Design Chats

Inside Design: LendingTree

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Jul 3, 2017
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LendingTree has facilitated more than 55 million loan requests and accounts for $251 billion in closed loan transactions. They couldn’t have pulled that off without a dedication to great design—and that’s one of many reasons we’re proud to have them in the InVision community.

We talked with Drew Bissell, Director of Mobile Design at LendingTree, to learn more about keeping teams on the same page, building trust with users, and the most undervalued skill in the designer’s toolkit.

LendingTree’s Drew Bissell.

Can you tell us about how your design team is set up at LendingTree?

We have a fast-growing creative team—it’s more than tripled in size in the last few years, and it’s still growing. We’ve always been an extremely flat organization. Our Creative Director, Todd Lauer, is an open and candid person and those traits filter down to the rest of the group. If someone feels that a design or a certain piece of typography isn’t working, you’ll hear about it, regardless of position or title. I think this keeps people humble and also empowers them. We know the creative we produce will play on a big stage, so anything that ends up there has “made it” through the auditions.

Most of the designers on the team have some front-end development skills as well, which is so helpful when communicating with the development team and finding compromises when they’re needed.

“Take time to audition your designs before they hit the main stage.”

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We also have specialists that focus on certain areas, such as display marketing, mobile app design (my area), social marketing, writing content for an article, or even pitching ideas for a new commercial. These disciplines are all inside the creative team, so it’s great to get input and feedback from people who will bring a fresh set of eyes to something that you’ve been staring at for days.

Have you made any changes recently that have resulted in your team working more efficiently, or better in general?

We’ve always had a weekly team meeting with the entire team where we review each other’s work and give each other feedback on the various projects we are working on. This helps keep people on the same page as to what’s going on in the company—plus it helps us make sure we’re keeping things visually tight. The idea is to have a consistent look-and-feel, while allowing for the flexibility to appropriately A/B test, which leads to dramatic wins.

By starting the week with that meeting on Monday mornings and getting all of us talking, I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to approach someone later in the week to follow up on a certain item, or just to chat and build relationships.

Slack, which we started using last year, has also helped a ton with this by giving us a constant stream of chatter back and forth even if it does get way off topic sometimes. Your Giphy game has to be strong.

Related: 25 free Slack emojis your design team had no idea they needed

How do you keep everyone on the same page?

This has been surprisingly easier than we thought it would be as the team has grown. We have 2 main offices: one in Charlotte, NC and the other in Burlingame, CA. Our weekly team meeting and constant Slack sharing make staying on the same page pretty easy.

Does InVision save you time? If so, how?

Incorporating InVision into our workflow has been a huge time-saver in our product development cycle. Instead of having these long and sometimes wasteful meetings about the order of pages, which button goes to what page, and so on, we can just send out a link to gather feedback and comments.

“InVision helps us discover potential issues earlier in the product cycle.”

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Most people are also way more likely to engage with a prototype than a set of static mocks. We’ve also discovered potential issues earlier in the product cycle, whether it’s an unexpected interaction, a confusing label in a form, or something similar.

We’ve started building all types of small prototypes with InVision, like small 3 screen interactions or a form inside a modal. Last month we built an entire new product in InVision and sent it out to all the employees in our call center to gather feedback. This saved a large amount of time and potential embarrassment by finding bugs very early in the product cycle. Obviously we have a QA cycle before anything goes out, but by building this prototype we were able to quickly make copy and functionality changes before they went into development.

I’ve made it a point to use InVision more and more if a project I’m working on has more than 3 screens. That way we can reduce any assumptions and possible hiccups as early as possible.

Do you heavily use any specific InVision features like Boards, Inspect, Craft, etc?

At LendingTree we’ve been using Craft since the very first release. We were looking for a way to share a common library of elements that the whole team could use and update if needed. Once we had our first main Library up, we’ve been running with it ever since.

There have been countless times where I’ve been impressed with the amount of time I saved by dragging a premade symbol into an artboard instead of having to create it from scratch, that and I know it will match the other 10 instances of it that are already out there on our site.

“InVision lets us quickly and easily gather feedback.”

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Any tips for designing to build trust with users? With financial software, you’re asking users to hand over a lot of personal information. How do you get them to trust your products?

Our brand has been around for a while now, and we’ve always been extremely consumer focused, which helps a ton. With our great brand recognition—thanks to marketing in every medium for 20 years—just putting our logo on a page or product really helps display trust.

We’ve also found that by using thoughtful copy and anticipating anxiety in our users, we can help them get over that apprehension they may feel entering personal information. Through ongoing research and customer testing and interaction, our very quickly growing user experience and research team finds additional ways through interface and language to help build trust with users.

An example of LendingTree’s thoughtful copy.

Building a team is a design project. How can leaders better design their teams?

Over the past several years, we’ve very intentionally shifted from an in-house creative services group into a full-blown, in-house creative agency. Through process and expanded scope of what we take on, we act as strategic partners for our marketing and product teams.

Design isn’t just about making stuff pretty anymore.Twitter Logo It’s about researching our customers, looking at the performance data and always trying to beat the champion—all while maintaining a cohesive, trustworthy brand. That in its self is a tall order.

We’re also empowered to do our jobs in our own way and to explore our ideas. The best answers often come to you while you’re walking home from workTwitter Logo, sitting at a stoplight, or riding the train back home. Once you tap into that, you realize by scheduling some time to let your mind wander you’re often times more efficient than just sitting behind a desk. We set aside time each Friday to specifically work on these “backburner ideas” and give them substance.

We’ve had some really great wins come from this time, whether it’s a new commercial idea or a form design that boosts conversion. It also sets up a fun, competitive environment within the design team to go head-to-head to find the best solution for a problem, which is a huge morale builder.

“Schedule some time to let your mind wander.”

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This year, have politics affected the way you view design or do your job?

Only in the sense that we’ve taken advantage of some pop culture trends such as Brexit and Trump with some marketing materials that we’ve created. We always want to save consumers money and point them in the right direction.

We take our responsibility in offering financial services and advice (through articles) seriously. Empowerment is a big thing for us, both in our internal teams, and in our customers. It’s important for us to do the right thing and give the consumer some options on what is right for them in the long run.

What skill do you think is undervalued in the designer’s toolkit?

For me, presenting your work and clearly communicating how you came to a certain decision has become my most important skill. This has taken me quite a bit of time to realize in my career, and it’s something I continually work on with each new project.

I remember sitting in one meeting at my past company and a fellow designer put his design up on the screen and started with, “I feel like this design portrays a clean aesthetic because of the…”

Notice how that started? “I feel like…”

“You’ve got to be confident when you walk people through your designs.”

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I use that as an example of what not to do when talking with junior designers. You need to be confident and walk people through what you’ve done and why. When they understand your thoughts and the steps you’ve taken to get to a certain place, it will be much easier for them to give constructive feedback on your design.

Once you establish common ground, the pathways of communication have a smaller chance of getting muddy, and solutions come faster. This is a skill that transcends design tools. It doesn’t matter what crazy program you’re using to design in 10 years if your presentation and communication skills are strong.

What are some of your favorite examples of great design in real life?

Recently our whole team went to the Letterform Archive in San Francisco to look at some physical design examples. We saw books and posters that were 500 years old and custom made for royalty, all the way up to very recent and very abstract pieces of print.

This turned out to be way more educational and inspiring than we anticipated. Being able to walk through the entire visual identity of NASA, for example, and seeing how a logo should correctly be placed on a shuttle blew our minds.

This place had so many great examples of printed pieces that can easily be converted to a digital medium with a few tweaks. One of our favorite pieces was called Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975 that had so many great examples of old posters and newspaper ads. Those pieces are today’s landing pages and display ads—they would continually tweak them to grab the attention of travelers.

Pushing an exotic destination like Fiji and refinancing your home loan don’t have a ton of similarities in terms of content, but if you tackle it strictly as a design problem, many of those differences disappear.

“Incorporating InVision into our workflow has been a huge time-saver.”

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“Communication is a skill that transcends design tools.”

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Photos by Peter Prato.

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