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Using Design Thinking to Serve the Underserved

The creation and delivery of products and services to people are at the core of any business. As simplistic as that sounds, developers and decision makers often overlook, or make assumptions about, the very people they’re serving as they design for them.

Executive Summary

Each of us encounters disappointment as we go about our daily lives, interacting with technology, physical objects, and other people. These frustrations are often due to design failures that seem so obvious when you experience them. For a familiar example of these failures, long studied and famously discussed in design circles, look no further than your TV remote control. How long does it take you to explain how to work your TV and remote to a houseguest or a babysitter? Why is this the case, when that person most likely has, or has used, a setup nearly identical to yours in their own home? How many of the buttons on your remote control do you actually use, or grasp the function of? All too often, clean, prioritized, and edited design falls victim to over-featured, engineering-driven, and marketing-centric choices.

What is the research about?

In June 2012 Julie Norvaisas led a design thinking workshop that kicked off a week organized by the Cooperative Trust, Filene Research Institute’s young professionals network. A group of 15 young credit union professionals from across the country gathered to “Crash the ACUC” with the purpose of learning about and applying design thinking to address the seemingly intractable problem of serving un- and underbanked consumers. At the end of the week, these Crashers developed a product concept called “the Tru Circle account.”

What are the credit union implications?

Design thinking can be applied to any business, but it is particularly critical for credit unions to understand members more deeply for a few key reasons:

  • The knowledge gap: The distance between how credit unions think about financial services and how most consumers understand and experience the financial realm is likely vast.
  • The emotional gap: While it all seems quite rational to you, managing finances can be emotionally charged and confusing for most people. As a result, many consumers do a poor job managing their finances.
  • The credit union mission: Credit unions are different from other financial institutions—a difference manifested by standing with consumers rather than against them. In that light, adopting a design thinking mindset is an emerging capability credit unions need to develop to remain competitive and relevant.

This brief outlines design thinking methods, tells the story of how the Cooperative Trust employed design thinking to spark innovation, and introduces the resulting Tru Account product currently in development as a result of their efforts.

This report is sponsored by CUNA Mutual Group.