CU Direct is a Southern California-based software company that specializes in lending products primarily geared toward credit union lenders and members. The company builds a range of SaaS products, from friendly consumer-facing loan apps to complex, multiuser systems that power personal, automotive, and home loan processing tailored to diverse pro user roles.
Like many SaaS companies, CU Direct had a software development-centric mindset that lacked user- centered design thinking at the heart of the process. The company’s scant design “department” consisted of one or two visual UI designers who had little to no agency or respect, no overt product design input, and no seat at the organization’s decision-making table. UX as a discipline was rarely practiced and barely, if ever, considered during day-to-day product planning and implementation.
Sean Ferguson, Vice President, ProductDigital Experiences at Origence
Initially, CU Direct brought in the Primitive Spark team for a three-month contract to support to the company’s tiny band of overworked and underappreciated designers and to help handle ongoing product UI updates. In short order we were able to contribute more of our extensive skill set and were tasked with conducting UX research for one of the company’s key consumer-facing products. From there, our relationship expanded into a prolific and broadly-scoped partnership that lasted more than three years.
Our team harmoniously integrated with CU Direct’s product team, working on numerous product interfaces for diverse loan products, credit cards and mortgages. We led several pivotal initiatives, including the design of the company’s back-office Loan Origination System and integration with their CRM system. Throughout our longterm engagement, we tackled challenges inherent in weaving together multiple internal legacy systems and external system services into the products we were designing. Among the high hurdles: integrations that weren’t even web-based!
Throughout the engagement, our team led and participated in an array of activities to advance CU Direct’s UX practice: ongoing heuristic and competitive analysis, personas and journey maps for consumers and pro users, UX design prototyping, and UI design system creation and extension. We also implemented from the ground up the tools and processes for two essential product design department initiatives: CU Direct’s UX research practice, and their content strategy practice.
Due to our multidisciplinary team’s extensive interaction with various CU Direct product groups and departments over 3+ years, our UX/UI approaches and several of our distinctive design concepts became systemic, circulating and crossing over into additional product plans, tools and systems in development across the company.
Our continuing mission is client empowerment. We happily integrated into CU Direct’s team during our engagement, but our ultimate goal was to prepare the company for life without us. To that end, Primitive Spark was instrumental in determining permanent UX leadership needs, and took an active role in recruiting the company’s Director of Product Design. This central new role was established to ensure strong UX process, ongoing and thoughtful design team growth and leadership, and a solid, influential seat at CU Direct’s product design decision table.
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