Student debt is on the rise. How might we find contextually appropriate interventions to relieve college students from the burden of student debt?

- The design challenge

To tackle such a problem, I must look beyond screen-based interactions - How can a personal finance solution seamlessly and systematically integrate into the students’ lives? 

The result of the project is a financial ecosystem that involves three parties: A) the college students in debt; B) the financial service providers; C) the loan providers. The system goal is to save money for students to proprietarily repay student loan after graduation while improving their financial health over time. Whereas the secondary systems inside create loyal customers for service providers and incentivize loan providers.

Project Duration

April 2019, 4 Weeks

Team

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My Role

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Key Skills

System Thinking
Conceptual Mapping
Research Synthesis
Concept Ideation


Problem discovered:
Lots of money to repay, not a lot of effective motivation

I did a key person interview with a final year college student whose tuition is paid for through a student loan, to learn how students manage their debts. The pessimistic tone of the conversation really disturbed me - I witnessed a huge gap between the anxiety a student feels about their debts and the very limited actions they can take to relieve that stress. In short: managing student loan sounds ironic, as they barely have any power to manage it.

Design solution:
Return the power of financial management back to the students

I came up with Vault to hack this toxic situation, a personal finance company that partnered with bank, card issuers, and loan providers to help students take control over student loan. Vault Student Credit Card and Vault Student Investment Account replaces abrupt, negative stress with mild, positive, and to-the-point motivation. Together they help build up a student’s financial health and affirm that a considerable “vault” will be in place when it’s time to repay the loan.

Front stage: The controls

With the help of this user task analysis, I decided to incorporate the three most frequent user tasks into Apple Wallet. This potential enables Vault Credit Card to better integrate into the student’s everyday financial habits.

I also used Keynote as a rapid prototyping tool to convey the interaction without being confined to pixels, which is less important in this project.

Backstage: The ecology

How to ensure such a system is sustainable? Feedback loops are the answer.
I proposed a network which benefits not only the students, but also the partnered bank, the card issuers, the loan providers, and the company Vault itself.

*Click image to enlarge

The art of value proposition, and the challenges of designing for the long course

This project is the final assignment of a course called Systems. If you ever wonder "how can a credit card change student loan," you are in good company. As pointed out by project reviewers Hugh Dubberly and Eric Knudson (Design Manager from QuickBooks Design System), the system goal of my design was unintuitive, and the storyline was not clear.

So you are proposing a consumer credit card? Why would that work?

It was a tough critique, but a very helpful one. It taught me the unquestionable priority of positioning my design in a way that speaks to the audience. Given the above feedbacks, what might actually make more sense is to position Vault as a solution to college students' financial crunch, that helps them transition between school and work.

class photo

For the next step, I would like to collect feedback from more students to test how motivational really is the system. This leads to a very interesting and challenging research topic: How to distill insights on a service that’s designed as long as 4 years? A similar problem arises in terms of product strategy: How to launch this product with a small group of students to kick-off, given that the course is 4 years? I will pay attention to industry practices and I’m looking forward to sharing my learnings in the future.