard to prioritize building and maintaining relationships


Craving a feeling of home

Adjusting to a new place is difficult, specially if it is different from where they grew up (urban/rural, population density, weather and food). These points of differences make them miss home even more


What we found through research..

Since homesickness is a highly emotional and personal struggle that our users may not open up easily about, we needed a more implicit way of user interviewing. For this, we presented a deck of cards with images of different metaphors and asked users to choose the metaphor that best describes their struggles with homesickness and being in a new country. Three major themes emerged:

Light at the end of the tunnel: In moments of homesickness, students think about why they are here and stay motivated by their goals


Connecting the dots: Students try to overcome culture shock by making sense of their surroundings. They search for belonging and a sense of their own identity in the new environment

Adaptors: Students overcome hurdles by adapting to the stressful situations they find themselves in. They get help from friends who become their support system and help them adapt and settle in


Embedding Support and Advice into the Home Set-Up Process


Students have to set up their home and often get passed down used furniture from graduating students. During this mandatory process of passing down furniture and home goods, how might we facilitate passing down.. helpful advice?

The design direction that we arrived at was to embed an initial force of advice and support in the mandatory set-up process.

Onboarding Screen.png

Little opportunity to mingle with locals

Locals are not accessible or available to integrate with international students. Students tend to need a small circle of support system from their home country and then get comfortable to branch out


How might we facilitate connection?

There is a need for a comfortable and low stakes environment to form weak ties with the people around them. This could be achieved by connecting locals to newcomers to the city.


Finding advice, guidance and connection in a necessary transaction of used furniture

International students often tend to purchase used furniture or household item to save money. This act does not need to be merely a transactional purchase. Using Curio, buyers are nudged to connect with the seller interpersonally, to get advice about their lived experiences in the city.

Comfort & confidence through intermixed cultural facts

Through the product listing of used home goods, Curio primes students to think they are one step closer to a warm & comfy home. Cultural facts are intermixed in between product listing which give international subtle cues on how things work in this new environment they are in. These could range from telling them about the different time zones, being aware of black ice during winters or remembering to pull on the yellow chain in the bus!

Product listing screen.png

Leveraging storytelling in an otherwise plain product description

A seed for conversation and connection is obfuscated behind what-could-be a bland product description. Sellers are prompted to include a story about their history with the product. Interesting, funny and inspiring stories are always a great conversation starter, specially when meeting someone new.

Product Description screen.png

Using hobbies as a conversation starter

The Curio chat primes buyers to ask for advice from the seller based on their hobbies. Sellers add a few tags in their profile to indicate their areas of hobbies, interest and expertise to serve as a conversation starter and facilitate the sharing of stories and recommendations

Chat screen.png

Designing for Subtle Storytelling

Design Process

Product Listing 2.png

This project taught me that experience design should keep in mind user's existing mental models. Designing a marketplace meant that user's had certain expectations for the interface. When we added the story-like narrative description, users often overlooked it, thinking it was noise. We moved towards more subtle nudges to rather than completely straying away from the traditional marketplace look and feel.

My team and I tested design concepts before testing UI designs. Rather than jumping into Figma, my team and I held a concept testing session where we places two bowls for purchase, one with a story and one with just a plain description. This helped us uncover user behaviors and expectations more clearly.

Group 1863.png

Through my process, I learned that user interviews about vulnerable topics can always benefit from interactive activities to set the stage for directed storytelling: Asking users to open up about a touchy subject like homesickness was hard at first which is why we leveraged the metaphors activity, which served as a means to surface the reasoning behind certain emotions and past experiences


Design Showcase and Feedback


International Student

“Love the narrative-as-connection idea! What a gift! I would have found this as a useful and meaningful way to connect when I first arrived here”

International Student

“I really empathize with the concept as an international student. Appreciate the idea of a conversation starter when meting new people!”

Persuasive Design Professor

Your progress from conceptual to experiential prototyping was well-planned, and you took particular care to create testing materials that would get as close to the authentic experience of your app

UX Design | A reimagined marketplace to alleviate homesickness 

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