Designing Digital Tools for Affordable Housing Finance

Project Brief

Neev™ is a cloud-based software developed by mHS CITY LAB, a social enterprise based in India, to provide reliable technical knowledge for home construction.

mHS CITY LAB partnered with Quicksand to help customise the application for use-cases within the affordable housing sector. One such use-case, which became the focus of Quicksand’s engagement, was to discover and design new features and workflows that would make the application more relevant for micro-finance organisations looking to tap the burgeoning field of affordable housing finance.

The project involved research and reassessment of features, optimising digital experience for users with low-digital literacy, iterative testing sessions, and rebranding — to prepare Neev for its first market based pilot in Delhi and Ahmedabad, India.

Informal housing in Ahmedabad

Project Context

The increasing rate of urbanisation in India projects around 416 million urban dwellers by 2050. Given the lack of quality affordable housing in our cities, urban migrants are forced to resort to informal and poorly constructed houses. Informal settlements experience spatial, social, and economic exclusion from broader urban systems and lack basic infrastructure, making them highly vulnerable to disease, conflict, natural disasters, and climate change.

mHS CITY LAB, a social enterprise based in India, created a digital construction estimation tool to equip homeowners with customised construction knowledge and financial planning tools to guide them to safer construction practices. Informed by a decade of research and field work, the application aims to:

  • Facilitate resilient & quality housing: Compensate for the limited access to architects and engineers in the informal affordable housing sector;

  • Build technical capabilities: Provide micro-finance institutions with accurate technical appraisal abilities to help streamline and simplify an otherwise complicated loan generation process;

  • Improve operational efficiency: Assist financiers to digitise their operations

Quicksand was brought in to help convert this digital tool into a market ready product to be adopted by various micro-finance organisations to help reduce the gap that existed between potential borrowers and lenders in the affordable housing finance market.


1. Context Building

Quicksand conducted a foundational immersion to gain a deeper understanding of informal housing context and loan generation processes within the sector. This was done via both primary sources - expert interviews, field visits and participating in an Inclusive Finance Summit organised by ACCESS, and secondary sources - journal articles and published reports.

Assessing the application with field agents from a micro-finance organisation

2. Ideating, Prototyping & User Testing

A revisited information architecture, ideated new features and workflows were tested as quick low-fidelity interactive digital prototypes with field agents and coordinators of micro-finance organisations in Delhi and Ahmedabad. These sessions were especially focussed on gauging end-user digital capabilities — what tasks were difficult to complete, what information was easily understood and what user journeys were seamless.

Low-fidelity prototypes on Adobe XD to test with field agents

3. Iterative Design Development & Branding

Design developments were oriented towards broadening the scope of the application to be used as a customer relationship management platform. For field agent-homeowner interactions, it necessitated re-designing the information structure and building a brand identity to incorporate the core values of accessibility, transparency, and trust. These values manifested in the final design, amongst other things, as a more visual and intuitive interface catering to users of varying digital literacy.

Simultaneously, Quicksand undertook a branding exercise to develop a visual identity centered on the needs and aspirations of the end-user; rclCloud became “Neev”, which means ‘foundation’ in the Hindi language. As a digital tool for resilient housing, Neev seeks to be the foundation on which the affordable housing sector can build relationships of trust.

Key Insights

1. Even when designing for an intermediary (micro-financier), focus on needs of the end-user (the homeowner) is crucial for ensuring adoption and success of the tool.

Transparency in loan generation process would foster a relationship of trust between homeowners and financiers, thereby resulting in improved client satisfaction. The application was designed to simplify and extend financial and construction knowledge at various stages of the loan generation. The construction cost estimation form was re-designed from the point-of-view of the homeowner, relying on visuals and an easier navigation with staged disclosure of information.

Cost saving tips and safe construction practices were embedded within estimate results - advising option of low cost finishes while avoiding structural compromises.

2. Vernacular interface design with appropriate UI approaches and input methods can best serve user field agents who are equally new to digital tools.

Neev’s interface is based on Google’s material design guidelines to create a smooth digital experience. Some design choices made during the project included – replacing drop-downs with a open display of options; reflecting a choice of input instantaneously by visual feedback of selection and reaffirmation; and a task based user flow structure to stay clear of the ‘hamburger’ side menu, that is often overwhelming, especially for new digital users.

Neev offers interface customisation for financier institutions and organisations in the form of language translation, customisable colours and inclusion of financier’s logo to create a sense of comfort, familiarity and ownership with the interface.

Neev stands for
simple, efficient & expert housing solutions,
transparent and trustworthy relationships and
an accessible platform for everyone.

Ultimately, Neev's goal is to empower those within the informal sector with technical knowledge and basic standards of construction safety, so they too can invest in building resilient houses. While the first version of the application was designed primarily as a B2B application (with mHS licensing the application to micro-finance organisations), Quicksand assisted mHS with the development of a roadmap and feature prioritisation to eventually extend direct application access to homeowners and masons as end consumers.

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