Student Loans Company

Humane design and education

Application process for loans for full-time study 2012-13

  • Re-design the online application for a student loan for a full-time course.
  • Old online application was very confusing and time consuming to complete. In tests people took up to 2 hours to complete it, a number could not complete it and a number became very distressed by the process.
  • The old system had been based directly on the paper-based application form and the resulting flow was not intuitive in digital format.
  • Applicants were not fully aware of decisions they had made or their consequences and were not fully aware of what they had applied for.


  • Young adults made up 90% of the audience and were inexperienced at making financial applications, they needed to feel security and support whilst understanding the legal implications of the process.
  • There were several different types of loan available to apply for – one was very straightforward and only needed the main applicant’s information, the others required the main applicant to have a financial backer who needed to provide financial evidence in order for the application to be submitted, however the main applicant had to make this selection, and nominate a ‘financial supporter’ before their ‘financial supporter’ could be contacted.
  • If taking the type of loan which involved a ‘financial supporter’ there was the possibility of receiving a part of the loan as a non-repayable grant. SLC wanted to make the applicant aware of this before they selected the type of loan which did not require a ‘financial supporter’.
  • Parallel system development added to the complexity – 3 separate, interlinking systems were required to enable a student and their financial supporter to make a full online application for a loan. Two of these were systems being re-developed and one developed from scratch.


  • Reviewing business requirements in collaboration with Business Analysts, Product Owner and in-house design team.
  • User flow and journey mapping by analysis of the loan application in its paper format.
  • Mock-up and wireframe production and prototype development.
  • User testing of concepts, re-working of prototype in preparation for re-testing.
  • Collaborating with content editor to ensure legal terminology was set out in plain English as far as possible.
  • Reviewing and designing on-screen interactions to ensure clarity from the user perspective.


  • Streamlined loan application process so users only had to make one decision at a time, hiding the complexity from them.
  • Increased applicants’ understanding of what they had applied for.
  • Greater flexibility in the application process meant that all variations and potential combinations of ‘loan product’ could be applied for together.
  • Greater comprehension of the loan application through simplified terminology and question ordering.
  • Re-arranging the order of some of the application questions enabled context-specific information to be presented later in the application.
  • Project is part of the Government Digital Services (GDS) initiative and is the first of the 25 exemplars to go live (
  • Project won the TechExcel Best Agile Project award in the European Software Awards 2013.


The final system reduced the online loan application process to 20 minutes with comprehension of what they had applied for, what was involved and what was going to happen next.

In final rounds of usability testing participants were pleasantly surprised by the experience, commenting on its ease – some of them actually expressed surprise saying that they had enjoyed it and wanted to do it again!