Helping parents find free second-hand

children's books, right in their neighborhood

My Role: User Researcher, UX & Product Designer


The Problem

Reading is a beloved bonding experience between a parent and child, and it’s an experience that I have a personal connection with having a young child of my own, whom I read with every day.

Not only is reading a beloved bonding experience, but it also has a great impact on a child’s social, language, and literacy skills beginning at birth. Parents are fully aware of this impact which makes sharing, exchanging, and giving away their children’s books a very common activity among parents. However, there’s no opportunity for parents to do this outside their inner circle of friends and family.

The Solution

I created a location-based mobile app that makes it easy for parents to search, give, and receive free

second-hand children’s books with other parents in their neighborhood, while simultaneously building a sense of community through shared reading experiences.



households with children under the age of 18


households with children under the age of 6

Source: The United States Census Bureau,

households and families American community survey

Opportunities Emerged

In order to start coming up with a solution, I began framing the problem space into How Might We questions. This allowed me to broadly think of a solution without focusing on something too specific. I came up with a few different HMW questions as part of my solution process, but these were the two that really helped drive my solution forward:

1.   How might we make searching

for second-hand children’s books

more appealing to parents?

2.   How might we inspire parents

to give away their child's unwanted books to another family to enjoy?


Synthesized Research


I created an online survey to learn about my target user’s behaviors around reading with their child and their access to children’s books around their neighborhood. The survey was sent out via social media and was directed at parents who have children between ages 0-12yrs. I would have preferred to reach a wider range of demographics, but due to time constraints, my sample size was more limited.


In order to dive deeper into my target user’s behaviors and their challenges in finding books for their children, I conducted 7 semi-structured interviews with parents who responded to my survey and were willing to further discuss the topic with me. 


In an ideal world I would shop at an independent bookstore, but with two kids it's hard to find the time and we don’t have any in our neighborhood.

I want to know how another family enjoyed the book and what values it added.

Before I get rid of a book I’llI try to first look for someone else who might enjoy it.

I think it's hard to find books at the library because it’s cluttered when kids have been in there.






100% of participants use a smartphone as their primary device when searching for children’s books.

72% of participants do not use an e-book or e-reader of any kind, but all said they prefer a physical book over an e-book/e-reader.​

One of the biggest motivators why participants read with their child is to reduce screen time at home (i.e., television & tablets.)

To my surprise, a major pain point that participants encounter when trying to find children’s books is the inconvenience of getting to a library, and the lack of knowledge by librarians.


I synthesized the interview results with affinity mapping to identify and group related themes. Yellow labels are interview quotes, orange labels are insights, and blue labels are characterizations.






Knowing what another parent is reading to their child is important:

Parents prefer book recommendations from other parents. They’re already seeking out reviews and recommendations online by other parents to see what other parents are reading to their kids and what’s age-appropriate. 

Not everything is about making a profit:

Parents feel good about passing on their child's book to someone else for free, so they’ll enjoy it. They also don’t want to deal with any kind of cash or money transaction.

Defining The Users

To get a better sense of whom I was designing, I further synthesized the interview results and came up with the following two personas as my primary and secondary users:


Task Flows


With my user personas in mind, I reframed their goals, motivations, and frustrations into user stories from their point of view and mapped out two common task flows. This kept me focused on the core functionalities of the app.

TASK 1 - I want to see what free children’s books are available nearby so that I can easily arrange to pick one up.

TASK 2 - I want to post a listing of my child's unwanted book so that I can give it away nearby for someone else to enjoy.


I drew out sketches of these functionalities to make sure the framework I derived made sense. I also conducted guerilla usability testing using my sketches as a prototype.



I conducted 4 usability tests with my target users, parents. I gave them the following tasks to complete in a sequence, the goal was to spot usability issues in my framework. When a user encountered a usability issue I entered it into a results matrix with a difficulty rating, so I knew what areas needed improvement as I began  wireframing.


  • Task 1: View a book listing

  • Task 2: Message the book lister

  • Task 3: Filter/sort your book feed

  • Task 4: Save a filter

  • Task 5: Create and post a book listing

  • Task 6: Edit your location

  • Task 7: View your saved books

  • Task 8: View your listing history

Low-Fidelity Wireflows

After gathering the results from my usability testing, I mapped out the underlying UX of critical screens for each of the task flows with low fidelity wireframes. This helped me focus on the experience and needs of my users before moving onto the visuals.



Bookdrop did not require a full design system but it needed a visual language to keep things consistent across all the elements in the app. The UI consists of a neutral, two-toned grey and white color scheme with the exception of green and yellow signifiers. Using color sparingly throughout the application's interface allows for the books to be the focus point during user engagement.


I moderated two rounds of usability tests with my high fidelity prototype, I tested a total of 8 target users (4 users in each round.) I reviewed what was necessary, unnecessary, and made design improvements accordingly. Below are my final design considerations.

Quick, Simple Filter

All my users said age group is most important when searching for children's books because they want to read at the appropriate reading level with their child. I initially sketched and wireframed a more advanced filter functionality, but my user tests did not validate that idea. So, I opted for an age-only filter. 

Age and book condition are also listed on each listing thumbnail. Users said book condition is the 2nd most important piece of information about the book.

Book Details At A Glance

Users can see all the important book information to decide on a book. They can see the defined book condition, a note from the lister about how they enjoyed the book with their child, the book's approximate location on a map, and a timeline of the book's previous ownership. Users can also tap into the lister's profile to see their current listings. 

List Books In A Snap

Users can list their children's books with minimal input. Upload a photo or two, select the pre-defined condition and age group, input number of pages, and write a note about their experience with the book. If their listing contains more the one book they can select the bundle toggle which highlights this on the listing.

In-App Messaging

If a user is interested in a specific children's book they can simply message the book lister straight from the book listing to arrange for a pick-up or drop-off in their neighborhood.


Users can quickly change their location from the book feed by using geolocation or inputting their zip code. This repopulates the book feed with the nearest available children's books.

Manage Listings

Users can view, edit and delete their book listings, and see their past listings.


Users can keep track of their messages between books they're giving away and receiving. 

Verified Reviews

To build trust, users who have given away or received a book from another user can leave a star rating based on different categories.


As a reading enthusiast with my 5-year-old son, working on Bookdrop felt very rewarding. Bookdrop is a great concept that I feel all families can benefit from. Every part of my solution and design process came from input from my intended users, so it was a great lesson in not leaving anything up for assumption but to address the users' real needs and frustrations. I'm confident I have a design that is backed by my findings and insights.

I'm a UX & product-focused designer with experience making things simple and obvious. I have a background in art direction and motion graphics, so I'm well versed in all aspects of visual design. My areas of expertise include user experience, design thinking and problem-solving.

© 2020 by Eric Meller. All rights reserved.