Senior Manager of Product Design @ NerdWallet

BUILDING THE NEW INTEGRATED NERDWALLET EXPERIENCE

I lead the design effort in designing, building, and shipping the new integrated NerdWallet product experience.

BACK

THE CHALLENGE

I  had just spent several weeks in a design sprint that established the vision for what the new NerdWallet experience could be for consumers. We defined an experience that we believe would position NerdWallet to not only shift from a content company to a product company, but to a become product company that forms a relationship with its consumers by offering a truly personalized experience that provides clarity across all financial decisions they might make in life

With the future state in front of us, it was now time to align the larger organization to design, build, and ship the first release of this experience.

The future state "integrated product experience" for NerdWallet.

THE APPROACH

As a  Sr. Product Design Manager my primary responsibilities included:

  1. Growing the product design organization. NerdWallet was in hyper growth mode, and since joining the company I was responsible for building a design organization to support the company’s growth. I recruited and doubled the product design team, with a total of seven product designers on my team.

  2. Defining new design processes and methods. This included defining the new design principles, establishing a culture of design critiques and reviews, and evolving how designers work with their product and engineers partners, but with other designers in the company.

  3. People management and leadership. When I started at NerdWallet, I was managing a team of 3 product designers. As we grew the team, I doubled the product design organization, and eventually took on the leadership of the entire product design team. This entailed managing and coaching other leaders within the organization, for a total of 16 product designers not including researchers, copywriters, and brand designers under my leadership.

My role expanded at NerdWallet, where I eventually was responsible for the entire product design organization.

Organization design: putting together the IPX team
As a result of leading the last design sprint for the new NerdWallet experience, my role at NerdWallet was evolving. I was asked to form a new team and lead the design initiative to build the new NerdWallet. Internally, we referred to this as the Integrated Product Experience (IPX) team.

The IPX design team was made up of four product designers, one user researcher, and one copywriter. Under my leadership the team was designing user experiences across a responsive web and mobile platforms. The design team worked as part of the larger IPX team, consisting of 3 product managers, 15 engineers, along with my peers in product and engineering leadership.

Balancing leadership and hands-on design responsibilities
This new initiative required me to play a more hands-on role as a design leader on the IPX team. Since I drove a majority of the concepting and vision work done earlier, I partnered with engineering leads and product management leads to define the scope and vision of each feature, and working with the leads to define the overall roadmap along with execution timelines and plans for the remainder of the 2017 year.

One of my most used design tool is the whiteboard, where I use visual communication techniques to communicate high level concepts to multiple teams and stakeholders. With my design and research team this meant painting the vision, defining key user problems, highlighting concepts, and visualizing user experiences at a high-level to inspire and motivate my design team to execute and deliver.

I also established the design process on the team, focusing on leading daily standups, leading weekly product design reviews and critiques, and presenting to the C-level stakeholders on a bi-weekly cadence.

Gaining company alignment and buy-in
In addition to leading the IPX design team and partnering with my peers on the IPX leadership team, my responsibilities included communicating and gaining buy-in of the new vision and strategy with the larger NerdWallet organization. Employees had already seen the animatic we had put together when we announced the new vision, but in order to gain a deeper understanding of each team’s roadmap and see how they would fit into the new framework, I lead a series of work sessions with the following teams:

  1. Consumer credit and debt

  2. Credit cards

  3. Mortgages

  4. Investing

  5. Home and auto insurance

  6. Mobile platform

  7. Product and brand design teams

  8. Marketing and PR

  9. Sales and partnerships

  10. Content and publishing

  11. People operations and HR

For each session, I lead a detailed talk explaining the concept car prototype experience and explained each of the new concepts/features. I had printed each of the designed screens as an end-to-end flow on foam core boards, and used this to stress test the vision/framework against each of the specific use cases and problems the teams were working on. We also captured the feedback, questions, and ideas generated by every team I worked with.

Project Timelines and Phases
After facilitating the company-wide team sessions we were able to  look at all the various roadmaps across the organization and determine where to begin work, where to converge on features and initiatives, and where to allow for divergence or parallel efforts during the year. Based on this information, we created the overall project timeline and roadmap, and defined 4 phases of the IPX project.

  1. Evolve the credit score dashboard. The NerdWallet membership experience was centered around getting a free credit score. As we expanded the offering, we would incorporate the credit score dashboard into the larger profile framework, and eventually replace the dashboard with the personal disovery feed in later phases.

  2. Introduce transactions and accounts. One of the first new features we would build would be the ability for users to connect their financial accounts, and see of their accounts balances and spending activity in one place. Doing so would also enable NerdWallet to analyze a member's spending, and begin to provide personalized insights based on this data.

  3. Develop the personal discovery feed. This would become the homepage for the logged in user, and would provide users with the most relevant information based on their current financial situation.

  4. Introduce Goals. Allowing users to define big financial goals across saving money, reducing debt, and investing or growing their money. Goals would also provide another way for NerdWallet to personalize their discovery feed, since goals would serve as the "why" behind every action a user would take on NerdWallet.

THE RESULT

Introducing transactions and spending
Consumers already had  one reason to create a NerdWallet account: to get their free credit score and report. As we looked at evolving NerdWallet to provide a more personalized experience, we needed to gather more data and information about our members. First, we provided the ability to connect their additional financial accounts to see their spending and net worth in one place. This not only expanded the concept of a consumer's financial profile beyond just a credit score, but started to create the foundation and ability for NerdWallet to provide consumers with deeper insights about their connected accounts, their spending habits, and more ways for them to save money.

Introducing the personal discovery feed
Once we had a way for consumers to connect their accounts, we started to work on the concept of the personal discovery feed. This would become the new “homepage” of the logged in NerdWallet member. It would serve relevant information in a dynamic interface made up of relevancy-based cards.  The information is implicitly personalized because it is optimized based on what NerdWallet already knows about the consumer. The experience also allows a level of customization from the user, via settings, or providing explicit feedback to tailor their experience based on their preferences. The outcome of the personalization and customization is how the relevancy is determined.

We also focused on the first-time user experience for this feature, since most users are not expecting to see a discovery feed when using NerdWallet. We created a quick first-time feature that was designed to familiarize users with their new NerdWallet experience. User’s could interact with the carousel like experience, ignore it, or dismiss it completely and start interacting with their feed.

Introducing financial goals
The primary idea behind the goals feature was to provide a mechanism for consumers to focus on achieving a specific improved financial situation, such as being debt free or having enough savings for a rainy day fund. This would also provide NerdWallet with more context about what a consumer is trying to do and would position NerdWallet to provide information and guided steps for the consumer to take towards achieving that financial goal via the discovery feed.

Based on prior research done, we introduced the following types of goals:

  1. Be debt free

  2. Save for an emergency fund

  3. Save for a down payment

  4. Save for anything else, such as a vacation or a major purchase

  5. Invest for retirement

Users can select one or more goals to get started, and doing so would populate their discovery feed with a new goal setup card, allowing them to completely setup the goal when they are ready. In addition to having a goal setup card in the feed, NerdWallet would also populate the feed with relevant content articles and advice based on the chosen goal, even if the user hadn’t completely set up their goal.

When ready, user’s can then proceed with setting up their goal directly from the feed. Clicking on the option to proceed would launch the goal setup flow where users would provide more details about their specific goals, and connect their financial accounts as needed. How users would set up every goal was based on our understanding of the user’s mental model when it comes to financial goals:

  1. Specify the target and provide details. Users would specific the target amount of the goal, whether it’s a debt amount to pay off, or a specific amount they would like to save or invest.

  2. Commit to a monthly task, or work to do each month. This was the evolved hypothesis based on the work we had done with debt calculators and helping consumers get out of debt. We didn’t explore this concept during the design sprint, but in working closely with the debt team, and understanding how consumers have successfully gotten out debt, we know that one of the most important elements to the success is to develop a regular monthly habit of paying off a certain debt amount, even if it is just the minimum amount. Once that pattern is established, the idea was to help consumers find additional ways to increase their pay off power.

  3. Find ways to reach your goal fast. Once the goal is setup, consumers could rely on NerdWallet to find ways for them to save money, and apply saves towards their defined goal.

Improving the onboarding experience
We finally wrapped up the MVP by updating the onboarding experience, allowing users to sign up for a NerdWallet account for any on of the following value propositions:

  1. Set financial goals and reach them faster.

  2. See the bigger picture of all of your money in one place.

  3. Get your free credit score and know where you stand.

  4. Trim your bills and see savings grow.

THE IMPACT

We released our MVP on October 2017, which now included all the features we had defined in the future state vision during the initial design sprint, and NerdWallet continues to build improvements and enhancements to providing consumers with a personalized financial experience.

The future, relationship-based and integrated NerdWallet ecosystem