How USAA designs to scale

4 min read
Will Fanguy
  •  Aug 2, 2018
Link copied to clipboard

When USAA launched in 1922, it was a group of 25 Army officers who came together to insure each others’ automobiles when they couldn’t get insurance anywhere else. After expanding to include members of other Armed Services branches, the organization now serves millions of customers as one of the only fully integrated financial services organizations in America.

Since the launch of the company’s first website in the 1990s, USAA has been committed to digital growth. Now, USAA is using design to focus on members’ needs and fuel their own digital transformation. By utilizing one-of-a-kind internal processes, the team at USAA is able to deliver exceptional service to all of its members without compromising effectiveness or empathy in the process.

Empathy through focusing on the experience

One major practice that sets USAA apart is its experience-owner model. Instead of referring to project leads as product owners, they’re known internally as experience owners, who live and own the product from a more personal standpoint. This changes the focus from “optimize and ship” to a more ongoing “revise and improve” mindset. This allows for change and revision and makes the product more adaptable to fit the constantly changing needs of USAA members.

Related: How to transform your digital brand into a real world experience

To encourage empathy and creative problem solving as a universal skill, experience owners attend Human-Centered Design Education sessions that are curated and taught by the HCD Practice team within Design. This is a multi-day bootcamp tailored to build hands-on understanding and drive USAA’s adoption of design thinking methods. This helps the team improve in the areas of design thinking that can sometimes be the hardest to optimize.

“USAA champions experience owners, who live and own the product from a more personal standpoint.”

Twitter Logo

How to design like USAA

  • Invest in designer development and growth. A dedicated Design Talent team works with leadership to develop a skills matrix and growth paths that support designers at all levels, so product design teams are composites of diverse skill sets and backgrounds. Individuals on these teams aren’t expected to be “do everything” designers. They’re given clear career paths, coaching, and support to work on one large project or a collection of designs across a broad area like banking.
  • Optimize your processes to better focus on the job at hand. The design organization is developing and rolling out a design-specific scorecard that details everything from accessibility adherence of design components to how many Experience Owners have completed Human-Centered Design education. This makes it easier to check in on various aspects of a project in an objective way.
  • Consistency is key. For technical design consistency, a representative from the Design Language System (DLS) team is embedded on every product team, and USAA has DLS representatives in each office location, too. The representative attends meetings about element or feature changes, or new developments in the system as a whole. “Everything we design goes through a DLS review to make sure we’re not creating any exotic components, and also to make sure it’s following the style and spirit of the language,” said Executive Director of Design Greg Storey.

The Design Genome Project, which explores the DNA of the world’s best design teams, gives you concrete examples of what drives the success of the companies you admire and helps you build a body of evidence for investing in design. Check it out!

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard