Personal project | 2015 | Barter Economy App

The Impossible UX Challenge

A barter economy is when services are bartered for other services. Many startups have tried creating one and failed. In fact, a barter economy economically and socially makes little sense. 

The 3 Challenges:

1. Lack of Common Measure of Value

Goods and services are not fungible. That is, there is no way to determine whether one item is equivalent to another, at least, not without great difficulty.

2. Coincidence of Wants

Barter transactions can be possible only when two persons desiring exchange of commodities should have such commodities which are mutually needed by each other. It is very difficult to find such persons where there is coincidence of wants.

3. Fractional Values

If two people need each other’s services, it is unlikely they will need each other for the same amount of time.


Competitor research

I emailed the founder of FavorTree to see why he thought his startup failed.

Explaining Daniel’s Concerns

Here are the two issues that Daniel said happened with his app.

  1. Time-Bank Currency was insufficient

To point out the obvious, and frame it academically- FavorTree was trying to create a socialist economy. In other words, everyone’s work was valued equally, and the skilled probably felt cheated by this. For this reason, it makes sense that the time-bank currency was insufficient.

2. Friction in transactions

Similarly, it can be very hard to value time. In real life, the US Dollar has been flushed out and people have a good sense of what the currency means. However, when a new currency is introduced it could prove to be difficult. In the end, learning from FavorTree, creating this product as purely transactional is destined to fail.

Addressing Daniel’s Recommendations

Daniel provided several recommendations in his email. Here they are and my take on them:

  1. Notoriety outside of the product

There will never be notoriety outside of a product like this. There is the real world, and then there is the game. Nobody is going to go put on their Linkedin that they have a certain status in a random app. MAYBE if the app is worth billions of dollars, people might start caring about a certain status… but until then, it’s out of the question.

2. Game-like Novelty

I assume Daniel means very explicit game-like novelty, unlike Yu Kai Chou’s definition of game-like thinking. Either abiding to Daniel’s [assumed] definition or Yu Kai Chou’s definition of game-like novelty… there is truth. In order to create a fun little world, filled with community and higher meaning, one cannot simply put together points and badges, and expect this game to be successful. No, this game must be nuanced. This game must carefully thought out. Like any other game, it will be successful or unsuccessful according to the actual design not merely the value proposition. We know that people need help, and they are willing to return the favor- but there cannot be friction in the game- it is a game that must make sense.

3. Sponsored real world transactions

My first impulse is to staunchly disagree. The whole point of the app is that it is a game outside of the real world. Once outside influences start affecting the game, it will corrupt it. However, this may be clinging to the idea of “game” too much. In the end, this “game” is a means to an end to real-life benefits. For example, if I need web design help, I don’t care about the game… I want help. Meshing this

User Research

I asked a series of questions to friends, family members, and people in my office. These graphs are answers to some of the questions.



After learning about the user,

Paper prototypes

Sister Test – 3 min

About 3 minutes. Checkout like 5 seconds… my sister is a star.

Mom Test – 5 min

The “Mom Test” is the ultimate test of usability. Read more about it here.

Wireframe Logic

Home Page

This was by far the hardest interface to build. Here are 11 of the many considerations I took.

1. A larger picture

2. “Connect” instead of message

3. Response Rate

4. Hours ago posted

5. Drop down for status, but not for profile

6. Open area on the right side of the profile area

7. Pictures for badges, next to the explanation of why there is a badge

8. Self-Evaluation score for their skill

9. Amount of reviews

10. These are placed in card format

11. “Status” was the word chosen

Profile View

The profile view is important because Swap is largely a social networking app. At the end of the day, people will only collaborate with someone if they think they would be cool to work with. Therefore, it is important that the entire page shows social interaction instead of skill levels. This is why total swaps, and faces of the people, amount of comments, and badges are included. In addition, it is why the picture is so large, and takes more real estate than any other item on the page. Badges and levels will be based on how much others like them.

The best way to think of this page is that this is a website to make friends. Location, name, resume, skill level…  all important; but not the center of the profile.

News Feed

This pageis completely unnecessary. However, it is part of the game. The whole point of the game is that this is a community and people are becoming friends. Therefore, the interface of this page mimics a dating website where it would show that two people became a connection. The language says that they “helped each other” instead of swapping services.


After some exploration, users need to use the app in a functional way. They are shown why and how to fill out information. Here are some considerations I took.

1. Friendly tone

2. There is no other option but to press the area

3. There is a clear arrow pointing

4. There are no distractions

5. The user is not “forced” to touch the button, but it feels like a choice because they are choosing to go to that particular page.

Final Product: Digital Prototype

Video of prototype is 1 minute. 1 minute that will blow your mind.