Digitizing the Life Insurance Application

Life insurance is the core of Northwestern Mutual. This project was the first to shape the end-to-end digital experience for applying a Life Insurance application.



A financial advisor could submit up to 15 life insurance applications per day for their clients. Their current process is manual, repetitive, and messy. In fact, most applications that get filed arrive with significant gaps.

We took a paper application packet of over 1,500 questions and 50 state variants and created a reflexive design system to surface only the relevant questions to the applicant, product, and state. Our design system helped us efficiently create patterns for dozens of different scenarios.

Research showed fast, keyboard-driven input and wide enthusiasm from business users. The field process transformed into a modern, streamlined, and intuitive workflow while the home office got a system that brought in clean applications and structured data for efficient processing.

Senior UX Designer

Strategy, Content, Concepting, Design, Prototyping, Documentation, QA

Jan 2018 - July 2019

The Dream Team
Visual Designer - Gavin Baradic
UX Researcher - Madeleine Melcher
Copywriters - Greg Pfister, Foram Nyberg
Design Lead - Alex Wilcox Cheek


Starting Point

Time-consuming paper application.

It required the financial advisors to print all possible forms to bring into meetings with potential clients.

The filled applications suffered from:
· Unclear handwriting
· Unanswered questions
· Redundant client information
· Generic questions for all clients



We initiated a workshop to bridge the gap between the client and the advisor experience.

Adi whiteboarding

The advisor experience would interact with the client experience, which is designed by a different team.


In order to identify these touchpoints, we ran a workshop that included both teams.


Assembling all the data we received into data points we can use in our design process.

The workshop helped us map the hand-off points and scope MVP.

The workshop helped us map the hand-off points between the client and the financial advisor.

Full Journey Map2
MVP Diagram – March 1 – Page 1

Content Strategy

Comprehensive understanding of the existing form.

· Why do we ask these questions on the application?

· Are all mandatory or some are optional?
· Which questions are primary and which ones are conditional?
· How can we re-group them in a better way?
· Can we change the language or is there a legal component?

Wall app

Creating new content sections and testing with financial advisors.

We build an Invision prototype and used usertesting.com for our participants to view the new structure, interact with the sections, and provide us with feedback.


Iterating the design and content based on user feedback.

Presenting the post-research iterations to product and engineers, help communicate the upcoming changes and back our decision-making process as a design team. 

Introducing a Setup Flow

Reducing the overall number of questions and providing a tailored experience for the user.

The current application

Presents the user with every possible question, whether relevant or not.

Insured juvenile

The Process

Identifying which questions can be asked upfront, to eliminate the irrelevant questions from the application.

Conditional Form Sections

Design Solution

By adding a few key questions upfront, we eliminated the irrelevant questions on the application.

Conditional Patterns

We were able to eliminate 514 redundant questions, by using conditional design patterns.

For a productive financial advisor, that’s almost 8,000 questions per day, drastically reducing time-to-submission and freeing up their office staff.

Current Application

The highlighted questions either surface or remove blocks of questions.

conditional pattern 2

Design Solution

We only surfaced the relevant questions to the user as he was filling the application.
It removed any confusion around which fields need data.


Personal History – New Conditional Pattern

We tested the new conditional patterns with 10 financial advisors.

We conducted 10, 1:1 usability remote interviews, each 60-minutes long, using a screen sharing software.
We know how keyboard-driven our financial advisors are, so we decided to use a dynamic framer prototype to focus our test on the usability of a single page of a new interactive design. 

"Now I know exactly which sections of the application I have to complete​"
"The fact I'm only seeing what I need to fill is going to save me so much time."
"I liked that I can tab between the fields and move quickly throughout the form."
"I find it very clean, straightforward, and easy to navigate."

Forming a Design Library

The goal was to establish design patterns instead of wiring each and every single question.

One library to accommodate all types of questions, states and input fields. This was also the base of collaborating with our visual designer to creating a new tool kit to be used by our developers.

design library fields
design library field types
design library single select

End-to-End Experience

Other than submitting an application, the advisor needs a place to manage, track his existing applications and navigate between the screens to complete different workflows.

Experience flow

Applications Home

Where the financial advisor can track all clients' applications.
It was the first design on the NM Connect platform to help advisors work across their business, keeping their finger on the pulse.
The design language for this screen reflects the upgraded toolkit.

AFR View

Application Manager

An application manager was also designed to collect documentation, medical tests and submit the application for underwriting.

The navigation tested extremely well. 

We tested with financial advisors, used Usertesting.com and an Invision clickable prototype.
We watched the videos as they had to complete tasks in the flow and rank the level of difficulty for each task.

"Clear and intuitive flow"
"Easy to navigate"
"Would surely expedite the team communication"


Diagraming all possible states took out the need for mocking each scenario individually and saved a lot of time and confusion.

Scaling to 50 states

The insurance application varies for each state in the US. After establishing all design patterns, tested and build an optimal experience - we scaled it to accommodate all the forms. 

Game Plan
· Mapping the differences from the original application, for each state.
· Color coding identical changes from state to state.
· Redesigning per change, not per state.

The pilot went live to 1,200 users in June 2019.
By digitizing the end-to-end process we streamlined the workflow
and cut the handling time by 56%.

The pilot went live to 1,200 users in June 2019.
By digitizing the end-to-end process we streamlined the workflow and cut the handling time by 56%.

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