In a time fraught with uncertainty, hardship and deep injustice, I find strength in stories of teams who have mobilized in novel ways to drive meaningful impact, guided by compassion and a shared sense of purpose.
But mostly I turn to baking bread—lots and lots of bread.
As creatives, there’s comfort in constraint. And there’s a method to honing craft by following recipes and building fluency through foundational knowledge. But that method is merely a means to the beautiful end of fluidly painting outside the lines and creating something truly, remarkably yours.
Addressing the urgent, unfamiliar challenges of today requires a similar creative practice. Both the boundaries of the systems we’ve invested in and the agility of our teams to innovate quick, impactful solutions are tested in new and extraordinary ways.
A well-designed system is an investment in possibility
Over the past eight years at Blend, we’ve worked with over 250 lenders of all sizes to modernize the experience and technology that underpins consumer loans. Our customers share the belief that applying for a loan should feel easy and personalized, powered by a borrower’s own financial data and goals to streamline and automate a fair and secure transaction.
Behind the simple interface, though, lies a myriad of highly complex workflows, eligibility verifications, and integrations that can vary by lender. Blend was founded in the wake of the last financial crisis; in developing our platform, we knew it was crucial that it not just flex to meet unique customer needs, but changing market conditions, too.
When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, it was a meaningful step towards providing the immediate relief small businesses needed to retain operations and help keep their employees paid during this economic crisis. But the logistics of how to quickly process the mass volume of these loans were largely undetermined.
Blend saw an opportunity to bridge that gap. Although we’d never dealt with this type of loan before—nor seen the newly-issued requirements from the Small Business Administration—we knew we could reconfigure the dynamic system we’d been investing in to get the job done.
But as anyone who watches late-night reality television knows, a mystery box of unfamiliar ingredients paired with a well-appointed pantry does not predicate a winning result.
An agile, creative culture motivated by impact delivers results
Our team—mobilized by the prospect of helping businesses and their employees navigate this new and uncertain future—worked quickly. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but empathy and a shared commitment to impact are what fuels urgency and sustained execution.
Key alignment with strategic customers and partners materialized quickly, and around the clock development from our product, engineering and design teams had us live, with our first self-serve application, in 72 hours.
Thanks to an initial flow led by a designer on the team—and a well-documented design system in Figma—product managers and engineers were able to continue to adapt those initial designs as requirements shifted, to ensure our aggressive deadline was met.
As we turn ahead to continued economic relief and a hopeful return to recovery, it’s clear there will be many more opportunities to drive impact through creative adaptations of our software. Designers at Blend, for example, are currently investigating how consumers, faced with lost employment and income, might engage with their lenders to refinance or restructure their mortgage and other debt obligations.
Our internal teams have partnered with lenders, industry leaders, regulators, and technologists over time to architect a system that meets the highest standards of security, compliance and accessibility. Working within these constraints will ensure any novel extension of our platform can timely and safely ship. But creatively navigating those constraints through a lens of empathy will help those experiences be relatable and empowering
Taking advantage of the new way we work to strengthen both
Since remote work began, I’ve spent a fair amount of time observing dynamics across the team and reflecting on the culture we’ve built at Blend. I’ve been encouraged by an overall energized, motivated spirit.
Sometimes I worry that this might reflect an investment built up over years of regular, in-person collaboration that we are slowly drawing down. But then, just two weeks ago, Blend welcomed its largest new hire class ever, virtually, without skipping a beat. This new normal has inspired all of us to document more, communicate more, and double down on the foundations we rely on to create our best work.
As part of that new hire class, the design team welcomed our newest member with the most thoughtful and rigorous onboarding to date. He also received the strangest, most incredible collaborative virtual card, affirming that our culture—wherever we are—is alive and well.
Like sourdough starter has stepped up to replace the great yeast shortage, creativity and improvisation, with purpose and practice, can often yield surprising—and superior—results.
Written by Anthony (Tones) Porter
Head of Design, Blend