Albert Einstein is (arguably) said to have proclaimed (at least a version of) what we believe to be the best piece of advice in user interface design.
“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Simple is difficult. Simple is subjective. Simple takes planning, executing, tossing out, bringing back, tossing out again, before arriving at (never an end) but always a better place from which to begin again.
At defi SOLUTIONS, user interface and user experience improvements are perpetual. Improvement is critical in the success of our clients’ businesses and thus in the development of the products and services on our end-to-end lending solution.
Today, we’re talking with experts from the defi Design and User Experience Team as well as the defi Solution Engineering Team. These team members have extensive expertise with client needs and delivering on them and are part of a larger cross-functional team at defi working on the new defi ORIGINATIONS interface.
The conversations were edited for clarity and woven into this concise narrative.
UX: Right now, everything is about user-centric design. We are laser focused on what the user is going to use and how. Improving efficiency, decreasing error and the time it takes to complete a given task for a given use case.
Also, we’re ensuring the UI is platform-agnostic and device-agnostic and not limited to particular browsers, operating systems, screen sizes. We make sure that if the user wants to work from home or anywhere, they would easily be able to. Our applications have to work on Google Chrome or Firefox, IE (or Edge); Mac or PC; a phablet or tablet, laptop, or desktop device without compromising any of the usability or operability of the UI.
White labeling is another important trend in enterprise UI development. Our interfaces are adaptive to client branding and require minimum configurability in UI style code to ensure the interface adapts quickly to our client’s brand.
How much is developed internally and how much is provided by a UI framework and library?
UX: For most of our applications, we develop 100% of the business logic and behind-the-scenes code. We understand our client’s business problems, their user’s needs, and how to make their process and user interactions seamless, intuitive, and as errorless as possible.
And then we work smart and leverage the best, out-of-the-box, user-friendly UI framework that has extensive libraries and a primary focus of building robust, user-friendly UI components. The framework providers offer grids, dropdowns, and many other smart components that help expedite complex UI activities in a very seamless and user-friendly manner.
A responsive design helps establish the foundation of an interface, helps establish visual consistency, repeatable patterns and gives us an ability to manage data multiple ways and create consumer-facing products and services that are responsive all the way through the mobile screen.
Why now? Why this emphasis on a new UI in our new originations product (defi ORIGINATIONS) and in the other products and services in the defi end-to-end lending solution?
UX: Why now? It’s better to start at the beginning of product development to establish certain standards and to adopt best practices than try to build incrementally over time. It’ll never be easier than it is right now.
That said, if you would have asked me the same question ten years ago, my answer would be pretty much the same. The more technology advances, the faster you have to move to stay aligned. If you don’t innovate on your UI and user experience, two key elements will start bothering your customers over time.
Number one: your product could be out of support. Your product should be built using web standards and remain compatible with modern platforms. If your UI/UX is not platform-agnostic or device-agnostic, if it’s only accessible via IE, and if IE goes out of the scope or IE evolves and you don’t keep up with the evolution, then you’re going to have problems, glitches, or you have to kind of force feed your customers to use those old technologies. It happens. And it isn’t pleasant for anyone.
Remote work is no longer just a benefit or perk. It’s a necessity, right? Users and borrowers are on the move and require access on all kinds of devices. We’re going to continue in that direction.
Number two (and this is important): the user experience today is better than ever before. Ten years ago, people were mostly using technology to get certain things done. Now, people are having wonderful user experiences using new technologies (especially on social media).
They type two characters and their search engine knows what they’re about to say or they open their social media app, and it knows that they want to see a friend’s daughter’s wedding or a friend’s foreign trip. They want to see a photograph, and it’s right there. The platforms assess patterns of usage and give them what they want.
And then people come to work. Their expectations have gone up. They open your enterprise application, and just to get an obvious thing, they have to click five times. They’re going to be disappointed. With the bar of a user experience expectation high, UI designers must do a better job of providing a similar experience or the user is going to get frustrated.
How do we stay on top of what our users need or want from an interface?
UX: We base our user experience on research and the analysis of client feedback. We have multiple and regular channels for collecting feedback – through customer care logs and regular discussions with client end-users. Mostly, it’s delivered to our client executives, client success or client implementation managers, and client support team. These client-facing team members understand the client’s business requirements and the problems they face. They are key in receiving the client feedback and making sure the development team understands the context.
Design is a very subjective matter. Everyone can potentially have a different expectation. So recently, when we started conceptualizing some of the key interactions and user experience elements in our application, we gathered users from multiple customer accounts and asked them for feedback. We asked qualitative questions such as “What set of designs do you prefer to use?”, “Do you see this navigation design as effective?”, and so on. We used this feedback to inform our design decision. This kind of regular exercise confirmed the design direction made based on the input we already received.
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: Also, for our latest originations UI, there was a lot of sitting down, looking closely at our two current originations products, and asking, “What worked well?”, “What makes sense to retain?”, “What are the things we could do better?”. There will be quick wins….and there will be things that go on the future roadmap.
What are some features of the new defi ORIGINATIONS UI?
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: A good example of a new feature is the dynamic page load, or the ability for a different subset of data to appear on a page depending on what’s going on in the application. Our current defi LOS can do it. But in LOS we recognize it’s administratively cumbersome and can also impact page load times and system performance, depending on how many of those formulas you have in use.
The new defi ORIGINATIONS UI will have dynamic page displays but will not be reliant on the browser doing the heavy lifting. From an execution standpoint, there’ll be more of a rules-based approach that says, “If it’s this type of app, this is the data set I want,” or “if I’m this type of user, this is the data set I have access to view.” Same end result but learning from the way one platform had implemented it to give a more performant experience at the end of the day.
Or, things like the use of bolding and highlighting and changing the colors on data to call it out. There’s a couple of different ways the new originations UI will do that. There’s a system alert that would let somebody know, “you need to pay attention to this,” and then there’s also a “maybe you want to take a look at this?” And the user says, “Yes, I acknowledge that I saw this,” and then moves forward.
UX: At a higher level,right now, we’re utilizing the proper real estate of the browser to create a task-focused user experience. Also, we focus on providing proper information grouping based on the task and context and whitespace. It looks cleaner and more contextually grouped.
Content (whether comprised of forms for input or tables for output) is logically grouped on pages into widgets. And those pages and widgets are fully customizable by our clients. Actually, our client can not only customize existing pages and widgets but create their own that contain any of the information in the system.
Enterprise applications like ours are usually very data intensive. Smart use of grids or data tables and robust filtering capabilities are critical. For example, dropdowns can often contain 20, 25, 30 values to choose from. Scrolling through, reading line by line, is frustrating and time consuming. In our modern UI design, we’ve included filtering, sorting, and searching mechanisms to save time and effort. There’s a search textbox for dropdowns with long lists of elements. As you type or delete, the list immediately adjusts and the 30 options quickly become a much more manageable 1, 2, or 3.
Also, using a new UI framework, there’s no need for multiple tabs or multi-level navigation. We put that into smart grids, data tables, which then group the information up to two or three-levels. There’s no need to click one tab and then a second tab or click one grid and then a second grid. It is all within the one compact, usable, intuitive grid that you can click on, filter, and boom, find what you need out of 200 records within few seconds.
We touched a little on mobile responsiveness, but could you expand … because enterprise applications are data intensive?
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: Consistent mobile responsiveness of all pages is important. It shouldn’t matter where I’m going, what page I’m navigating to, the size of screen I’m on. If I’m resizing my browser, if I’m accessing it from a tablet, or whatever the case may be, the app should reorient that page to the size of the screen.
There, of course, will be limits. And I’m not saying necessarily technological limits. But when you talk about decisioning and applications, looking at the application summary or the decision page, there’s a lot of data. So, say you’re a manager, and you want to hop in and look at what’s going on from your cell phone, you should be able to do that. Are you going to have your team underwriting deals from a cell phone? Probably not. A larger tablet would be a more reasonable expectation to work from. You’re not going to be looking at all of that data on a screen that’s five inches.
How does good UI design impact configurability and flexibility of the platform?
UX: A big part of good UI design is helping the user focus on what they want, where they came from, giving them contextual information, and helping them navigate the system.
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: For example: With our new UI, there is a breadcrumb trail that shows not only how you got there, but helps you navigate to other parts of the configuration. There is a “recently used” area.
We have clients whose administrators have a separation of duty. One may oversee the pricing programs. Another dealer groups and the dealer records. The UI says for the one admin, “Hey, you usually go to the pricing part of the system.” Whereas when the other admin logs in, they see all the dealer sections where they’ve recently navigated.
So, all these admins have to do is click a button and go straight to where they want to go. They don’t have to spend time searching and browsing.
UX: Consistency and simplicity across the board will save them time when using the systems and also when training their users. Once you’ve taught them how to do a certain thing, it’s more intuitive for them to do all the similar things that are based on the same UI/UX relationship.
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: And it’s about quality of life, from an admin standpoint. We’re using what we did well, improving and streamlining what needs improving. And asking, “How do we make that much easier for not only a seasoned admin, but also for somebody who’s just getting started, to really understand what they’re doing, and what they need to do in order to finalize different parts of their lending program?”
UX: But we also consider our customers have unique wants and needs, unique ways of doing things, and we want to support that.
When we design, we design in a way that lets the customer configure their own pages. We’ll give them a tool that lets them see the impact of their page changes on their system’s performance. And let them pull in the information they need (including third-party data) and see it in widgets as they want to see it based on user, roles, and permissions.
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: People digest data and think differently. If I’m an underwriter, maybe the first thing I want to look at is a credit breakdown. Another underwriter may not care as much about the individual tradelines and attributes. They may want to look at the debt breakdown and debt to income ratios. They may just want to know, first and foremost, before they get into the detail, if the borrower can afford to pay. That’s going to vary from person to person.
So in our new defi ORIGINATIONS UI, an admin sets up the page, the default look and feel, and what data in what widgets are on a page. That way there is consistency on the data being shown to users across the organization.
But what is new is the ability of the user to configure the pages and drag the widgets around in a way that makes sense for how they want to read it.
They can’t delete data. They can’t add data. They still have to work within the constraints of what the organization has said, “Hey, this is what you have to look at.” But when they reorient those widgets, that now becomes a customized view for them. This allows the user to have a little bit of flexibility on how they ingest the data.
So back to the concept of “as simple as possible, but not simpler.” If not “simple,” what is one word you would use to define a great user interface?
UX: Efficient. Able to complete a task in as few steps as possible.
SOLUTION ENGINEERING: Flexible. Able to be many things for many clients.
defi SOLUTIONS offers solutions for a lender’s complete end-to-end, loan or lease lifecycle. Partnering with captives, banks, credit unions, and finance companies, defi’s market-leading solutions helps lenders exceed borrower expectations. From digital engagement through the complete lending process, defi sets new standards for flexibility, configurability, and scalability in originations and servicing (by your experts or ours). If you’re curious about the possibilities for your unique lending lifecycle, take the first step. Contact our team today or register for a demo.