A new way to buy car insurance for drivers in Africa
Paris/Dakar/Abidjan/Douala, 2018 - 2019
Help Baloon bring online insurance to people who are either uninsured or who are used to pay for insurance in person.
Design an accessible experience for customers with varying levels of literacy, and poor internet connections.
Project manager, UX lead
Deliverables: project plan, customer insights, experience concepts, information architecture, screen flow & wireframes for mobile/desktop, UX copy, high-fidelity prototype, web analytics plan.
A responsive website with straightforward instructions and a helpful personality.
Boosted online sales & lead generation; conversion rate of car insurance prospects completing a quote from near 0% up to 50%.
Boost a poorly performing purchase funnel
Baloon Assurance is a French Insurtech start-up operating as a broker in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin, Cameroon and Gabon. In these countries online insurance has hardly been developed, and drivers are used to getting their mandatory car insurance at an office. Baloon offers a convenient way to buy and renew your insurance online; pay with your mobile wallet and receive your certificate at home!
In 2018, Baloon launched a minimum viable version of their website including a presentation of their offer and the purchase funnel. They developed a solution to automatically read a car licence and ID using OCR technology to simplify the process. Instead of entering details manually, people can take and send photos of their documents to get a quote and get insured.
But after a couple of months, Baloon observed that most website visitors dropped off on the first page of their funnel, resulting in zero leads and sales. Also, they felt the look and feel of their website didn't do a good job in communicating the inclusive "insurance for all" concept they wanted to express.
BEFORE - Screenshot's of Baloon's homepage and first page of the funnel
When Baloon's COO asked me to "do something" to fix their funnel I had been at Baloon for a month. The team based in Paris was tiny: Founder/CEO, COO, CTO, an insurance product expert, a software architect, two back-end devs, one newly hired front-end developer, and myself as Swiss UX knife. The local subsidiaries each were staffed with a country manager and a handful of sales agents.
Working at an early-stage start-up means working with limited resources; ambitions skyrocket but on the ground the team looks more like the Wright brothers than a group of specialized space center technicians. From a previous start-up experience I knew how deeply founders are engaged on a personal level. The project required an extremely pragmatic approach with enough opportunities for the entire team to contribute.
Here's how that played out.
1. Heuristic evaluation and insurance 101
I reviewed the existing website, looked at the few available usage stats, and pointed out potential problems. I asked why certain choices had been made and familiarized myself with requirements and constraints. I then delivered a presentation with quick fixes with solutions (e.g. change button color) drawn on top of screenshots to provide something to work with right away.
2. Contextual inquiry
Baloon's annual management seminar in Douala turned out to be the perfect opportunity to combine internal stakeholder interviews with low-budget field research. I asked the country managers of Ivory Coast and Cameroon to help me recruit participants and join me to listen. I also went out with the street promotion team to observe how potential customers reacted to their sales pitch, and pitch myself. I can't say that I was a "fly on the wall" because people were quite amused to see a white woman sell car insurance!
The company previously held stereotypical beliefs about their customers such as "people don't know car insurance is mandatory", "people don't care about understanding insurance", or "people in Africa don't use Google". The various profiles I presented (real people, not personas) helped to gain a more nuanced understanding of different types of needs and attitudes of car insurance buyers and their journeys. I also expressed 5 key experience principles for Baloon's new online experience.
Interview - talking to a car owner in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Empathy exercise - selling car insurance on the streets of Douala, Cameroon
High-level customer journey - a simple visualisation to help the team start thinking about their service as a journey
3. Experience design
Without an existing style guide/design system and the desire to offer a highly visual experience to the target audience, UI design chops were needed. I explained the COO why the project needed "another designer" and that it would be best to recruit someone senior. I was grateful to find the perfect person to take on the job; Claire Pons, a seasoned freelance product designer/art director based in London with outstanding illustration skills.
Claire facilitated a UI workshop in Paris to get the core stakeholder's input on the new visual identity. I then organised additional internal (remote) reviews with Baloon's subsidiaries to narrow down to one direction. While I continued working on the functional aspects of the experience, she crafted the visual identity, iconography, and illustrations. More over, she was able to challenge my UX work which is so appreciated when you're designing solo!
Personality concepts - my first pass to facilitate a discussion about online personality and tone of voice
Quick "sketches" - showing how different personalities could play out as an interface
4. Functional design
During this phase I worked closely with Baloon's software architect to simplify the process as much as we could while taking into account the challenge of developing a single code base solution for multiple countries with each their own specific rules. A broker sells insurance products from multiple insurers; imagine an apple from Axa is not described in the same way as an apple from Allianz. The complexity of the system hence comes forth out of a lot of variables and different definitions.
I provoked the team to think beyond existing solutions, by sketching out different concepts such as "What if you don't need to select a formula but can add options?" , "What if we offer a fast track for people who just want the basic coverage?" or "How might we offer an easy way to pick up a previous quote later?".
After reviewing the feasibility and development effort of various concepts, we collectively made the trade-offs of which features to include for the first version of the new website. I delivered detailed wireframes for the homepage, insurance product landing pages (car, travel, health), and the entire funnel from quote to completed purchase.
Global site map
Principal actions and moments of conversion
Wireframes - a concept for the "Tarif" page where additional coverage is selected
5. Design system and prototype
With my wireframes as input, Claire started building a design system and as soon as we settled on the main styles I began to use the elements of the system to iterate on remaining features.
Then Claire and I collaborated on an InVision prototype to share the experience with stakeholders and developers.
I delivered the final specifications for the front-end developer in Figma, the perfect tool for collaboration.
Printed A2 poster - an overview of the first InVision demo screens to print out and comment on with post-its
6. Usability testing and design iterations
After having received feedback on the prototype through remote sessions, I went to Dakar in person to test the first version of the funnel once it was built in React. As much as you think you've done a wonderful job as a designer to make it really intuitive and such, there are always, always features that you did not get right!
Take for example the first screen of the funnel. During the first round of interviews I had discovered that it was not only the fear of uploading personal documents that was making people quit, but also a practical matter of not having your licence on hand. A lot of people keep their license in the car, maybe parked a block away, live on the x-th floor of an apartment building, and aren't motivated enough to get up from their comfy couch. (Additionally with a slow internet connection it can take forever to upload a photo, not a great experience.)
So I had suggested "What if we'd offer an alternative path to get a quote by manually entering the details?" I had designed a flow that offered both options. But when we tested the resulting screen where people were asked to make a choice, it turned out to be utterly confusing!
With the feedback from the usability test I was able to create a new version of this screen that worked much better with a default option to take a photo, and a backup option to enter details manually.
After the test I iterated a lot on the copy across all screens, striving for very short and precise instructions.
“Take a photo or enter details manually? What am I supposed to do here?”
Usability test participant, Dakar
Iteration example - the first version of redesigned screen didn't work, the second did
6. Measurement plan
Baloon's previous website didn't have properly defined KPI's, which at the start of the project unfortunately had left a lot up to guesswork. I took ownership of the web analytics and presented a framework in Excel with KPI's that would in my opinion be more meaningful and that would enable Baloon to better track the website's true performance. For example I suggested to set up an indicator per product for visitors who had expressed an interest in a certain insurance product, e.g. car insurance, to purchase, instead of measuring product conversion as the percentage of all website visitors to purchase.
No delegation, DIY!
After having spent previous years leading design teams, this project was a refreshing hands-on experience! It was a great opportunity and fun to actually fully use Figma myself and stay up to date with development libraries, in this case React.
What I found frustrating however was knowing how the result could have been better by bringing on more specific skills. Yes, I can write web copy, but a copy writer does a much better job because it is actually a job! I prefer taking on a role as an orchestra's or jazz band's conductor; as a true team player a one-man band gets old pretty quickly.
Shifting ambition from looks to learning
If I’d find myself in this specific context again with extremely limited resources (no dedicated sales & marketing team, no product management, no traffic management nor any form of digital relationship management), I’d push even harder to favor running experiments over putting effort in a redesign based on best guesses and without estimated ROI.
It would be great if investors too could look beyond the standard financial curves, the founding team and such, and assess “what did you learn this year, and which decisions were you able to make based upon this knowledge?”. This would serve start-ups, and the designers working with them, to focus their effort on validating hypotheses in an effective way.
User research and design in Africa
To be successful in launching products and services in Africa, you really need to have a local presence. If you're looking to conduct user research in Africa, or wonder what specific design decisions to favor to adapt user interfaces to the African context of use, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'd be happy to help.