Sometimes the obvious is not the answer and in the case of building a solution for a client that has to follow a large number of regulations for customers that are all across the age scale, that solution can only be found by following the UX process. 529s are a way for parents to save for their children's college and allows contributions from family and friends. The obvious answer would be building a site that allows family and friends to visit and contribute. The not-so-obvious challenges included things such as not being able to store non-account holder data, getting past the asking for money taboo and discovering who it is we are really trying to target. To discover the answers, it all began with research and led to some very enlightening discoveries and solutions.
TRP's competitors had a 529 site that allows account holders to create pages that they could send to people and ask them to make 529 contributions so they were looking to have their own 529 contribution website. They did a competitor analysis and provided it to us with some KPI's for the project.
I was excited that TRP was so invested in the project, and could see there was a strong need for some UX here. Again, there was no budget for User Experience so I used what was available and started prowling all my social media networks. I was soon able to gather some willing people who I could interview and discover their motivations, desires and fears with college savings and in particular, 529s. I tried to include all age groups so we could see the variance in the needs and wants.
The research was extremely valuable to this project as it identified some key needs and fears that the current list of features were not addressing. I created a findings deck and presented this. First internally and then together the Interactive Team presented this to TRP and talked about the discoveries. They seemed confused by the research, wondering why we conducted it when they gave us all, what they believed, we needed to begin building the project. Because we were not with them and they were not involved in the discovery process with us, it was no wonder they were confused but I knew the process would continue to work and hoped they would understand more as we went on to the next stage.
That next stage was coming up with ideas that would work for TRP and for their account holders. I created three personas that represented the people using the 529 website.
With research, personas and challenges in hand, we moved on to the Diverge UX process and I lead the team through crazy 8s, an exercise where they come up with 8 features in under 5 mintutes.
After team voting of the best features, I led the team through a storyboarding exercise to see if they could solve the user need and the stakeholder's goals with the feature.
I made a list of the features that made it through and put them on the whiteboard for discussion. The goal of this discussion was to eliminate any feature that wasn't, in some way, workable. This was tough for the team at first as they were attached to their ideas but in the end we were able to scale down the features to ones that were realistic and fell into the scope of the project.
At the end of the sprint, we had a phone meeting with the client and told them our findings. This was the hard part as they would put us on mute to discuss! When they came back online they were very hesitant to go forward. They seemed to now be going back on their initial thoughts and didn't want us coming up with anything that wasn't already done and proven by someone else. We ended that call with heavy hearts and I felt responsible for the miscommunication. It was at this point that I met with our Creative Director so we could reset and figure this out. The first thing we did was put aside most of the features we came up with. We didn't discard, we simply put aside for phase 2 and stayed with strict MVP for this initial phase. I created user flows to see where we would first get the bare bones job done and then where we could, inside of that, find the solution to the goal of increasing the number of gift contributions.
The team was tired and frustrated and I knew I was losing their trust in using a UX Process in their design sprints, but I knew it was the process that was going to save us. We couldn't add any new features and solving the problem of people feeling awkward asking for money was too big a challenge. I realized we needed a paradigm shift and so I went back to research. I focused on the one feature that TRP wanted which was to have a way for the account holders to set goals. This time, I researched goal setting instead of ways to get contributions. I realized that we can't make it easier for people to ask for contributions but we can make the challenge of saving money easier and more delightful through goal setting. I went to the whiteboard and wrote:
I then gathered the team and, together, we came up with a way for the account holders to set obtainable goals that they would be motivated to do with rewards which would, in turn, give them motivation to ask for contributions.
My internship ended before I could see this project through, but even adding UX in the very beginning added invaluable insight into the project and I believe it will help them create a 529 site that both TRP and their customers will take delight in.