FXCM: Infographic Design

After consulting with the FXCM team to grade the usability of their marketing site, and a follow-up project to design a new information architecture and user experience, I was presented with an opportunity to design an infographic that would live in the education center as one-stop sell for both new and on-the-fence Forex traders.

The design challenge made readily apparent was that the existing vertical format from their previous website couldn’t be altered to be more web-friendly—such as a click-through presentation featuring one point at a time. It was simply a time and money issue. That said, the challenge to clearly communicate the difference between trading vehicles was interesting enough in itself for me to work within those parameters.

forex-infographic

The intrinsic challenge were the details, details and more details. If you’ve ever worked within the financial industry, trading processes and transaction results can be a complex element when trying to present a overarching narrative. Similar to the complexities surrounding statistical narratives, trading results can present a different meaning depending on how they’re presented. We wanted to make sure that all data and results presented would stand the highest degree of scrutiny.

Enter compliance.

If you don’t have experience in the financial industry, compliance is the internal division that ensures all claims made by the firm can be legally substantiated. They’re steeped in the process of producing all outward facing media, from the marketing site to trading interfaces to, yes, infographics. That can sound annoying to a creative process, but their work is invaluable. I tend to think of them less as lawyers, and more akin to editors.

The research we performed was intense—all the information presented visually can be found on the web—so while there was pushback at times in the compliance process, and it took multiple iterations to complete, it also went rather smoothly.

The Pursuit of Happiness

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Lovely map, eh? The warmer colors indicate a higher degree of happiness in one’s life, while the cooler colors indicate that life for certain folk isn’t what they had expected or want moving forward.

You and I would probably take these indicators as interesting fodder while we head off to purchase another video game. What would Ethan Zuckerman do? Ethan breaks down the (un)happiness of the world (on the shoulders of the original researcher, Adrian White from the University of Leicester) by analyzing the clustering of the actual data points. From that analysis, he comes up with a few interesting deductions of his own. A brilliant read.

Ethan, please remain a geek with a bunch of free time on your hands.

Even Jackson Pollock Had A Method

pollock

Designers are held to a double-standard, especially those of us who design for the interactive medium.

The stereotype of a designer is that he or she is self-referential with their design approach. Businesses cringe when faced with the prospect of bringing in a new designer to a product team. I mean, come on, all designers are “shiny-shiny” types, looking for that Golden Pencil or Webby Award, right?

Product management talk about wanting designers who have a rationale before suggesting a change to an interface behavioral pattern or a different approach to existing design patterns, which is understood. We’re designers, not artists. Designers should have a process that substantiates their output; a smart, talented, non self-referential designer, able to take both the domain and its particular users into account when designing interfaces.

Fair enough.

So designers expose their craft and processes to businesses and product teams in order to show that they get it. Seasoned designers are able to have a conversation about a business model; they can talk shop with engineers; they can subjugate their own preferences in order to understand the needs of the end user and the possibilities that lie beyond the present user experience.

The aforementioned approaches aren’t optional to practice the craft; these are the multi-disciplinary skill-sets required for the role.

“Innovation comes from rapid iterations of features” they say. “Okay” the designer adds, “Let’s just make sure we’re focusing on the right features, useful to actual people.”

Product management doubles down on their roadmap, project managers steel up, developers get frustrated, cats sleep with dogs, etc.

The intent behind crafting an interface is to create a representational model that reflects, as close as possible, the end user’s mental model regarding their goals, desires, and ability to use technology; successful interface design and ux isn’t about deploying an implementation model.

– Me

So why is the method of getting to the interface so disconcerting?

Designers create user archetype(s) and scenarios to represent the potential user base and their needs and desires in a product. If the synthesized findings confirm the company’s vision—from c-level to product owners—they can then be translated by the design team into interactions in the interface to either support or change user behavior.

This is how refined, holistic user interfaces are created across a single product, an entire domain, and even into external product and brand communication. Design a cross-functional, collaborative process which may or may not impact the core hypothesis behind a product’s position, but definitely will improve the user experience of the product itself.

If my non-designer colleagues in this field believe that experience design begins and ends at the interface level, where it gets pretty, then I guess I understand the hesitation to leverage our methods.

Maybe us designers should “just get drunk and throw paint on the canvas.”

The CLIENT Is The Bottom Line

collaboration

In an industry such as online brokerage, one would assume that the client would always be at the center of focus. And while most of the time it’s the case—firms do create products and services that respond to client needs in order to grow their business—the underlying focus on the bottom line of a publicly traded company often demands executive attention, which can obscure best practice methodology, client initiatives, and how to make innovation a reality due to the pressures and expectations of The Street.

Therein lies the problem: Only a sustained and coordinated focus on understanding client goals, needs, desires, etc. can innovate in a manner that is useful to clients.

Collaboration

If clients can recognize the value proposition of an offering, firms will find clientele. That’s a rather understandable equation, but the cost of doing business can drive decisions that affect the quality and focus of a product, let alone how teams work together.

Why change how an organization works when the sausage has been made the same way for as long as people can remember?

Without a charge from executives, organizational management tends to gravitate towards less cross functional collaboration and spending, and more wall building. Whether such decisions lead to multi-tasking employees or avoiding methodological advances, working within conservatively defined parameters lessens risk in the short-term.

So how can a business operate in a manner that supports clients goals at a desirable investment level without risking putting the business in a tenuous position in the process?

The glue is the simple concept of collaboration.

Harder Than It Sounds

For the sake of simplicity, imagine a company divided into four primary units:

  • Business
  • Design
  • Technology
  • Marketing

In this simple example, nothing could be accomplished with quality or efficiencies without close collaboration.

  • Marketing and Design need to share quantitative and qualitative research (respectively) to assist the Business in developing an explicit understanding of client needs. These qualified findings can then be prioritized by Business and Technology in terms of viability and feasibility (respectively)
  • Business, Design and Technology must collaborate during all phases of product design in order for goal-directed and innovative experiences to become a reality. This collaboration is always crucial, but even more so when first (or speed) to market is the goal
  • Marketing must be looped into all Design points to ensure that brand communication meets brand experience. Marketing plans can then be created to introduce the client experience to the market in proper fashion

Yes, this is oversimplified, but the point is that successful product teams aren’t led by management that hunkers down, walling off their teams and agendas from other groups. There will always be office politics, no matter the domain, but when conceiving, designing, developing and launching interactive products, collaboration is essential to the success of not only the product, but the overarching brand.

The current buzz within the walls of Ameritrade has shifted from constantly touting our top operating margin in the industry to making transparent a commitment to designing an organization around the needs of our clients, while keeping that industry leading operating margin.

After a major merger (Datek Online), we’ve slowly grown in the direction of living and breathing the above degree of collaboration over the past few years, as Design has become an understandable entity, rather than the black box that development once considered us to be.

Keeping a competitive edge in this industry and on The Street is a tricky business. Producing killer products for clients can be made a lot simpler.