I ran the design team for FedLoan Servicing & American Education Services. AMA

almost 5 years ago from , Design Consultant, Host of Signal337 podcast

For anyone who has or had student loans, I ran the design team at one of the top four federal student aid servicers. I worked for over a year at Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency aka PHEAA / FedLoan Servicing aka MyFedLoan / American Education Services aka AES


Due to the nature of my work, I was heavily involved in various initiatives around Public Service Loan Forgiveness, TEACH Grants, Credit Reporting, Income Driven Repayment Plans, State Grant Program, and Marketing efforts.

I'll answer this right now: No, I can't make your student loan disappear...


  • Nick Dominguez, almost 5 years ago

    I know this is a very vague question but can you give us a little picture of what the design process around the "Income Driven Repayment Plans" looked like?

    Did you guys incorporate any user testing? In person or remote? How did you get the data to build your repayment plans? How did you weight customer vs. client success? etc.

    1 point
    • Timothy McKenna, almost 5 years ago

      Great question and not as vague as you might think.

      The Income Driven Repayments Plans (IDR) are actually mandated by Dept. of Education's Federal Student Aid. FedLoan Servicing is one of the four "TIVAs" or Title 4 Servicers that Dept. of Education contracts with to service student loans. The other TIVA's include Navient, Great Lakes and Nelnet (but Great Lakes and Nelnet are merging...so there will be only 3 soon). Servicing a student loan is not the same as getting your loan...FedLoan acts on behalf of Dept. of Education to collect the payments....your loans are originated (given to you) by the federal government. All of this is pertinent to the IDR plans...

      When the Dept. of Education's Federal Student Aid (or FSA) gives a mandate...they broadly say "Hey, you're all going to do this now....figure it out....we'll tell if you're doing it wrong or not." They give us the plan and we are tasked with implementing it with the borrowers interest in the fore-front of our minds. Most people don't know which IDR plan is the best fit for them. So the design team created a lot of user stories and customer journey maps to discover a happy path and discover tangents and potential scenarios where certain borrowers might have a complicated financial situation to solve for. Once we have created the user stories and journey maps, we would test our ideas by creating mockups of screens and we would use usertesting.com for remote testing. Why remote testing? We can dial in the population of testers quite easily for various ethnographic needs. We learned a lot from remote testing and currently, the qualitative data from those tests are being synthesized to help redesign the current IDR plan page

      As far as weighing success for the borrower vs client (FSA)....that can be tricky. In the broadest definition....by implementing a mandate, we've succeeded in the eyes of the government. From a customer standpoint, just having the service doesn't mean jack, so our goal is to create easy to follow instructions and resources to educate and empower the borrower as much as possible in their decision making process. We technically can't tell borrowers which plan is best for them, that would be considered financial advising and that is big no-no in the industry. We view success for the customer when they have successfully applied for an IDR plan that best suits their financial situation and they are making on time payments without requesting any additional Deferment/Forbearance (aka stopping payment for a while).

      Could we do things better? Absolutely.

      Things the Customer Experience Department (includes design, development, product management, insights and analytics, requirements, marketing, and communications) are doing include more in person testing, more discovery sprints (purely focused on understanding the borrower's journey) to make actionable design decisions, and moving to a lean UX methodology to build, test, deliver, iterate in a much faster time frame. They are also pushing back with FSA on mandates that aren't very borrower focused (In fact, when FedLoan pushes back...the other TIVA's follow suit to show a united front...sometimes it works...sometimes it doesn't).

      So a long winded answer, but definitely a great question.

      3 points
  • Brennan Smith, almost 5 years ago

    Have you ever considered centering the layout on AES? The usability is great with the site but the left justified layout grinds my gears. Also, why no responsiveness?

    1 point
    • Timothy McKenna, almost 5 years ago

      Good questions....The problem stems from poor change requests for updating the website.

      1) it's not on a content management system 2) There is a lot of inline styling 3) The focus has always been on the borrower portal vs the public facing website.

      To address these issues, the CX Department that was created is working on a brand new AES website that will be built on Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) platform and will utilize the new design system and responsive grid that my team developed.

      The design team has prioritized the redesign of both PHEAA and AES's public facing sites to being in August.

      1 point
  • Jennifer Nguyen, over 4 years ago

    Do you have any quantitative data you'd like to share with the world? Any patterns you've noticed with users? Example: Users who customize which loans to pay off first are more likely to pay off their loans in under 5 years. With access to so much data, it'd be helpful for folks like us to know what are things we could be doing differently on those sites, to better our position. Thanks in advance.

    0 points
  • Freckley FrecklesonFreckley Freckleson, almost 5 years ago

    How do you sell the value of a well crafted source file to execs e.g. thoughtfully created symbols in Sketch, nicely organised layers in Photoshop etc vs quick and dirty turnover of designs? I of course lean toward well crafted files, but I pay for it with many unpaid overtime hours. I feel like it’s a short term pain, long term gain kind of thing, but it’s hard to sell this to people who know little about design or old-schoolers who are not used to working with design systems. Any advice?

    0 points