CPE Nation is a continuing education platform for Certified Professional Accountants (CPA) in the United States and Canada. CPE Nation offers courses in various types of media, and includes an accredited examination for each course.
User Research, Competitive Analysis, UX Design, QA
6 Months (Consulting)
A successful continuing education provider for lawyers (CLE) in the United States was looking to expand into accounting education. Despite a few simple similarities, the majority of the practicalities for accounting were quite different from the legal world. The client needed someone to design a full experience which would facilitate purchase, utilization, testing and issuance of certificates of accredited accounting materials. The solution would have to be a full responsive web application, and the designer would have to support engineers in the building of the product, including final QA to ensure everything was working properly.
When asked to take on this project, my only condition was that my client would allow me to do research and interview CPA's to see how they currently experience continuing professional education. "Sounds expensive", was their reply, but they agreed to let me do the work.
I interviewed 5 CPA's from various states, with various levels of experience and areas of expertise. Their attributes and behaviors were mapped across 8 dimensions ranging from motivation for completing their CPE (continuining education) to their cost sensitivity.
A set of natural groupings emerged, revealing a couple personas to work from. Some interesting correlations were also uncovered. For example, corporate accountants were insensitive to price, their companies picking up the tab, while sole-proprietors were understandably much more price conscious. Also, accountants motivated by compliance only tended to seek out live sessions they could attend (forcing them to finish on time, perhaps), while those motivated to learn about new areas of accounting tended to prefer written material they could spend time with and absorb at their own pace.
Since I was at the beginning of my research journey, and knew little about the space, I took the opportunity to test a couple competitors' sites with the users I had recruited. I set up a simple task of them finding a course to complete their state requirements for the year, and observed as they worked through the sites.
This uncovered a huge insight: every user first visited the state requirements page to refresh themselves on how many credits of each type (ethics, taxes, business law, etc.) were required in each state. Requirements are fairly complex, and not easy to keep track of, despite having to revisit them annually. Interestingly, competitors just reposted the requirements taken directly from the state, leaving the accountant on their own to interpret what was required of them in order to be compliant.
"Every site just copies and pastes the requirements for each state. I have to scroll through all this text, and then try to match the requirements to the courses I am considering. It's pretty tedious. I wish they could just show me how each course would affect my requirements."
— Interviewed CPA User
Considering compliance spanned an annual, biennial, or even triennial period, mapping out the user journey was critical for considering the various needs and behaviors of the user over such a long period. I mapped out the major steps involved in a single compliance period, with touch points, channels and the user's emotional state at each point along the way (informed by interviews). Being able to look at the entire experience holistically helped inform:
Armed with a persona and a user journey, I started working on the various screens that would allow the user to complete their needed actions. In some ways, the UI would be very similar to the average e-commerce website, but it would need to differ in several others. Some of the more unique challenges faced were:
When trying to determine how to get users where they need to go easily from the homepage with hundreds of combinations possible (50 states x 4 types of content), it became clear that a typical menu based approach or homepage hierarchy could be overwhelming. I'd seen accountants struggle with filters on competitors' websites when performing usability testing. While staring at the whiteboard which had a user story written on it, inspiration struck! Why not make the hero slot of the homepage a user story that they could fill out? This way they'd be able to drill down into the exact content they need quickly and could refine their search using filters from there.
To solve the issue of understanding compliance requirements, I created the Credit Tracker. This simple graph translated long and thorny state requirements into a simple visual representation of the credits a CPA needed to be compliant. It consisted of two parts: individual categorical bar charts to mark requirements for each subject category, and a donut chart that recorded total credits earned to track the overall number of credits required. The tracker was featured throughout the site: the user's account, on every course page showing how the current course would affect their total credit standing, and even during checkout so users could evaluate how their cart would affect their credit count once courses were completed.
At the beginning of the project, as I did a competitive review, I couldn't help but notice a common visual theme: stock business photography. Yuck. In an effort to look professional, most brands had also embraced blandness and unoriginality.
I explored a few visual directions, hosting a mini critique with other key stakeholders at the company (product, commercial, marketing) and settled on a visual language that would inform the rest of our high fidelity work.
Inspired by courtroom paintings, I envisioned handmade watercolors used for each course's main image. This balanced professionalism with playfulness, and gave a very serious topic a more friendly face.
I carried forward the visual language to deliver final mocks for developers to reference when building the platform. I was able to commission dozens of handmade watercolors to use for the course images, and had a logo commissioned as well. Final preparation involved creating mocks for various device breakpoints, and creating a style guide.
Coordinating with engineers from wireframes forward, the product was able to be built as mocked up within the 6 months allotted from design to release. I worked with the front-end engineers on the project to QA every flow across various devices, and was able to ensure that the original vision of a responsive, easy to understand education platform was realized. The site is still live today, and has successfully expanded the client's business into another vertical.