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.
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.
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.
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.
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 team. I mean, come on, all designers are “shiny-shiny” types, looking for that Golden Pencil or Webby Award, right?
Management talks about wanting designers who have a rationale before suggesting a change to existing design patterns, which is understandable. We’re designers, not artists. Designers should have a process that substantiates our output; a smart, talented, non self-referential designer, able to take both the domain and its particular users into account when designing interfaces.
So designers expose our craft and processes to businesses and product teams in order to show that we get it. Seasoned designers are able to have a conversation about a business model; we can talk shop with engineers; we can subjugate their own preferences in order to understand the needs of the people 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” we designers add, “Let’s just make sure we’re focusing on the right features, useful to actual users.”
Management doubles down on features, 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.
So why is the method of getting to the interface so disconcerting?
Designers research and create user archetype(s) and scenarios to represent the potential user base and their needs and desires in a product, respectively. If synthesized output confirms the company’s vision, design vision can then be translated by designers into interactions across interfaces to support, change, and/or disrupt user behavior.
This is how refined, holistic experiences are created across a single product, an entire domain, and into external communication; Design a cross-functional, collaborative framework, 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 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 these methods.
Maybe designers should “just get drunk and throw paint on the canvas.”
In an industry such as online brokerage, one would assume that the client would always be at the center of focus, and most of the time this is true—firms create products and services that respond to client needs in order to grow their business.
Yet the constant attention on the bottom line of a publicly traded company demands executive focus, which at times can obscure the importance of best practice methodology which exposes client insights, and ultimately, an ongoing internal conversation on how to make innovation a reality.
Financial expectations from the street is a huge variable when planning for both the short and long-term; how teams ensure that such strategies get designed and built in optimal fashion is a daily problem that comes down to a simple solution.
Invest In Collaboration
If clients recognize the value proposition of an offering, firms will find clientele. That’s a rather understandable equation, but as stated above, the cost of doing business (time, resources, friction, etc.) can drive decisions that affect the quality of and focus on product iterations, let alone how teams work together.
Without a clear charge from executives to invest in true cross-functional collaboration, management gravitates towards wall building in order to better control outcomes. Working within such restricted parameters creates risk in the mid to long-term—gaps in the user experience get wider, as individual contributors design with limited context and avoid more inclusive frameworks.
If the goal of an organization becomes operating in a manner that supports client needs without risking the short-term health of the business, then everyone needs to step up.
Harder Than It Sounds
Imagine a company divided into five primary organizations:
In this example, nothing could be accomplished with efficiency or quality without close collaboration.
Sales, Marketing and Design need to invest in and share quantitative and qualitative client insights to assist the Business in developing an explicit understanding of client needs.
Once needs are qualified, these findings can then be prioritized by Business and Technology in terms of viability and feasibility
Business, Design and Technology collaborate during all phases of product design in order for goal-directed and innovative experiences to become a reality. This collaboration is crucial, whether first to market or iterative improvements is the goal.
Marketing partners with Design to ensure that brand communication meets brand experience. Both orgs must inform one another to continuously evolve the voice, tone, and visual language guardrails in play
Yes, this is oversimplified, but the point is that successful public companies aren’t led by management that hunkers down, walling off their teams and agendas from other groups. There will always be friction, no matter the domain; collaboration and prioritization across silos is essential to the success of not only the product and overarching brand, but the bottom line expectations of the street.
For example: The current buzz at Ameritrade has shifted from only 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 our industry leading operating margin. After a major merger (Datek Online), we’re living and breathing collaboration, as Design has become an understandable and value-providing team, rather than the black box we were once perceived to be.
While we live in the Technology organization, we also work intensely with both Marketing and the Business. Cross-functional involvement in design reviews has become necessary as everyone involved understands that they bring a unique perspective to the table. As we move forward, we do so with a common understanding of what’s most important, why that’s the case, and how we plan on executing.
Keeping a competitive experiential edge in this industry while reaching business outcomes is tricky business, but representing the needs of clients within such a pursuit doesn’t need to be.