User Research

Zillow Usability Test

My wife and I recently had a baby and have been considering buying a bigger place. There are a couple real-estate apps out there, and Zillow is one of the most well-known—but we both had some issues using it. I wondered if anyone else was having similar issues.

I decided to conduct a usability test.

I identified a few UX challenges, but I ultimately focused on two (more on why below): filtering and the price slider. Here’s an example:

Here’s how I went about my test.


  • Observe users interacting with the Zillow iOS app.
  • Identify user experience challenges.
  • Categorize and then prioritize those issues.
  • Explore alternative design solutions.
  • Validate changes with additional user feedback.

Observe: Interview and Tasks

I interviewed seven people (although really just five people will help you discover 93% of what is possible to discover). A friend videoed each of these interviews, as users navigated and narrated their experiences.

I asked users to perform two tasks:

Imagine you’re in the market for a new house. You can afford something up to $900k and you’re looking in San Francisco. Can you show me how you would find a place in that range?

Then I adjusted the scenario:

You just found out you just won the lottery and can spend $5M! You also really like places right around our current location. How would you adjust your search?

Afterward, I wrote down insights from each interview. Each participant got a different color sticky so I could track who had which issues.

I saw issues like this:

Synthesize and Prioritize issues

Next, I categorized challenges in order to identify any common issues.

A couple of patterns emerged, some specific and some more general.

Next, I prioritized the issues. I put each issue on a 2×2 matrix that mapped importance to the business and to the user.

USMO: Users / Situations / Motivations / Outcomes

In order to understand the context in which someone uses the Zillow app, I applied a modified version of the Jobs to be Done framework, USMO. This helps to break down user motivations and desired outcomes and understand why someone uses the app — what are they trying to achieve?

For the sake of this exercise, I narrowed down motivations to one primary one:

Persona & Scenario


I also looked at a 2016 National Association of Realtors (NAR) survey, which provides demographic data about home-buyers, such as income and marital status.

I used USMO and the data to create a proto-persona to represent a common Zillow user: Jared. Then I created a related scenario.


Jared is looking for a house with his wife. They are expecting a baby and want more space for themselves and their dog. They aren’t sure what they can afford or where to look, so they use Zillow to browse by a variety of criteria. Based on what they find, they prioritize their criteria and create a list of houses to start looking at.

A related task flow is shown to the right.

Exploring alternative solutions

Lo-Fi Sketches

With a good sense of user challenges and intended objectives, I began to consider alternative solutions. The easiest place to start is on paper.

Prototyping and Validation

From paper, I moved to Sketch. And once I had updated designs, I created a clickable prototype, in this case using Marvel.

Comparing Before and After:

Validation Testing

How effective were my changes? I asked seven more people to perform the same tasks with my prototype. This time, I observed none of the issues I had previously.


Zillow may have had other reasons for the decisions they made; as an outsider, it’s hard to know. But a combination of testing and industry experience suggests that these changes would improve UX: increasing app engagement (time spent) as well as total searches completed.

Even big companies with talented teams have room for improvement!