UX + Student Loans = Passion Project

Tomorrow marks my 8th week in General Assembly’s UXDI program and it has flown by. With so many weeks gone by and just a few remaining, there’s so much to reflect on. Thinking back to my first week and realizing how much I’ve grown with each project — it’s just quite incredible to see my classmates and myself grow so much in such a short amount of time.

Presenting my fourth project tomorrow feels like a huge step. The training wheels are definitely off and we’re really starting to figure out our own personal workflows, identify our strengths and weaknesses and learn who we are as designers.

No brief, no problem

For this project, my classmates and I were given an open-ended brief. We started by identifying a problem and solution and then finding a brand that aligned with our issue at hand.

Brainstorming session

My group mate and I went through iteration of mind map after mind map and we finally settled on student loans and Tuition.io as our brand. I could go on and on as I am one of many who has student debt, but the fact that there are millions of people with student debt with over a trillion dollars worth of debt in this country is just staggering.

We know there are huge issues at hand with student loans and so we set off to do some research to further educate ourselves. Did you know that only 3% of employers offer student loan contributions as a benefit? I was unaware that was even a possibility outside of working for the government for a set number of years.

There’s even a bill that was introduced to Congress last year that would allow employers to make contributions tax-deductible. Education is a right and debt is crippling so many young millennials — imagine what a whole group of people could do without debt. The possibilities are limitless.

Mind mapping

Enough about my personal soapbox and back to the research. We know that with this project we are not creating a perfect solution and in a perfect world, solving this issue would be taking it to the root of the issue and tackling it head on, and education is a whole other piece of it.

But, in a place where student loans are becoming unfortunately the norm for many, why can’t we do more to help students once they finish school? So, we set out to do some research and identify the best practices in the industry.

Everybody’s favorite topic: student loans

The proposal

Tuition.io stands out as their main business prop is encouraging employers to offer student loan contribution as an employee benefit. From a borrower-facing standpoint, users can sync loans from different loan vendors to view their overall total and they can apply for refinancing.

But, what about borrowers who don’t qualify for refinancing or for whom refinancing isn’t the best option? What about the recent college grads who weren’t econ majors and need to understand the fine print of their loans?

Our proposal was to create an app for millennials with multiple student loans and to provide them with education and guidance on how to best approach their student loan payments.


We looked around the student loan field and more importantly, at financial apps that have become a part of our daily lives. For many people that includes Venmo, a personal bank app and maybe Mint or another financial management app.

We completed competitive and comparative analysis and moved on to usability heuristics. We received 68 responses to our survey/screener and while we were aiming to find folks to interview, we also knew we’d gain valuable insight as well.

Of the 68 responses, only 7 had completed paying off student loans. While this is a small sample size, it does really show how many people actually have student loans and how many are still paying off their loans.

The above chart shows that it’s just a small number of people who feel little to no anxiety when thinking of their student loans. Student loans are on everyones’ minds and what we learned from our interviews was that individuals who understood all of the fine print of their loans generally had a repayment plan, and did not feel insecure about their student loans. For folks that didn’t understand all the lingo usually didn’t have a repayment plan and felt more stress about their loans.

Speaking of interviews..

Here are the key takeaways from our 8 user interviews:

  • Two groups: those who care and those who don’t care about student loans
  • They all turn to family and friends for financial advice
  • No clear competitor
  • 6/ 8 didn’t know their total student debt
  • Students with multiple loans from multiple providers had no way of seeing their student loan total in one place
Left: user interview // Right: debriefing user interview insights with our proposal

From these interviews we knew that we needed to have the following solutions in our app:

  • Dashboard that links all student loans in one place
  • Educational aspect — providing borrowers with the fine print in digestible language and a glossary to explain it all
  • More information on repayment plans if refinancing isn’t the right option

The research we completed validated our initial proposal: that the support system surrounding student loan borrowers is a bit fragmented and there is little to no easy and modern version of student loan education available post-school.

Prioritizing Features

M_SC_W method

Post interviews, we had so many different feature ideas and we knew we needed to pare them down somehow. We thought about what the bare minimum would be to soft launch the app and kept that in mind as we prioritized the features for the app.

Sketch, Wireframe, Test, Repeat

We moved into sketch and design mode after our research and we completed a paper prototype and and several rounds of digital prototypes.

POP prototype: https://popapp.in/projects/574e414d29768690687ca2ce/preview

V1: https://invis.io/7E7IBRKH5

V2: https://invis.io/WP7IR6GUM

V3: https://invis.io/PM7JBQFUY

Initial sketches

We completed a time boxed design studio and took over an entire whiteboard. We initially started with a paper prototype, but soon realized that we needed to change the direction with our user flows and tasks in order to really support our proposal.

With V1 onwards, we opted to focus less on setting up an account and more on the information that’s truly important to borrowers: understanding the fine print and paying down those student loans.

Dashboard iterations

Each iteration underwent several updates, but V2 to V3 is probably our biggest update. We really felt like we made a huge jump to being even closer to a viable solution. With V3, we again returned to our proposal and worked on designing solutions that would support our research and proposal, rather than designing for the blue sky.

V1 Usability Testing Results:

  • 3 / 3 testers wanted more visual content
  • 2/3 were strongly agains twitter and social media
  • 3/3 needed time to understand the graph

V1 updates for V2:

  • Pro tip — one page
  • Health Score — many testers didn’t understand what it was
  • Graphs — clearer, bigger, more fun
  • Peer comparison — add CTA
  • More visuals to make it feel less like a serious financial app
Usability Testing

V2 Usability Test Results:

  • 2/2 like the graphs
  • 2/2 felt more educated after testing the app
  • 2/2 think the digest could be useful

V2 updates for V3

  • Color and size of text looked and felt “off”
  • Focus more on goal/milestone setting screens
  • Explain student loan more and the educational aspect of the app
  • More CTA to allow for easier navigation

Next Steps

  • Test V3 and add even higher fidelity of process and design to prototype
  • Acorn — using the round up idea to put the “loose change” towards student loans
  • Interest rates — accounting for interest rates more in the app to add a deeper layer of personalization
  • In-app payments — if borrowers could make payments in-app, there would rarely be a reason to return to their lenders’ websites or apps
  • Rewards — what type of rewards or surprise and delight can the app use?
  • Calculator — a loan calculator to end all other loan calculators
  • Video content — short educational videos that would provide another way for users to digest the app’s content

Final Thoughts

We know we didn’t solve the student loan issue — that issue is much, much bigger than what we tried to solve for. We do feel that we took a step in the right direction and who knows, maybe that bill in Congress will get passed, eh?

Working in a group of 2 instead of 3 this time had a huge impact — manpower-wise for sure, but my group partner and I really learned to collaborate with each other, support each other and take the initiative to create our final deliverables.

Learning another designer’s thought process is huge for me as a new designer — we all work differently and having a solid understanding of others’ best practices can help me grow and refine my own methods. I’ve taken away a lot from this project and can’t wait to apply what I learned to my next project.

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