The Challenge |

How might we get Brooklyn-based folks to share the tools they need to do household maintenance, repairs or creative projects?


People living in Brooklyn might want to do something that requires a tool or appliance they don’t have or don’t have the space for. They sometimes decide to forgo the project because they don’t have the tool, the space to store the tool or the money to buy the tool. Instead of buying a new tool, design a digital solution that helps Brooklyn-based people share their tools.

Can people create community, share resources and knowledge with other Brooklyn-based folks? For the purposes of this research, tools are defined as something used to perform general household maintenance or repair and kitchen tools. Examples include, power tools, a ladder, and an immersion blender - tools that can be moved with relative ease. It excludes major appliances that require installation like a dishwasher. The practicality of being able to share and transport tools is also a reason this project is Brooklyn based. This is a self-directed project done under the supervision of the CUNY UX Design Program.

My Process


Research: the data collection

Data collection began with emailed surveys to screen for eligible participants and to gather basic information. It was followed by interactive research using video chats, and when possible, in-person interviews to apply observational research. What tools and appliances do people have and where are they storing them? People were able to show me the types of projects and repairs they’re working on in real time.

I conducted 15 minute interviews and forumlated questions aimed at addressing these research goals:

  • Learn about peoples' current behaviors and motivations around sharing tools
  • Discover what tools and appliances people want or need
  • Discover what people do when they don't have the tools they need
  • Identify the opportunities for futher exploration

Define: Lacking tools is a problem

affinity map
Affinity Map

Firstly, I had to validate the underlying problem space. I used affinity mapping to begin synthesizing the data from the interviews. Do users lack tools to do household repairs, maintenance and creative projects? Yes... yes, they do.

Pain Points

data entry
Storage Space
Lack of Knowledge

All users named tools they want or need and don’t have. These pain points are sourced primarily from a lack of storage space and money. Users discussed a general lack of space in “tiny NYC apartments” and specifically a lack of kitchen counter space. Similarly, users discussed a lack of money at different parts of their user journey. Home repairs are incomplete because they lack the money to buy the tools. Users don't like having to pay money to others to do a home repair and expressed interest in learning how to do those tasks themselves, but again, named money as a barrier to acquiring that knowledge. Finally, users talked about how the traditional private business model can lead to wastefulness. They'd like room to experiment with new tools without committing to buying them.

No Space Nazia

I don't have the space to store any tool at any given time.
Laura Laqui
Laura Laqui

What a Waste William

I don’t want to buy new pots and pans first and then figure out I don’t like to cook. What a waste!

Room for Experimentation Raina

Home Depot is not designed to let people experiment. It’s not like a library. A library has books. Don’t like this book? Return it. There’s less risk.
Laura Laqui

Ideation: looking at the Commons

To address user pain points and the opportunities for solution, I looked at different sharing models, particularly the commons.

Commoners are focused on reclaiming their “common wealth.” They view resources as shared, commonly protected and maintained rather than marketed and privatized. An alternative to our current economy, commoning might be viewed as an ecology that focuses on use rather than exchange.

Brooklyn Tool Commons
Source: Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture Studio Fall 2017

When it comes to tools, I've seen examples of commoning's practical application in the form of tool libraries. Generally, tools are stored in one location where tools are checked in and out. They are largely volunteer-run organizations.

Inspired by commoning, I came up with a digital solution called, The Brooklyn Tool Commons. It's similar to existing tool libraries, but physically decentralized. Each user is responsible for the tools when they are in their possession. Knowing that a lack of money was a reoccuring pain point, the cost of space in a city as expensive as New York couldn't be apart of the MVP. This allows for scalablity. Acquring space isn't a barrier to getting started. It also lightens the load of maintenance, which follows commoning principles of collective management and care.

Prototype. Validate. Iterate.

Prototyping design solutions to validate and iterate on my designs is critical. I ideated on my own and shared my ideas with fellow UX designers. I began sketching and moved on to low and mid-fideltity prototypes in Adobe XD.
Early Sketches

Brooklyn Tool Commons

Usability Testing

Through testing I gained valuable feedback to improve and iterate my designs. I conducted two rounds of testing with five users and three UX designers. Each person was given a user scenario and task. Feedback included using a darker font and visibility of system status.

What became clear and critical after the first round of user testing was that I focused heavily on the borrower user type. The project required more research on lenders. Who are they? What are their motivations and behaviors? I went back to users and conducted more interviews focused on those questions. With a more balanced perspective of the two main user types, borrowers and lenders, I outlined their current user flows to inform and iterate ideation and prototyping.
Brooklyn Tool Library

Brooklyn Tool Library

The Final Product

Guided by the user research, my focus was creating a web-based tool to support systems of mutual aid and community. Some suggested looking at sharing economy models like Airbnb or Uber for this project, but I didn't want to approach the internet as capitalism's new marketplace of ideas, as so many often do. Offering a "solution" with this market-oriented perspective of the internet to problems that capitalism caused in the first place is not a actually a solution. In these models, genorisity and mutual aid are monetized and appropriated for company profit, and users are often undercompensated and unprotected labor. Rather, I tried to design a solution grounded in:

  • Contribution instead of exchange
  • Actual use instead of property
  • Share all that you can
  • Use all that you need

Next steps for future design sprints are to validate the kinds of structure that can be helpful for target users and create a high-fidelity prototype for development.