Kiva: User Research and Product Strategy

Understanding a new market through user experience research.



Client: Kiva

Role: user research lead

Team members: Aaron Wu, Pranavi Javangula, Chibuzor Obiorah, Yuhan Xie, Noe Abe

Timeline: January - May 2020

Deliverable: primary research, research insights, strategy recommendations


Kiva is a non-profit organization that allows people to lend money to low-income entrepreneurs and students in 77 countries. Kiva's mission is "to expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive." Lenders on Kiva can make one-time contributions, or contribute monthly via a subscription called "Monthly Good."

Through Berkeley Innovation, I had the opportunity to work alongside the Head of Design, Oliver Farshi, and a team of four other consultants to tackle this overarching business question:

How might we encourage more people to do good with Kiva?

Generative Research

To better understand Kiva's design question, we performed generative research relevant to the problem space. We interviewed Henrique Saboia (VP of Growth) and Aaron Goldsmid (Chief Product Officer).

From these interviews, we learned that millennials represent an untapped market Kiva would like to explore. However, as with any demographic, millennials possess distinct preferences and opinions — including a general distrust for systems and desire for instant gratification.

Kiva also currently operates under two models: a one-time loan and a monthly contribution ("Monthly Good"). Kiva would like to understand how to convert users directly to a monthly subscription. In particular, they'd like to explore how to expedite the conversion rate.


Problem Framing

With a better understanding of Kiva's business situation and goals, we distilled the design prompt to the following question, which would guide the scope of our UX research project:


How might we encourage more millennials to use Kiva while improving the experience for existing users?

User Research

Ethnographic Research

To tackle the problem statement, we sought to understand millennials' general motivations, perceptions, and opinions on social good, philanthropy, and microfinancing. Our goal for ethnographic research was to understand this question: how do millennials do good acts — particularly philanthropic acts of good — in their daily lives?

To obtain diversity in responses, we interviewed millennials from four locations across the Bay Area: UC Berkeley, Salesforce Park, Lake Merritt, and the San Francisco City Hall.

Our interview questions and conversations sought to understand millennials' motivations and opinions on social good.


Usability Testing

To understand the second part of our problem statement ("improving the experience for existing users"), we conducted usability testing from 13 existing Kiva users. In this stage of research, we sought to understand this: how does the Kiva product experience enable or disincentive engagement for current users?


We also conducted usability testing with 16 millennials that hadn't used Kiva previously to better understand how the Kiva product experience enables or disincentives. engagement for millennials.

In both samples, we asked our participants to explore the landing page, the Monthly Good page, and the typical lending process using the lending interface.



Synthesizing our data into insights from three robust sources of research was a time-consuming process. We first began by individually synthesizing insights from each research stage. Then, as a team, we shared and synthesized insights per research stage collectively. From there, we synthesized the insights into 25 actionable, defensible insights using affinity mapping. To organize, we segmented these insights into five categories.


Sample Insights

People want to support causes that resonate with their personal experiences and values.


Lenders value achieving milestones in their personal lending experiences.


People want to follow the story of a loan and engage with its direct impact.


Journey Map

Based on our insights and research, we created a user journey of a new visitor to the Kiva website. We identified wins and areas for improvement, as well as key insights and quotes.


Design Recommendations

We individually ideated design recommendations based on our insights, then synthesized our ideas into a list of design recommendations for Kiva. We segmented these recommendations into UI recommendations and products.

Specific UI Recommendations


More Exploratory Product Recommendations



In addition to providing research insights and recommendations as the main deliverable, I also created an iOS prototype demonstrating an onboarding process. This prototype weaved together many research insights we uncovered: people's desire for transparency about how microfinancing works, explaining Kiva clearly and understandably, personalization capabilities, and the ability to support causes people resonate with.

Feel free to explore the prototype below!


This was my first foray into user experience, and I'm glad my first consulting case study involved UX research. The process wasn't the most flashy — no wireframing, no prototyping (as a team at least). But it was important that my first industry case study involved the essentials: understanding and empathizing with a user, learning how to conduct and collect legitimate UX research, and undertaking the time-consuming process of synthesis and distilling insights. The lessons I learned about UX research are invaluable.


Thank you to Oliver Farshi for being a great client and mentor for the team! I had a blast.