Conduct user research to understand pain points and identify opportunities. Students should speak to potential target users through surveys, interviews, focus groups or usability tests to understand what problems are most pressing in their daily tasks or workflows. User research helps uncover unmet needs and pain points that a solution could address. It’s important to get input from multiple users with different backgrounds and perspectives to find common themes.
Perform competitive analysis and gap analysis. Students should research what existing solutions are currently available on the market and how those solutions are meeting or not meeting user needs. A gap analysis evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of competitors while also identifying white spaces of unmet needs. This allows students to design a solution that fills gaps rather than duplicating what already exists. It’s important for projects to provide unique value.
Develop personas. Based on user research findings, students can create user personas – fictional representations of the target users. Personas put a human face to abstract user groups and help students understand the motivations, frustrations and characteristics of different types of users. Well-developed personas keep the solution focused on empathizing with and solving problems for specific user types throughout the design and development process.
Understand the business model and value proposition. Students must clarify how their proposed solution would generate revenue and provide value for both users and the business. Questions to consider include: What problem is being solved? Who is the customer? What direct and indirect needs are being addressed? How will customers pay and what is in it for them? How will the business make money? How does the value proposition differ from competitors? Having well-defined business model helps ensure technical solutions are developed with commercialization and profitability in mind.
Create user journeys and flows. Students should map out the step-by-step process a user would take to accomplish tasks within the proposed solution. User journeys identify touchpoints, potential frustrations, and opportunities for improvement. Mapping the before-and-after workflows helps validate whether the solution will provide a seamless, efficient experience and achieve the desired outcomes for users. User journeys also give insight into how functionality and features should be prioritized or developed.
Build prototypes. Low to high fidelity prototypes allow users to interact with and provide feedback on early versions of the concept. paper prototyping, interactive prototypes, or wireframes give students a chance to test design ideas and learn where the design succeeds or fails in meeting user needs before significant development effort is expended. Iterative prototyping helps students incorporate user feedback to refine the solution design in a user-centered manner.
Conduct iterative user testing. Students should test prototype versions of the solution with target users to uncover usability issues, comprehension problems, and ensure tasks can be completed as expected. User testing early and often prevents larger reworks later and helps keep the student focused on designing for real user needs and behaviors. Each round of user research, prototyping and testing allows for ongoing refinement to the solution and business model based on learning what is most effective and valued by potential customers.
Consult with industry mentors. Seeking guidance from industry mentors – such as accomplished alumni, executives, or potential customers – gives students an outside perspective on whether their proposed solution aligns with market opportunities and realities. Consulting experienced professionals in the target domain helps validate business assumptions, get early customer interest and feedback, and ensures the technical vision considers practical implementation challenges. Mentor input helps reduce risk and strengthen customer-centric aspects of the solution design.
Present to target users. Students should organize a stakeholder presentation to demonstrate prototypes or concepts to potential target users and customer organizations. Presentations mimic real-world customer validation opportunities and allow students to observe user reactions firsthand and answer questions. Students gain valuable insights into how well non-technical audiences understand value propositions and whether interests are captured as intended. Stakeholder feedback during final validation is crucial for fine-tuning the pitch before capstone conclusions are drawn.
By conducting iterative user research, developing personas, mapping workflows, building prototypes, testing with users, consulting mentors and stakeholders, students can have high confidence their capstone projects address authentic needs that are important and valuable to its intended users and target organizations. This user-centered mindset is imperative for developing commercially-viable fintech solutions and ensures the technical work produces maximum impact and benefit outside of academic requirements. Targeting real-world problems leads to more compelling demonstrations of how technology can enhance financial services, processes and experiences.