Member-Centered Design Yields Wins for Credit Unions

By: Rob Vanasco, UX Product Designer

George Orwell once said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” This is one of many reasons why transparency is so important in product design, and to all key areas of business.

In 2015, PSCU took a candid look at how we design products and solutions for our credit unions and their members. We began to evaluate the spectrum of products we offer, and noticed rather quickly that there was little consistency in the way our products looked, functioned and felt. The question arose – were we meeting the needs of our valued Owner credit unions by offering an inconsistent experience?

The answer – no.

Our Marketing team, like many others, works hard to ensure consistency in our brand messaging and story. They take extra care to use colors, images and words that speak to the credit union industry in a way that is relevant, identifiable and beneficial. Thoughtfulness and intention, we determined, should be just as prevalent in product design.

We began our quest for a design consistency overhaul with the PSCU QuickAssist solution. This solution offered us the blank slate we desired to re-imagine the way we design products at PSCU.

We adapted our new process from the User Centered Design principles, and created a research-based approach to development called “Member Centered Design.” This means, we put our Owner credit unions and their members at the middle of everything we build.

The requirements for success with this type of process are fairly straightforward: first, we relinquish any attempt to design for ourselves, and secondly, we devote time and resources to credit union visits to better understand who we are serving, in what context they are completing tasks and what their goals, motivations and needs are.

While surveys are wonderful tools for providing insights, they don’t allow the granular level of understanding derived from in-person conversations and on-site interactions. The QuickAssist redesign was the result of multiple credit union visits around the country, impartial discussions with each credit union’s staff about how they use the legacy system, and, of course, work-site shadowing.

But, before we took our questions and curiosities to the road, we had to first discern the real problem. It’s always easy at the initial phase of evaluation to assign blame to product attributes – to say that a piece of software is slow or out of date, for example. But the more important question to ask first in any product redesign scenario is – what problems does this product attempt to solve, or what problems is it supposed to solve that it’s not?

Upon our visits to branches, we noticed the frustration on staff members’ faces when they had to log into multiple applications to service a member using the then-present technology. We felt their pain when they had to call for help because their login information expired and they had a member standing in front of them waiting for an answer. We watched as staff members jumped between responsibilities in the branch, serving as a teller behind the counter one minute, and then working the floor the next. We watched them refer to sticky notes on their monitors, and printed spreadsheets at their stations, and implement manual workarounds due to system limitations.

We knew from these observations that the end-goal for the QuickAssist product design had to go beyond application attractiveness and actually make the daily lives of credit union staff easier.

Being present in the branches put us in the context of our users. And that context helped us develop design principles that would guide us through the process of speeding up task completion, creating post-task interactions, reducing cognitive friction and mitigating errors. One-on-one interviews were also a tremendous help in creating research personas that could be used in the design process. Created to “feel” like real people, the personas were assigned names and back stories to remind us who our users are, what struggles they face, what motivates them and what they need to perform well on the job. Together with the design principles, personas helped us establish a framework for our new product design process, and served as a guidepost for returning to objectives when the big-picture became hazy.

While Member Centered Design is ever-evolving, the goals behind design will remain unchanged – understand the problems users face on a day-to-day basis, and design solutions that help meet their needs more easily and efficiently. This philosophy not only applies at PSCU, but it is also certainly useful in empowering members and consumers in nearly every business venture.