Aspiration is enjoying a phase of rapid growth and success in the neo-bank industry. What sets us apart are several differentiators, which have helped to establish a vibrant user base. Founded four years ago, we are the first socially and environmentally conscious bank. We don't invest your money in fossil fuels, firearms, or private prisons. We donate 10% of our profits to charities. We value transparency and reject the business practices of traditional financial institutions. In other words, we do not seek to profit from our customer's mistakes.
Those mistakes are common and varied. They tie to countrywide socio-economic behavior and considerable emotion. Our ability to understand people and their communities is essential to unlocking these mistakes and provide solutions. When I joined Aspiration, I noticed we have a clear mission. I wanted to align that mission with our products. We needed to explore our customer's motivations and relationship with money to solve their problems.
There are considerable pressures to perform and compete in any business. Your business goals should always be part of design thinking. Anyone who is reading this has likely dealt with stress in the form of many feature requests, compressed timelines, or a lack of focus. Building empathy and understanding your customers is critical in enabling success. It forms a point of view around what they value. You can discover your differentiators and play to those strengths.
We interviewed users to understand their financial lives. While mostly focused on economics, the interviews included conversations about interests, families, and communities. We synthesized the interview data in team exercises intended to identify common themes, behaviors, needs, and emotions. We discovered five archetype personas, each with associated behavior models.
Right away, I noticed an interesting pattern. Some people join Aspiration because of the mission. Others sign up because they identify with our business practices and seek financial gain over social consciousness. There are also shared motivations. These include fear, the desire to build wealth, skepticism, and avoidance. Observations eventually led to the actualization of core design principles and influenced how we positioned our solutions.
I shared our synthesis with the leadership team and the company as a whole. Personas became part of everyday conversations and product decisions. Job number one for designers is to champion the customer and build empathy, and we'd done it!
I like to think of a customer's relationship with a company as a story or a journey. What kind of story would you tell if you are describing Aspiration to a friend? We mapped user journeys, measured touch points, and examined all of the most challenging areas. We thought about how the customers might feel during each step and created emotion maps. This exercise shed light on the regions within Aspiration where we could improve, prioritize, and grow. Results of this exercise went into measuring and optimizing the signup flow. The Growth squad (including someone on my team) continues to produce positive, measurable results.
Design Point of View
The design point of view is a document that defines our identity as a design organization. I created core mission statements that act as our compass. Aspiration is a mission-driven company. We wanted to imagine what that mission means for design, and how it enables us to solve for customer needs the right way. We make our decisions through this lens. Our first design principle, based on the research I described above, is Design for Trust.
While I can't comment directly on what features we are currently developing, I can mention what the design team internalizes. We want to build trust with our customers through clarity and transparency. The value we provide should always be explicit, as should its connection with Aspiration's mission. We will provide tools that build behavior around financial wellness and social responsibility using automation. We'll partner with like-minded organizations to contribute to and empower communities.
Now that we understand the customer, their journeys, and our point of view, we can attain focus. Patterns begin to emerge. Small things you can do that have a big impact; larger initiatives to explore based on what we learned. I believe these opportunities examined alongside business and growth requirements help organizations to design the right things, rather than many things.
We kick off product qualification with design framing exercises, which borrow heavily from Google design sprints. In the example shown above, we divided into teams, each of which championed one persona. Design, product, engineering, and leadership all participated.
First, we defined the customer problem and the business needs with the product owner. Each team took some time to imagine a solution for the feature based on knowledge of their persona. We presented paper prototypes to the larger group, expressing the design in the form of a story. Everyone's voice in the room is heard. Eventually, these ideas are converted to physical prototypes and tested.
Aspirations new look is intended to retain what makes us unique as a brand while establishing an elevated, modern aesthetic. I ended up doing the bulk of the visual design. We wanted to be mindful of our customer's existing workflows while we introduced visible changes to minimize confusion. New features will be tested, released iterated on over time.
Beautiful design is important to me. It's important to customers. It should be tailored to help solve their problems. Part of the UX discipline rests on visual design. What do metaphors mean to customers? How does the color space make them feel? Your use of negative space, typography, and positioning on the page are huge usability factors. Well executed visual design enables ease of use, excitement, engagement, and even forgiveness when the interaction isn't quite what it should be.
View my original pitch deck to leadership here. (Keynote)
We are fortunate to have a content strategist on our extended team. Having done a fair amount of testing throughout the years, I've found content by far is the largest source of customer miscomprehension. Humans are linguistic beings. We form strong mental models around what words mean to us and why. On top of that, certain words can have different associations for different people. As designers, it is critical to think carefully about what we say, how we say it, and how much we say.
How We Organize
I have this huge Confluence design wiki that contains everything we do. Requirements, research synthesis, our POVs, documents, content... everything is in one place so our cross-functional partners can find stuff easily. We use JIRA sprints along with our product and engineering teams. We have sprint planning and a retro every 6 weeks depending on the type of sprint. Our tools include Sketch, Figma (the great debate), Abstract, Zeplin, Lingo, Framer X, Flinto, InVision, Looker, Lookback, Usertesting.com, Illustrator, Photoshop, JIRA, and Confluence.
I'm proud of the team. In no particular order- Skyler, Randy, Ryan, Jess, Dylan, Aaron, Matt, Chloe, Julia, Lily, Adam, Ravi, Zack, Pascal and many more. Thanks, guys.
My Advice to designers
Stay respectful, positive, and do the best job you can under any circumstance. One of my favorite PM's from GoPro, Joven, called this Islands of Greatness. No company, process, or project is ever perfect. We all struggle with this. It's your ability to stay flexible and do your best work that will help your team to succeed, and your customers to enjoy an unforgettable experience. Books, talks, and Medium articles are great guidelines from which to try out what works for your organization and what does not. That said, try not to be dogmatic and keep a "don't know" mind. Change is coming, no matter what.