thesis poster
Thesis Work

Cohabitation Among Young Adults

Thesis Project / CMU / 2012-2013

My thesis work aims to understand how individuals re-negotiate both an individual and shared identity by studying cohabitation as a critical relational transition in order to design a services that help couples recognize and identify personal goals as they work together to achieve more tangible outcomes.


Needs Identification
User Research & Synthesis
Conceptual Modeling
Implications & Opportunities Identification
Concept Development

Individual Thesis Project


Jodi Forlizzi

Needs Identification

When I first started my thesis, I was interested in looking at the topic of identity, how it developed over time through our experiences and how it shifted and changed as we went through different life transitions.

I decided to center my focus on the period of emerging adulthood as this is a time many young adults start gaining independence from their own families and moving towards developing a shared identity with someone else, often laying the groundwork for the identity of a future family.
identity brainstorm

identity brainstorm

Problem Definition

Emerging adults are increasingly turning to cohabitation as a practical and necessary next step in determining long-term compatibility with their romantic partners. However, cohabitation still remains a relatively overlooked space in which notions existing at individual, relational, and systemic levels remain unclear and undefined.

There’s no clear process or role definition in place to understand what this step means for the couple and how it should unfold. And for the individuals involved, cohabitation requires them to make an ongoing negotiation with their partners as they begin to sacrifice personal aspects of their lives to merge two individual identities into one shared identity.
identity brainstorm

User Research

To further explore this space, I recruited and interviewed 15 people (7 couples and 1 individual no longer in a cohabiting relationship) and toured 8 homes around Pittsburgh.

The research process consisted of three parts:
  • 20-minute combined interview about the background of the couple’s relationship
  • In-depth individual interviews involving directed storytelling, the critical incident technique, and card sorting to reveal individual goals, challenges, and outlook
  • An in-home touchstone tour exploring how the couple merged possessions and habits in one shared space
user research

Research Findings

Ultimately, what I discovered was that along this continuum of categories, cohabitation really drove couples to merge certain aspects of their lives much more quickly and readily than others. Topics like social life, physical space, and habits and routines were among the challenges they constantly had to deal with as a couple.
user feedback

Research Synthesis

Through my research and my literature review, three distinct profiles of the couples who cohabit emerged: those who are "going to the chapel", "testing the waters", and "on the road less traveled". Each of these profiles exhibited distinct characteristics and dealt with issues that were unique to their particular situations, and on the transition from pre-cohabitation to marriage, they all sat at a different place.

At an individual level, cohabitation had an impact as well. People in these relationships were dealing with unique implications that existed at an individual level, intepersonal level (within the relationship), and at a broader intersystemic level.
cohabitation profiles

cohabitation implications

Concept Directions

With these challenges in mind, the design implications pointed to three potential concept directions:

1. Building a Financial Plan

This concept builds off the realization that many couples cited financial stability as a requirement for taking the next step, but rarely took active steps in building a shared financial plan.

2. The Service of Cohabitation

This concept recognizes cohabitation on broader scale by delivering services catered specifically to cohabiting couples.

3. Cohabitation as Design

To establish a shared identity, couples approach cohabitation like a design process; they co-create an identity and iterate.
concept directions