Search Experience


Textbook prices rose 88% from 2006 to 2016. Students who cannot afford such high prices need to rely on alternative means. NextDorm is a donation-based textbook loan program, i.e., students can find free and affordable books on their college campus. Presently, the program has helped students save over $100k, and is implemented at 1 college. I helped design the online search experience to accommodate other colleges implementing the program.


3 weeks



Biniyam Asnake - Founder, NextDorm, Software Engineer
Adhvik Madhav - UX Design Lead


Following a Literature Review and gathering student feedback, we defined our project goals. To help students find and compare free textbooks available on campus. Taking inspiration from some of the famous search portals, we had frequent discussions on how to design the search experience. We recently tested our prototype and are making improvements.


Insights from Literature Review

College students are squeezed by a variety of financial pressures, college tuition and fees, living expenses, and course material like textbooks. Students are borrowing more than ever before.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, over a period of 2006-2016, college tuition has increased by 62% while textbook prices have increased by 88%!

  • Students are spending ~$500 on textbooks annually.

Why not switch to digital sources?

Students overwhelmingly continue to rely on purchased materials, as 83% purchased at least one unit during the 2017-18 academic term. In a research study conducted in 2015, 57.4% of students surveyed indicated that they preferred print textbooks over digital versions.

  • According to the National Association of College Stores(NACS), when purchasing course materials, 63% of students reported buying new print, 56% bought used print, and 25% bought digital.

  • Due to increasing costs, students are finding alternative free means to get their hands on material. Nearly 20% of students managed to obtain free course material.

What students have to say

" They expect us to then have all of these books immediately, I don’t think that’s necessarily fair, especially for low-income students. "

" I’ve definitely split three ways with two other people and we just shared a textbook because it was cheaper for us to do that. "

" I can't afford these expensive books that I feel will never be opened in class. Looking for alternatives is my only option now and takes up quite a bit of time. "

What if there was a search tool as simple as Google search?


Homepage personalized for your college

View statistics and student testimonials based on your selected college.

All the information you need

We have carefully designed the search results so that you have all the required information before checkout.

Reserve directly at checkout

Fill in your student details and send in your reservation emails directly at checkout.



A college textbook loan program (or textbook rental service) offers textbooks to students at no cost. More specifically, a donation-based approach means the school collects the books from its students. NextDorm is a web app that helps students find and reserve books on their campus.

  • The program collects used textbooks from graduating students and students who don't need them anymore.

  • The books are then cataloged and made available for renting at the beginning of a semester.

  • New students can search on the web app, evaluate different options, and choose the most convenient one.

  • At the end of the semester, these rented textbooks are given back only to be rented out again the following semester.

Student's Journey

We mapped out a typical experience based on student expectations. Being students ourselves gave us an inside perspective while creating this map. Pain points are plotted in areas where we think the process may get confusing.


Landing page Inspiration

There are four necessary components to build an effective landing page - great navigation, great value proposition, great Call to Action, and captivating graphics. Here are some of the pages we looked at.


This site has a great navigation. There are many links, but overall, it doesn't seem overwhelming. It has a simple and linear call to action. Users are shown their current location and can immediately change if it is incorrect.


The clean and minimal approach really appealed to me. Users get an idea of what the site offers and can immediately interact with it. The tabs feature is a great way to compartmentalize different sections of the site.

Call to Action (Search functionality)

Probably the most important element of our site. Students should instinctively click on the search bar and type their search query. We sketched out a couple of ideas, combined the most promising features, and created mock-ups for the same.

Idea 1


  • Two tabs to split the site into different sections.

  • College drop down and search bar are immediate. No visual noise surrounding our CTA.


  • No search suggestions, no prompts to help students find their books.

  • Search button may not be obvious.

Idea 2


  • Added popular searches to speed up the process.

  • I split up the input box and the search button. Reduced mental load.


  • The two tab system may be redundant, increases complexity of the experience.

  • Admin link doesn't need to be here. Maybe in the footer?


  • I removed the tabs and added popular searches to our wireframe. The search button was ultimately removed, we trust our users are familiar with this style.

  • This wire frame was created in FIgma, which allows easy reviews and changes remotely.

Hi-Fi Mockup

  • Creating the illustration was tricky, we wanted to convey a sense of community and sharing of books.

  • After 2-3 illustrations, we decided that this represents the closest in value.

Search Results

Each college had multiple collection centers, and each center its own catalog of books. Most of the books were free, but few of them were paid. Students were given various options for the same book and could even buy from other students. Representing all this information on a single card proved to be extremely challenging for me.


  • Each source of a particular book got its own card, i.e. if there were 3 sources, there would be 3 cards on the list.

  • We differentiate 'FREE' and 'PAID' books using color coding, and simple text for people with color blindness.

  • Each card had the title, author, availability, and the price of the book.


  • We were really confident about our approach and decided to proceed with wireframing. As stated previously, 2 sources implies 2 cards.

  • Pickup instructions and Student seller contact information were secondary and thus, provided in a drop-down card.

Hi-Fi Mockup 1


  • Information on the card can be represented in a better layout. The price differentiation is not conspicuous enough.

  • Typographical hierarchy is off. Cards can be squeezed together more efficiently.

Hi-Fi Mockup 2

  • After a long brainstorming session, we decided on a few changes to the layout. ISBNs and Prices are better highlighted. More room is given books with long titles.

  • Instructions drop-down button follows a standard convention. The cards have been pushed together. Overall, each card occupies less screen space than before, with the same amount of information.


College drop-down was frequently overlooked

Students are used to searching immediately and felt the drop-down button did not have enough importance. They did not know to select their campus first before typing in the query.

It made sense to split up the process into two steps.

Step 1: Choose campus

  • All colleges that have implemented the program will be listed here.

  • Students can find their campus and proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Type in search query

  • The tagline changes dynamically to show the selected campus.

  • Students can continue to type in their search query without missing any crucial steps.

Students did not feel confident about the textbook availability status

Students weren't sure if the list was updated in real-time. The number of available copies maybe last week's update, leaving students confused about making the trip to the pickup center.


  • Students had no idea if the number of available books displayed was real time.

  • This is a problem as books may be ready for pickup but the student is not sure if he/she will get it.


  • We decided to include a status update above the list. This status shows the date and time the list was last updated.

  • With this small but significant change, we can provide some level of assurance that the student will get his/her books.


  • We wanted to understand student searching habits to better design our 'popular searches' feature. Thanks to previous search logs recorded by Biniyam, we observed that students searched for general topics like 'Economics' and 'History' rather than full book titles. ISBNs were also a preferred method for searching.

  • Our target audience is extremely large. This makes it easier for us to conduct quick and dirty usability tests like with our first iteration. It is highly likely that students all across the country are facing the same problems, and hence, the potential for expansion is limitless.

  • I've been considering the challenges that may crop up by implementing this program at my university, which is one of the largest universities in the country. It is difficult to comprehend whether the benefits outweigh the efforts required to set it up.

Minimizing 'Margin of Error'

Consider this scenario - 'A student requires a book immediately, searches for the book, sees that it is available for pickup at a center. But, by the time they reach the center, another student has already picked it up'. We acknowledge that this a possibility, even with the last updated status, and term this as 'Margin of error'.

This can be minimized further when a DBMS based platform is set up and students can reserve their books before visiting the center.