An overview of the problem
When I joined LendingClub in the fall of 2016, the personal loans product had essentially not been touched in years, beyond minor tweaks to existing page elements. The user flow was built for desktop and lacked many of today's interaction design best practices. Here are a few screens from the original product:
The look was dated, the style and colors were inconsistent, and the flow offered no interactive elements (other than run-of-the-mill clickable links and form elements). Despite all of that, the product worked quite well. In fact, personal loans was LendingClub's flagship product and made up the vast majority of the company's revenue. Why fix it? In a word: mobile. The company was starting to see more and more borrowers applying for loans on their mobile devices, but the lack of support for the mobile web experience was becoming painfully obvious, causing a rising increase in application drop offs. To boot, the competition was moving in swiftly with sleek visual designs.
Kicking off with a design sprint
With the charter to completely rethink what our personal loans experience could be, I co-led the company’s first Google Ventures Design Sprint at the beginning of 2017 with two of my colleagues (a product manager and a fellow product designer). This tool allowed us to explore big questions that challenged how the company had always done things.
The sprint team came up with a dynamic mobile loan application prototype, focusing the borrower on one task at a time. We found this approach tested well in our usability research on the last day of the sprint. Here are a few sample screens from our final prototype, which borrowed from the nascent style guide that our design team was starting to build around the same time:
Showing the value of better design
Although there was a lot of excitement about the design sprint, there wasn't much appetite to dive into a giant product overhaul all at once. Instead, an A/B testing team was formed to focus on building tests throughout the year in a more palatable cadence with me as the designer.
I started by tackling a small, easy win. A PM on the funnel team directed me to add a dropdown to our form to make it possible for borrowers to apply with a co-borrower - a lucrative opportunity for the business that also tended to result in lower rates for borrowers. Leaning on UX best practices à la Good UI and Luke W, I recommended exposing both options with radio buttons, instead. I also included more understandable labels ("Just Me" and "Two of Us" instead of "Individual" and "Joint"). These may sound like unimpressive design improvements, but UX pushing back with a recommendation was not a common thing at the time. My PM entertained me and, through an A/B test, the exposed radio buttons proved to perform significantly better than the dropdown, resulting in about twice as many joint applications.
With this tiny test, the team was convinced that UX principles could bring about real impact — it was time to take bigger bets on more meaningful improvements.
Establishing a design process
Because the design team at Lending Club didn't have an established process to create, implement, and test designs, I introduced a few methods that helped me frame my approach, which my teammates then adopted (and improved!).
First, I created a design requirements template, which enabled me to understand the relevant context for each design challenge that came my way. The format also helped make sure my PM and I were on the same page with the problem we were solving. Because the document resided on our internal wiki, it also became easy for stakeholders to quickly learn the key pieces of our projects.
Over the next few months, designers and PMs from every product group began adopting this template to kick off their projects and was used for over 30 projects — an unintended positive result.
Usability testing with new employees
Our team didn't have a way to get valid, timely feedback on our designs to gauge usability. The only customer feedback we could get at the time involved on-site in-depth interviews — a process that, at its fastest, took over a month. I started doing guerrilla usability tests with people inside the company who weren't as familiar with our product, like admin assistants. When I ran a usability test with a new hire that proved to be incredibly insightful, the team realized we had a valuable and recurring source of usability testers!
Working with our HR partner and design research, I established a process that allowed us to regularly run usability tests with new employees. This, too, got adopted across the design and product teams, which helped us test concepts before using engineering resources.
Three sprints ahead
My PM and I began to work in a three-sprint cadence (most of the time), instead of our previous "design-it-and-build-it-in-the-same-sprint" rush. We would identify the key problem and any related requirements and user flows (sprint 1), explore a number of concepts and iterations and run usability tests on them (sprint 2), and then finalize the designs, get critiques from the team, and prepare the components for engineering build (sprint 3):
This approach helped us always have something prepared for engineering to work on, but bought us enough time to approach bigger design challenges with the right amount of insight and context.
Results & the final product
By the end of 2017, our team was able to create significant improvements to the personal loans funnel. We totaled 35 A/B design tests in 2017, which generated significant revenue lift. Below are a few samples from the end result, which improved conversion at the step by as much as 10% and overall application submissions by as much as 5%.
"One question at a time" application flow
Inspired by our design sprint prototype, I wanted to focus the borrower on one question or task at a time. Though this flow created more "pages," the experience turned out to feel simpler than a long single-page form and borrowers actually completed the process faster, in production.
Interactive two-card offer page
There were two key things I wanted to change about our long list of static offers in our original offer page: 1) I wanted to make it interactive and exciting (after all, you're potentially about to get some money in your pocket!) and 2) I wanted to make sure borrowers understood what on earth was going on here (we knew from research that choosing a loan can feel daunting and confusing). This approach worked — the design shown below converted over 10% better than its predecessor.
Easy-to-understand loan agreement document
I truly believe any point in the user experience is an opportunity to build a trusting relationship with your customers. Based on our research, I knew borrowers paused at the lending agreement step in our funnel to try to understand the terms. I rebuilt the page to follow more intuitive information architecture and revised the language to be more approachable, inviting borrowers to feel empowered when reading this document. As a result, this otherwise dry financial document was described in research sessions with words like "I love this" and "it’s so easy to understand."
Take a look
Though I left LendingClub in early 2018 for an opportunity at SoFi, you can still see quite a bit of the work I did in 2017 still present in the personal loan application flow (some steps may be hard to get to, unless you are actually applying for a loan).
Please note: all rates and offer amounts shown in these samples are "design math," as I like to call it, and are not reflections of what the company actually offers.