Settle: An Online Marketplace for the Exchange of Used Goods during Life Transitions

Service Design for Life Transitions

A digital platform that facilitates the easy exchange of goods during life transitions by streamlining sale for sellers and providing valuable context for buyers.


  • Collaborative Project with Lisa Otto, Saumya Kharbanda and Chris Feng
  • Service Design Studio, Spring 2016 (Instructor: Molly Steenson)
  • My Role: Design Research, Interview Facilitation, Service Mapping, Copywriting
  • Credit: Visual Design by Saumya Kharbanda

The Concept

Life transitions are hard, for everyone. From the birth of a first child, to graduation from college, to downsizing for retirement, each new phase of life brings challenges and uncertainty. While some of this is unavoidable, the stress of knowing what to buy, or getting rid of things that no longer serve this new phase of life, doesn't have to be one of them.

Settle is on online marketplace designed to facilitate the easy exchange of second-hand goods during life transitions by streamlining sale for sellers and providing context for buyers. While existing services are designed to serve either the buyer or the seller, none cater their service experience to each distinct user. That's where Settle comes in. 

Settle's unique value proposition is in building mutual benefit for both buyers and sellers during the particularly stressful period of a significant life transition. This is achieved through a series of well-considered digital interactions that take into account the unique needs of each user.


Streamlined Upload & Listing Management

Settle's ability to streamline upload and manage listings are some of its key benefits for sellers. Rather than requiring a seller to photograph and list items individually, Settle creates multiple listings from a single photo by tagging items and displaying sale information upon hover. Once an item has been sold, Settle updates the listing by removing the item's tag and frame, letting future buyers know that it is no longer available. 

CC Photos by flickr users StarsApar, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Michael Cont


Itemized Basket from Contextualized Bulk Listing

For a prospective buyer on the verge of a big life change, Settle provides important information to guide purchase decisions. The same feature that makes Settle convenient for sellers, the ability to upload multiple items within a single photo, offers the buyer valuable context. A prospective buyer can see how an experienced seller has used the items she's interested in, hover over them for more information and then select the items she wants to add to her customized basket.


In-App Payment & Transportation

Because Settle depends on a transaction fee from every purchase, the service must incentivize in-app payment. One way Settle does this is by providing easy, in-app communication around pricing. A buyer can inquire about a specific item and negotiate a final price directly via the Settle app. As further incentive to pay in-app, Settle provides free transportation with a minimum purchase and allows for easy scheduling of transportation directly from the payment confirmation page. 

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Settle as a Service

In addition to considering Settle's key digital interactions, we developed a service blueprint that outlined the various people, technology and backstage processes that would support Settle as a service. In doing this exercise, we identified several opportunities for future development of the Settle platform including customizing orders from multiple sellers, partnerships with existing delivery services and facilitating an online community to connect people at similar life phases.


Design Process

Exploratory Research + Territory Definition

This project began as an exploration into alternatives to furniture disposal. My team and I were interested in opportunities for repair as well as services to facilitate the sale or exchange of used goods.  We researched existing services, online marketplaces and local reuse and recycling initiatives. We considered several territories from repair and upholstery, to delivery and transport, to opportunities for DIY services.  

To focus our research, we first mapped out scenarios in which people shed large amounts of things, before deciding on downsizing as a key opportunity for intervention. We conducted interviews with people in the process downsizing to understand their challenges and get insight to inspire our ideation. Though we began this process thinking that logistics would be the biggest challenge, our conversations revealed that parting with emotionally valuable items was actually the hardest part of downsizing. We began to wonder how we might better support this process.

Exploring our Value Propositions

We worked with the Business Model Canvas to narrow in on a compelling value proposition around helping downsizers part with emotionally valuable items. We developed two sacrificial service concepts that represented extreme versions of these value propositions, Hoarders & Sorters and Network of Things, and from there began creating stimuli to use as material for generative research with potential users.


Generative Research

We translated these into a series of provocations that captured the service concept's key elements, such as geolocation for furniture items, couples therapy for moving and a realtor acting as an organizer. We framed these as extreme scenarios and used them in speed dating exercises with established homeowners. The goal of this exercise was to elicit strong responses from our research participants to test the limits of our assumptions, and their comfort with some of our crazier ideas.

Many of our concepts did appeal to potential users, but not in the ways we'd imagined. For example, rather than liking the concept of geo-tracking as a way to know where a beloved item was, participants were excited by the possibility of knowing who was using their items. This was particularly significant for items that reminded participants of specific phases of their lives such as their bachelor apartment or the chair that was used to rock their children to sleep. 


Shifting Our Value Proposition

This learning prompted us to shift our thinking from imagining a service to support homeowners during downsizing to facilitating the exchange of goods during life transitions. Once we'd expanded our thinking, several new new populations emerged as potential audiences for our service - new parents and parents with older children or toddlers as well as recent college graduates moving to a new city and older adults establishing a second or third home and shedding furniture.

To test this thinking, and the relevance of our imagined service to these populations, we developed a new set of generative research tools including a service-building exercise where potential customers constructed their ideal service from a series of storyboard frames. To test our assumptions that these groups would value connecting around an exchange of life phases, we presented a series of user profiles ranging from basic contact information to in-depth video profiles.

Though we were excited about opportunities for connection around the exchange of life phases during transitions, through this round of research it became clear that streamlining logistics would be the most critical element of our service. Free transportation emerged as a priority for this urban-living, car-less population.


Defining Our Service Ecosystem

With our potential customer base established, and our value proposition refined, we used a range of service design tools and methods to bring our concept to life. We mapped out stakeholders and value flows within the service ecosystem around the exchange of second-hand goods. We then created a service journey map to define the key touchpoints to prototype in evaluative research.


Evaluative Research

To test the interactions of our envisioned service, we developed wireframes for key desktop and mobile screens and prototyped them in InVision. We presented these to parents with young children for feedback on the desirability of our product and to evaluate our key digital interactions. This round of prototyping, and the ideas that surfaced, helped us to refine our concept, iterate on key digital and physical interactions and arrive at our final design solution for Settle.