IMPACT House Tokyo

Fostering meaningful experiences in a co-living space

IMPACT House, Tokyo

IMPACT House, Tokyo

Back Story

In January, I moved to Tokyo and joined IMPACT Japan  — an NPO, local hub for entrepreneurship, and host organization for TEDxTokyo. Along with daily operations the organization opened a co-living space called the IMPACT House to host innovators and members of the TEDx network from around the world.

Goals for the co-living house included:

  • Connecting guests to local innovation
  • Accelerating serendipitous meeting and collaboration among guests
  • Growing Tokyo as a global hub for innovation.


I was brought on to the project to design and implement a better guest experience. 

In my process, I looked to implement a human-centered approach to understand the needs and goals of our guests, foster meaningful interpersonal interactions and grow the IMPACT Japan network. My specific design objectives were to: 

a) Identify guest goals and major pain points

b) Define problems and test hypotheses

c) Iterate upon insights

Design Process

A) Identify Goals and Major Pain Points


During my first 6 weeks, I immersed myself in daily life in the house, observing interpersonal interactions, house culture, and guest interactions with the space. It was a priority of mine to spend as much time as I could afford at this stage of the process to better understand the design context.

User Interviews

After welcoming and building rapport with guests, I conducted a number of semi-structured and informal interviews with them to understand their experience in the house and their perceptions of our brand. 


Distilled from my interviews, I created two personas to organize and uncover patterns in guest goals, behaviors, and pain points. 

Meet Alex

Meet Tracy

Through observation, interviews, and personas, a number of initial insights emerged. 

It was clear that basic needs were met . 

Guests expressed that the house:

  • was spacious and comfortable
  • had proper amenities
  • was in an great neighborhood and geographical location

And were delighted that the co-living experience was free of charge for members. 

Beyond basic satisfaction, there were three distinct pain points that emerged. 

B) Define Problems and Test Hypotheses


1) Lack of culture

Guests often wanted to engage in the house experience but felt that there was not an established house culture to guide behavior. Guests noted that they were unsure of house goals and expectations and were unclear about how our co-living house was linked to the IMPACT Japan brand and our organizational goals. 

2) Lack of sufficient guest interaction

Guests experienced difficultly engaging others in the house and noted that they were often unaware of others staying in the space. It became clear that our guests were busy -- either away exploring Tokyo, at meetings, or working at different times throughout the day -- and serendipitous interactions between guests were not happening with high frequency.

3) Lack of access to local innovation and innovators

Guests expressed a lack of opportunity to connect with local innovators and explore local innovation. 

Note: At the time, IMPACT Japan was connecting guests with local innovators on a case to case ‘concierge-style’ basis and lacked a consistent and comprehensive way to connect guests.


After identifying these pain points, I conducted a number of brainstorming sessions, mapping potential user journeys and came up with initial hypotheses to test with guests. *Success would be assessed qualitatively through user interviews.

Addressing Culture

Hypotheses 1 & 2

I believe that a guest will better understand the House culture (and be able to clearly explain about the House to a friend)  if informed with a guide document at the beginning of their stay
I believe that a guest will better understand the House culture (and be able to clearly explain about the House to a friend) by being incorporated in a weekly, House ritual 

Solution # 1 House Guide

I designed a foldable House guide for guests to read upon arrival. The guide highlighted our organizational mission and provided useful information to get started. When thinking about the guide, I wanted to tell a concise but comprehensive story of IMPACT Japan and provide enough information that our guests could easily explain the organization's mission in one sentence. It was also important to design the guide to fit in a guest's pocket, backpack, or purse, for easy reference when they were traveling around Tokyo to reference when meeting with friends and colleagues. From the look and feel of the guide to the copy, I wanted to make our brand visible and and set the tone for our guests' stay.

Solution # 2 Friday Community Lunch

On Fridays, the IMPACT team would make lunch together.  I implemented a plan to get our House guests involved in this ritual and treat our Friday lunch as a time to share what we've been working on with our guests, learn about our guests, their own projects and their personal goals, and facilitate deeper discussion. Food brings people together and Friday lunch was a natural way to implement a collaborative, friendly environment to mix and cultivate relationships. 

Front of folded Community Guide

Folded community guide on size A4

Addressing Guest Interaction

Hypotheses 3 & 4

I believe that a guest will have met at least 1 additional guest by implementing a house mailbox system
I believe that a guest will have met at least  1 additional guest by reading and contributing to a community pin-board.

Solution #3 Room Mailboxes 

Having concluded that guests were busy and were not always in the house at the same time, I designed an alternative way for guest to meet and facilitate an initial interaction: room mailboxes. Upon arrival, I implemented a system that encouraged guests to introduce themselves to at least one other member staying in the house by leaving a note on a A6 (3x5 inch) card in another guest's mailbox. The suggested ask was for guests to say hello, write a sentence about a project they're working on and suggested a time to meet. In addition, the mailboxes also acted as a way to pass on documents from our team to guests. 

Solution #4 Community Pin Board

Upon arrival, I asked guests to look at and contribute to our community pin-board -- a cork board listing all current members living in the house and members who had recently stayed.  Guests would snap a polaroid of themselves and fill out a brief bio. The pin board acted as a visual snapshot to inform guests who else was in the house and allowed guests to view other guests they might be interested in connecting with. 


A mailbox next to the Nebuta guest room.

A mailbox next to the Nebuta guest room.

The initial prototype for the community board

The initial prototype for the community board

Addressing access to local innovation

Hypotheses 5 & 6 

I believe that guests will visit at least 2 places of local innovation in Tokyo if provided a curated list of suggestions
I believe that guests will visit at least 1 place of local innovation outside of Tokyo if provided a curated list of suggestions

Solution #5 IMPACT Japan Tokyo Guide

 I created a set of curated Tokyo guides with categories highlighting different types of local innovation. The goal was to create unique value for our guests and set the stage for unique, innovation-oriented experiences. In forming a Tokyo guide, I decided to design a set of brief, categorized guides based on different types of inspiration found in Tokyo. Categories included: make & craft, tech, media & design, architecture, and work. Guided by the insight that guests were often busy and only had a short time in Tokyo, I wanted to make an guide that was quick to browse and easy to choose from based on a guest's particular interests. I also wanted to keep the guides small in order to fit in a back pocket for easy, on-the-go reference.

Make & Craft Guide font & back size A6

Solution #6 Japan Travel Guide 

Many of our guests planned to travel after their stay in with us in Tokyo. As a way to extend the user experience beyond our house borders I prototyped a foldable travel guide of Japan that highlighted major attractions and innovation opportunities. I mapped out a northern and southern itinerary and added essential Japanese travel tips and useful phrases. I also provided our house posting address and encouraged guests to write to us and share experiences as they traveled across the country.

Folded Japan Guide back, front, & inside printed on size A4

Folded Japan Guide back, front, & inside printed on size A4


After testing my prototypes, I found that guests were most influenced by the community board and Friday community lunches. Guests immediately were attracted to the pin board. Having committed an interaction with the board (adding one's bio) activated interest and guided initial connections with other guests that effected the rest of their experience.  Guests also felt a sense of inclusion and belonging from attending Friday community lunches. Guests felt appreciated, heard, and felt they were able to build connections with others in the house. 

Room mailboxes were semi-successful. To work effectively, this prototype needed some supervision to make sure guests were making notes to meet others in the house. Often times, upon arrival, guests were tired and did not want to think about meeting others right away and neglected to write mailbox notes.

Finally, I was not able to test my Tokyo and Japan innovation guides. Nonetheless, from initial user research and team feedback, I believe the guides would be helpful to our guests and help build our brand.

Iterate upon insights

I concluded my work with IMPACT Japan in May and have returned to San Francisco, passing on my work to my IMPACT teammates for iteration and further growth.

It was exciting to have the opportunity to implement UX principles and user-centered design outside of a digital context. Over my six months working with IMPACT Japan on the IMPACT House, I was able to see behavioral changes informed by my design and improvement towards guest and organizational goals.