Wealthfront launched its automated investment service in 2011, and today the company manages more than $4 billion in assets. We’re thrilled that they’re part of the InVision community.
We spoke to Kate Aronowitz, VP of Design at Wealthfront, about the challenges of working in the financial services industry and how her team builds trust with Wealthfront clients through design.
How is the design team set up at Wealthfront?
Everybody on the team is a full-stack designer, but each one of them has what I call a superpower. We’ve got Aly, a visual designer who’s amazing in illustration and fine art. Cece can do really gnarly interaction problems. Jackie is phenomenal on mobile and can just pick up anything at any time. Sunnie is studious with the details and always asking the right questions.
I’ve got it written into their job descriptions that great designers make other designers better. We spend a lot of time working as a team.
What’s great about the team is that it’s so well-rounded, which enables fluidity for people working on different projects. We don’t structure things in a way where one person is dedicated to one part of the business and another works on the other. Each person has an expertise in the business for what they’re working on, but it’s still very collaborative.
How do you work effectively with the other teams at your organization?
Every project has at least one person from design, product management, and engineering. They each take turns leading depending on what part of the project they’re in. For example, design will often lead at the very beginning of a project in terms of kind of coming up with client insights that will propel the project forward. The designer might do early visualizations of what concepts could be, while collaborating with the product manager and the engineer throughout the process.“Great designers make other designers better.”
What do you think is the most powerful part of your design process?
At Wealthfront, many of the features and services we roll out are “firsts” for the industry, so as a design team we get to apply design to new products in an industry that’s really been lagging in this area to date. We’re working on technology-forward financial products that have to be really personal because money can be very emotional for people.
Design helps drive good habits among our clients and facilitates understanding and trust. Because of this, there’s a unique moment in each project where we come across a key insight about how the client is feeling about the task they’re on. This insight could be so nuanced, but it ends up completely propelling the project forward, and our team gets really excited about that.“InVision allows us to easily share projects with PMs and engineers.”
A simple example: This year we redesigned our client experience as part of the launch of Wealthfront 3.0 in March. We did a lot of early visualizations and kept working on things and talking to clients, and we realized that the current design that we were working with was very focused on the present, when at the end of the day the core of our service is based on the long-term and meeting future goals.
Focusing on the future is what drives good saving and investing habits. So when we had that key insight, the rest of the design fell into place.
Can you give any other examples of ways you’ve made people feel more comfortable using your product?
I’ll keep using our dashboard redesign as an example because it really is the entire logged-in experience for a client. It looks completely different than it used to. Some things we did:
- We made it more personal. The dashboard is now more tailored to each client. We’re dealing with investing and financial planning, so we ask people for really personal and sensitive information, and we always want to reflect it back to them in a way that’s private and personally valuable. While we’re an automated service, we tailor each experience to each client. It’s really important that that comes through in the user experience.
- We warmed up our color scheme. We’re using more illustration, more rounded curves and edges, more tertiary colors. We’ve even introduced little touches—if you link your bank, we show the bank’s logo. If you link your employer, we show your employer’s logo. During client testing we did a version with logos in it, and people said, “Oh that’s me!” They felt it represented them.
Making the dashboard warmer and more personal, and always giving value back when someone gives us information—all that has helped us build trust. People are more engaged, we’re giving advice, and they’re taking action on it. And they’re linking more and more of their accounts because they’re getting a benefit from it.
How does your team hand off items between departments? Do you have any insights for making handoffs smoother?
We empower each team to figure out their own process. Some projects are 2 weeks long and some are a year long.
The biggest improvement we’ve made as a design team in the past 6 months is we’re working closely with the engineers to actually build our design standards into the front end. We have a component library, and it’s really easy to tell the engineer, “Use this header, use this button, use this typeface.” It’s all pre-programmed into the front end, which, again, makes handoffs a lot easier.
We use InVision to show sequence and interaction in a really easy way so the engineers know exactly know what the interaction should be.”We use InVision to show sequence and interaction in a really easy way.”
Do you watch any metrics closely when you’re making design changes?
We pay attention to clients signing up: how many of them drop off during the sign-up flow, and how we can improve things like that through design. We also look at how much money they’re putting in and how many accounts they’re linking.
In the past year, the design team has been entrusted to make improvements to the site that are more of a long-term trust bet. So things that wouldn’t necessarily improve metrics immediately, but we know are important to build a brand. When you’re investing with Wealthfront, we don’t want you to take your money out in a year—we want you to be with us for 10, 20, 30 years.“Designers should feel empowered to make their own decisions.”
Most companies look at NPS when they think about moving the brand and brand loyalty. What’s interesting about being in a finance company is that you actually can watch your NPS scores change and follow market trends. When the market goes down, sometimes NPS goes down. We actually use that as a motivation in terms of things like, we want people to feel safe and trust Wealthfront even more when the market is going down.
What is your user base like and how have you seen it change since you launched?
We’re seeing our user base grow out to be more young families who are making important financial decisions for the first time, like saving for their child’s college tuition or buying a home.
We’re about to release a college savings product. What’s one of the very first things that people think about financially when they get married and they have a kid? “Can I send my child to college?”
We think carefully about where we allocate our resources in order to meet our users’ growing needs and stay just ahead of where the people are as they’re using the service. Moving forward, we’re trying to focus more on this notion of the modern family.
And this doesn’t only impact the design. We’re working on creating content that’s much more digestible and contextual in the interface—much more focused on client needs and just warming up the brand overall.
Does Wealthfront have a dedicated content team?
We do. Words in our design are just as critical as anything else, like a button or the color that you choose. Just the other day, I sat down with a PM and a designer and we went through every single word in a flow to make sure that it was clear, personal, made sense, and felt guiding—and that we gave enough context for everything.
How do you use InVision?
InVision allows us to easily share projects with PMs and engineers.
Jackie uses InVision at varying points in her workflow: at the beginning with wireframes to communicate a flow, in the middle for iterations and comparisons, and at the end when polish has been implemented and it’s ready to hand off to engineers. It’s helped in creating a common area that other team members—not just designers—can go to see the progress of a project, the thoughts behind it, and provide commentary.”InVision helps our designs come to life.”
Aly uses InVision to make her designs come to life—she can bring hundreds of scattered art boards into a cohesive flow, which helps her test our product. She’s able to get better and more precise feedback earlier in the process.
How do you give feedback without crushing anyone’s soul?
Feedback is a big part of the culture here. There isn’t really any sensitivity to it—it’s just an understood part of the workflow. As a member of the team, each person knows that their colleagues want to make our work better, so they want to share them what they’re working on.
You can take someone’s feedback, and if you agree with it, you can apply it to the work. If you don’t agree with it, you don’t have to.
Having each designer feel empowered to make their own decisions at the end of the day also helps.
We have a Slack channel for critiques, and there’s always something going on in there. We also have boards around the office where there’s work pinned up and people can write comments.
What do you think makes for a good work culture?
I love working with designers who are motivated not just by their own work, but by a vision and being on a team that’s working on something larger than what they’re able to do on her own.
We’re motivated by the mission of Wealthfront—and by the challenge of collaborating on working through problems that haven’t yet been solved from a design perspective.
Everybody’s learning a ton and able to contribute in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, designers want to ship products—and that’s what we’re all doing here.
Photos by Peter Prato.