A look at the process behind the creation of the OSFA Portal
The OSFA (Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid) portal was created to assist students in their higher education financial aid journey. It aims to make the the often cumbersome process of applying for and accepting financial aid easier.
To start, we needed to work with the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid to better understand the financial aid process. This involved many discussions and observations of both students and staff as they went through the process.
The goal with the research step was to not only understand the process, but identify any pain points that either the student or staff member experienced through the process. In addition to passive observation, we used the user research methodologies offered by Steve Krug in his book Rocket Surgery Made Easy to actively seek out any pain points in the process.
Once we had a solid understanding of this process, we went to work by mapping out some user story maps. The tool was both for the students and the financial aid staff, so we had to think of how each user would be using the tool throughout the financial aid process.
One of the biggest complaints we heard from the students is the lack of any apparent update. Once they submit a financial aid / scholarship request, they're often left in the dark for undisclosed periods of time. To help alleviate this issue, we made the status of their requests a prominent part of the UI. To reinforce this, I made it a point to ensure that every action, even the small input actions while using the app, always had immediate feedback. Constant reassurance on a micro level helped the student feel like they were constantly making progress.
At this point the team had a solid understanding of the financial aid process. Early on we identified the most important aspects of the process for students, and built a dashboard to highlight that information.
I designed the dashboard to quickly highlight the most important information for the student (status of requests, current progress, next steps, etc.).
The aid details were one of the several pages where students could drill down further. Though we had a lot of information to present, the Dashboard was always intended to be the "spring-board" to these more complex pages.
We also wanted to provide a way for the students to interact with the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid staff. Again, one of their biggest complaints was not knowing who to contact and when. The message center allowed them to have a direct line of communication to staff, and staff could see the student's dashboard to quickly garner what information they needed.
Another cumbersome part of the process for students was knowing what forms they needed to fill out, when to fill them out, and how to submit them. I created a document center to bring all the relevant forms to a single location. Like the rest of the sub-pages, the document center had a lot of information that the user could pour through. The dashboard widget for this page pulled the most important details from this page and prominently displayed it for the student.
During this time, I was also creating a new design system for our web applications based on the Material Design design system. This application served as the guinea pig for this new design system.
We ran through several iterations of user feedback sessions before we started writing any code.
Above: Cost breakdown analysis chart using d3.js
Above: Message and action widgets on student homepage
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