A project I completed prior to any training in User Experience or User Interface design.
Client: Rent Application.net, a software startup offering landlords and property managers online rental applications and tenant screening. One screening method is a credit report, which documents a person’s financial reliability. This report contains a person’s payment history on financial obligations like student loans, mortgages, credit cards, etc.
My Role: I began working at this company as a customer support manager, and in the small start up environment took on this project in a product design and product management role.
Team members:startup founder, who oversaw the project from a distance, and a freelance Python developer who built the web application.
In order to obtain credit reports, property owners must verify their identity and prove a legitimate need to view this sensitive information. The verification process is known as credit underwriting and is reviewed by a credit reporting agency. The credit reporting agency provides the report results to Rent Application, and the results are displayed in the website UI.
As it is today, the underwriting process involves multiple forms: one online basic information form, scanned copies of a mortgage statement, photo ID or a realtor’s license, a signed authorization form, a site inspection of the owner’s property or business must be completed, and possibly a copy of a recent phone bill.
The complicated nature of this process meant that myself and other Rent Application customer support staff were spending hours every week guiding users through these forms, ultimately losing many potential customers due to the frustrating, confusing nature of the process. I saw this process as a pain point for users, a loss of revenue for a small business and inefficient use of human resources.
Through my responsibilities as a customer support manager, I assisted 10-20 customers per week via email over the course of three months. I would gather each customer’s information and pass it along to the credit reporting agency for processing. I learned that different types of property lessors needed to provide different kinds of information to the credit bureau.
Using ticket tracking, I estimated that of all the users who began the process, only 20-30% of users actually completed the verification process.
Additionally, I interviewed the owner of a credit reporting agency who has 7 years of experience with the underwriting process. He was able to answer many of my questions about the process, provide additional insight and guidance during the project.
In order to better understand how to serve each type of landlord or property owner, I broke apart what was needed from each one and recognized a few consistent challenges among those user groups.
Goals for project
With these user groups and user research finished, I came up with a high-level set of intentions for the project:
1. Design for Rent Application user’s ease, learnability and information capture.
2. Minimize user’s decision-making and required knowledge so as to speed up the process.
3. Provide users’ information to the credit reporting agency in one bundle.
To address these objectives, I designed a single form that changes based on user’s input information and self-selected user-type. These types are mutually exclusive and are generally recognized by members of this industry.
I made four total prototypes based on each user type, which adjusted for the differences in required information. Each prototype had a 4 or 5 page form. I used Basalmiq to create the prototype.
Individual Property Owner Path
Once the users identified their type, they filled out an information form and watched their progress across a thermometer bar at the top.
Site Inspection Form
The site inspection form, which had been a major hurdle for users previously, was now a simple two-step form.
On the first step of the form, the user indicates who they will use to inspect their office (a means of confirming the legitmacy of the rental business). The user will also provide some information about the inspector.
To proceed, the user would state “the site inspector is here with me” or “site inspector is not here, let’s come back to this”. The web app would save the information and proceed accordingly.
If the site inspector was present, the app would proceed to the second step, where the site inspector was instructed to take over and answer questions about the rental office.
Unnecessary questions (such as asking an individual rental owner whether they had corporate signage outside their office) were removed completely based on user type and self-reported information.
Build and Iterate
The founder of Rent Application hired a developer and asked me to project manage and collaborate with him. The developer was in Argentina, so we communicated via Slack, email and Trello boards.
We worked in short development sprints, and each cycle I would review and test what the developer had created. Often I would also have a co-worker walk through the app to provide some external feedback. I planned to do user testing later on in the development timeline. I iterated on my protoytpes each cycle and would suggest changes and updates. I generally would mock up these changes in Photoshop using screenshots of the web application. After about six months, we had an app with all basic functionality (able to save, upload documents, view help tips, clean and responsive UI, etc).
The project was killed just before planned usability testing.
• Rent Application was able to begin offering credit reports from Experian, which did not require landlords to be underwritten in this way.
• Unfortunately the site, creditapproval.rentapplication.net, is no longer live.
From this experience I gained an awareness of the system thinking, iteration and project management required in UX and was eager to learn more. I next enrolled in an online class at IDEO U and learned a lot more about user research. Click here to see all of my UX projects to date.