The Coliving (R)evolution: Design Thinking, Growth-Driven Design & Technology

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The following article has been included in the fifth edition of Coliving Insights - Co-Tech: Innovating Coliving with Technology. Download your full copy of the publication by clicking this link.

Coliving has a (r)evolutionary nature from its conception: for being centered in building community and fostering human connection instead of benefiting from individualism and ownership notions, for having sustainable principles embedded in its DNA and for understanding and factoring in current and future societal needs, coliving is not only a disruptive trend, but an adaptable and transformative force as a business concept. It is no coincidence that coliving gained traction during the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) which is now in progress. In fact, both concepts are profoundly intertwined.


The Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Coliving

The World Economic Forum defines the 4IR as a combination of technologies that are “blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres”. Technology now connects billions of people and every new breakthrough has an exponential impact on entire systems of production, management and governance. The impact of the 4IR has created a new type of consumer, thirsty for engagement, transparency, online access and personalised services and products. This has a transformative effect especially in customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation and on organisational forms (i.e. division of labor). To accommodate all these changes, new business models and global platforms - combining customer experience, data-based services and asset management supported by effective analytics - are emerging all around the world.

The coliving industry, as we know, was born within the 4IR and continues to be fuelled by its impacts in global society. Due to its nature, coliving brings humanity back to its most deeply-rooted and essential needs, and has an inherent understanding of the value of experiences and human connections. To thrive in today’s experience and data-driven world, coliving companies need to keep up with its innovative nature and embrace technology so it can further develop, scale and help consolidate coliving as an asset class. Not just for coliving, but for any other industries looking to grow and evolve, adopting integrated tech solutions is not a matter of if anymore, it’s a matter of how.

Innovative operators are already developing proprietary tech that is empowering coliving and drawing attention within the sector. Before its acquisition by Starcity, Ollie had created its own suite of solutions to deliver hospitality services, foster community engagement and even facilitate roommate matching. Ollie's platform, which increased both the resident and overall community experience, includes the integration of multiple third party tools such as property management, housekeeping, payments and more. Common has also developed its own platform that works as a centralised hub for Common members including events, news, perks, community and a member directory. Through Connect by Common members can stay up to date with social gatherings and even create their own events.  The app also allows members to message each other through home-based groups.

Following Ollie’s and Common’s examples, the coliving industry needs to take advantage of tech innovations in order to tend to people’s needs, continue creating opportunities and build sustainable business models; however, it is imperative that the sector remains responsive to the consequent challenges that these disruptive advancements can have in our lives. For its focus on building community, coliving has an even bigger responsibility towards society when implementing transformative technology. Due to this focus and the facilitation of human connections, digital solutions need to be consciously implemented to augment and amplify human interactions, activities, group and individual capabilities, otherwise it will diverge from the sector’s main purpose. 

So we know that coliving needs tech, but how can we make sure to adopt the right tech solutions? How can businesses know that they are implementing technology that will embody the human nature of coliving?


Design thinking: how to adopt human-centric tech to build an efficient and sustainable coliving business

Tech innovations offer coliving businesses a revolutionary potential to enhance community experience and connections, to optimise operations, empower management through data-based decision making, increase engagement with industry stakeholders and showcase the sector's maturity and credibility. However, to reap the benefits from the coliving tech revolution, companies need to be able to identify the right kind of tech that can support their goals. To attend to the coliving industry’s specific purposes, the best route to a tech transformation is taken via a user-centred approach to solving problems. The ideal methodology to carry out that approach is known as ‘Design Thinking’.

Design thinking is a human-centric approach to problem solving that combines intense collaboration with strategies such as mapping customer journeys, surveying, concept creation and prototyping. A design thinking process starts with gathering insights, then defining users’ pain points and the ideation phase follows through with a diligent brainstorming effort that addresses users needs; ultimately leading to a prototyping phase. The last part of the process involves critical testing that assesses if the chosen prototype meets the defined goals, and then finally, implementing the solution in a way that genuinely serves the needs of different stakeholders.

The undisputable value of this methodology lies in its evolving character that allows for a dynamic adjustment of the service and product offering according to demand shifts, while also enabling the integration of new purpose-driven tech solutions. The knowledge gathered and the flexibility offered by design thinking empowers coliving businesses to better understand and swiftly enhance residents’ quality of living. The goal is to facilitate memorable living experiences through human-centric tech by optimising the product and cutting down on complex processes that can be onerous to both operators and users.


Growth-Driven Design: sustainability through organic, data-driven and efficient solutions

Design thinking can help build sustainable coliving businesses models from the very beginning and may be enhanced by other methodologies, such as ‘Growth-Driven Design (GDD)’. Most of coliving users’ first impression of a business is based on their online presence (social media, website and other channels), which makes it of utmost importance to keep it appealing and functional. GDD is an agile development and design enhancement process that is smarter and more efficient than traditional web platform development, as it is based on intentional increments supported by data. This method minimises risks by adding continuous small improvements to a web platform through testing, observing and analysing real data.

GDD allows you to adapt your digital tools according to your companies’ current needs and goals. Through this methodology it is possible to seamlessly grow a website from an informative landing page for stakeholders at a B2B level to a fully operational and functional platform with a booking system and elevated online tenant experience. GDD can be applied to any website, but how you apply it depends on your business goals. For example, for real estate and coliving, GDD can build an audience and analysis-driven website that is prepared to be modified based on lead conversions and ongoing analysis of users’ needs. In a nutshell, GDD is an iterative, user-focused, always optimised approach to building a digital product. 

The benefits to the overall digital experience and product development through GDD are plenty: digital strategies, websites, apps and other digital products are quicker to launch, more cost-effective and, by harvesting valuable data, they empower decision making, improve marketing and sales strategies as well as provide elevated user experiences. The GDD process is divided into three stages: strategy, launch pad and continuous improvement. The first determines what the company seeks to accomplish, maps personas, user journeys and establishes goals. The second implements the most relevant goals by building a foundation that will be improved over time according to collected data. The third and most important phase consists in a continuous collection and analysis of results to refine and improve the digital product and experience based on learnings.


Why Spatial Experience believes in Design Thinking and Growth-Driven Design to grow coliving

Technologies can feel overwhelming, but with the right methodologies to implement and design them, and the proper support, they can empower coliving businesses and help them reach beyond their goals. A human-centric perspective to technology fundamentally increases business efficiency. Adopting methods such as design thinking and GDD enables coliving businesses to grow gradually and well informed, making strategic steps, preventing overspending and thus achieving higher ROI over time. Most importantly, it allows for operators and decision makers to focus more time and resources on nurturing community and connections, which is what makes coliving an impactful living solution. 

Spatial Experience has been working with design thinking and GDD for several years, so we have utilised these methodologies to both understand and identify the need of implementing and embracing better, more native, human-centered, comprehensible and functional digital and technological solutions for our clients within specialist real estate sectors.

Having worked within specialist real estate for almost a decade, Spatial Experience has helped coliving operators implement smart technologies with terrific outcomes to both internal management processes and user experience. By harvesting industry knowledge through our SPX Lab R&D platform, and through the expertise brought up by serving key players in student housing/PBSA and shared living sectors via SPX Agency, Spatial Experience has become the innovation partner with the most exclusive expertise in the shared living industry. From the combination of SPX Lab knowledge and SPX Agency know-how, SPX Studio was born, a startup studio and venture builder focused specifically on bridging the digital and real world by delivering ready-to-use solutions for real estate and urban environments.

SPX Studio's most recent venture, Digital Estate, was created to bring the much-needed digital transformation to the specialist real estate sector.  Our desire is to help the industry better adapt to technological advancements and embrace digital solutions that can empower sustainable growth. With Digital Estate, Spatial Experience is taking part in the tech (r)evolution and actively bringing innovation to specialist real estate. We strongly believe that when coliving embraces technology in its full power, it will exponentially change the way we live. How long will you wait until you join the coliving tech (r)evolution?

Key Takeaways

Coliving is not just a real estate revolution but a societal (r)evolution in its own right. Technology is a key cog in this process, allowing coliving to bring people together in ways other sectors simply cannot. In our most recent SPX Lab  article we explain how, by applying methodologies like Design Thinking and Growth-Driven Design, technology can take on a human-centric nature - a perfect compliment to the human-centric essence of coliving - and forever change real estate itself.

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