I joined SME Capital in 2017—after working independently as the designer from the inception of the business—as an early employee in a small but agile team. I’ve been responsible for all things design and brand, with product design as the priority. Using design thinking and my UX skills I’ve helped SME Capital pivot to become a successful lending business marrying technology, UX and traditional relationships.
Applying for a loan is daunting for businesses, with multiple pain points and unknown requirements. This allows for a real problem to be solved through design and better process. We’ve streamlined the lending experience for SMEs and their advisors while formalising the collecting of information needed to make fast and accurate credit decisions. Once funded we continue to service the loan in a user friendly way while closely monitoring performance data. We’ve focussed on empowering company advisors who not only know and support businesses but are SME Capital’s repeat customers.
Our core customers are corporate financial advisors/accountants and business executives. Though they are time sensitive and a small base we can clearly define who they are and their needs. It was still possible to directly collect information to define tools such as personas, competitive analysis, experience mapping, ideal journeys and conditional flows.
Along with the wider team we’ve been rigorous in collecting and questioning requirements before building. The application process was broken down into steps which combine collaborative platform input and relationship management. I wanted everyone to be involved in the design process to share ownership and flag feasibility concerns, often using design studio exercises to kick things off.
Designing the interface started with sketching in varied fidelity, working up to interactive prototypes and the emergence of patterns, particularly form and table patterns. This formed the basis of a design system of elements and components that allowed us to be consistent and nimble as we developed. This dovetailed with our brand guidelines and writing styleguide which I am also responsible for. Working closely with the development team it’s possible to work a sprint or two ahead of development, iterate detail and integrate feedback as received.
Behind the customer platform we are also designing and building internal tools to automate, service and monitor loans. Along with our data scientists I can match my qualitative customer feedback with specific data analysis. This helps us refine form questions and the general experience.
Really easy to use. You’ve refined the blend of personal relationships and technology.
Customers can invite each other but a key improvement identified was getting input from multiple contributors without delay or error. We designed and built form collaboration using the WebSocket API. This two-way interactive communication technology sits on top of our multi-page forms with a clear and error proof UI. Users can lock and unlock a question as they click in and out. This provides the right amount of focus to complete information without overwriting each other. Through prototyping and testing we refined the experience which can scale for multiple users.
How has designing the loan process helped the business?
We’ve seen faster form completion with better quality input which is vital to the credit process. Even though the perception of web forms are dreaded for our customers we have high product satisfaction and compare much more favourably with competitors. Creating low friction, accessible forms while streamlining the process benefits the customer and the business simultaneously. We have also made the design-led decision to empower our relationship managers to use the platform providing us with additional feedback. While taking valuable time off our advisors’ plate we allow them to better support their clients, shorten the process, decrease support requests and retain customers.
What has held us back?
In the beginning we would scope too much development into a release slowing us down to the point we were waiting too long to complete. Now we are releasing at least once a week which reduces issues and makes testing much more manageable. We were often too keen to build in restrictions to reduce assumed risk with things like user permissions. This created usability issues which in the end was the greater concern. However we got feedback quickly and streamlined the experience, freeing up restriction and the user journey.
Designers need inspiration, involving everyone in a small company is vital to spark new ideas.
Being a sole designer in a growing business
Owning design from the beginning at SME Capital has needed constant collaboration and understanding of colleagues aims as well as the needs of our customers. Some learnings are outlined below.
Understand the business
- Gain empathy for your colleagues (almost) as much as for your customers
- Talk regularly to the relationship managers to understand what the market looks like and what conversations we have with customers
- Understand what key teams are solving and why
- Know which tools to outsource and which to build in house
- Know how fundraising works and what are the downsides
Regularly show how design impacts a small company
- Demonstrate how the design system and style guide can allow for a pivot in business direction
- Demo work regularly by doing quick user tests
- Show the result of addressing feedback
- In a small team everyone can help shape the product
- Designers need inspiration, involving everyone in a small company is vital to spark new ideas
- Demo both ways to spark innovation
- When asking for feedback clarify context and specifics upfront
Ship fast and often
- Small, regular releases minimise error and avoid backlog
- Measurement and feedback can be fast and focused
- Don’t lose sight of the bigger design picture