Learning from Conversations with a Developer

A few months ago, I had built out an interactive wireframe of a bank app for the purpose of user testing.  Over the last two weeks, I was tasked with taking that design and size the feature.

All the Hurdles.

#1. Foundational Hurdles. The biggest initial challenge was to build out the remaining flows that I did not get the time to build. That is four out of a total of six flows. Additionally, I still needed to figure out how to make the app usable. These were very intimidating tasks because I hadn’t cracked the code on how to build wireframes quickly, how to map the user flows in a way that is smooth and achieve a clear goal, and going pedal to the metal was not an option as time is not a luxury at AC4D.

#2. First Meeting with a Developer. I was also to show my wireframes of the bank app to Eric Webb, a developer who has volunteered his time to help AC4D designers in training how to size and estimate the app’s features. Can’t do this if there isn’t much to show.

#3. Time. I need to do all of that as well as identify the key features, estimate the time it would take to develop the feature after a conversation with Eric, the developer.

I’ll be sharing with you how I overcame the hurdles and my journey in over the last two weeks.


The Process

Step 1. Meet with A Developer. Recognizing that I still had some wireframes to critique, I decided to meet with Eric earlier rather than later to get some feedback and suggestions on the existing mock-ups and understand what to consider from a product engineer’s perspective. As creativity does not happen in a silo, and developers also build things with users in mind, this conversation did provide a richer understanding of how to design for a user.

2. Complete more of the wireframe. Based on feedback from Eric, and hearing him talk through how he would implement parts of my design, and talk through what some parts of the design seemed unnecessary, I took some key takeaways with me as I rebuilt the existing parts of my app, and built out the remainder flows. Compared to 2 flows with repearted screens over the course 45+hours, I was able to build out unique, 28 key app screens that had a clear visual hierarchy, in less than 20 hours.

3. Second Meeting with a Developer. This is what I will be doing next. I will print out my screens and annotate (also called redlining) the components of each app screen as a developer helps estimate how long the app will take, and about how much it will cost to build the app.

Key Takeaways

While I did not get to a place with estimation, working with Eric and discussing the natural flow of an app and how users typically interact with apps was super helpful. Here are some key takeaways that I will actively include in my process in the future.  When designing keep the following in mind.

Use Existing Element over Custom Element.

Custom controls and UI take more time, to design, to build, test, and (for iOS apps) it may take longer to approved by Apple as you maybe not following their style guide properly. Making custom components for the sake of delightfulness comes at a high cost, literally.  Custom elements are best reserved for making the user experience & business interaction move valuable, efficient, and pleasing.

The result of this is more consistency in what you built, it’s faster to reuse existing components in design as well as in development, and the app is less brittle. When something breaks it is faster to identify and fix that single component that exists in several places.

The components of your app will have a pattern, which decreases the user’s learning curve as they interact with the app, and navigation become more intuitive for less tech-savvy users.

The components of your app will have a pattern.

Have Clear Defined Goal

Have a clear single defined goal for the app as well as for each flow. Without this, is it very hard to decide what elements, details, and information to include, let along how to outline the flow.  Knowing those things makes it infinitely easier to be decisive on where to place certain navigations, how to build a clear hierarchy, and you move faster.

Before_No Clear Goal After_Clear Goal


Consider Typical User Behavior 

When Eric asked me “When was the last time you logged out of an app?”  I, like many, couldn’t remember when I last did that on a browser or app. So, it was clear to me that keeping a Log Out link would be a waste of valuable phone real estate. I started paying more attention to how I bank and took a closer look at the things in the apps I’ve used that I never noticed before. All of the links I never touch in an app made it on a list of low priority elements that I will use to survey my peers and people I interact with daily. Some things that make it onto the list when it comes to my banking apps are: find a bank location, help, privacy policy, legal policy, terms & conditions, statements, setting a language preference, login information, notifications, alerts, bill pay.  As a result, I opted for moving the Log Out link into a hamburger menu.

Be Prepared, and Ready to Trim Ideas

After hearing from my classmates, when I meet with a developer to gauge feature estimates, I will be prepared by having the ideal state of the app screens printed to share and to make note of critiques on, be ready to explain why I made design choice I over other options, have all my feature named and listed, be ready to ask for alternative options and to ask lots of questions. I did not do a very good job asking questions about trade-off such as loading time (which impacts the user’s experience), and security features.


Mock Up Screens

Here are the flows I’ve created and will be used for estimations.





Accounts. Users can monitor their account.




Transfer Money. Users can transfer money between your accounts or to an external account.


 Pay A Bill.

Bill Pay

Student Reflections Three Quarters In.

Thoughts and Experiences from the Team

For the last seven months, classmates and I have been learning and using several tools to research the topic of college persistence among working students. Early on in the research process, we found several tools and methodologies foundational to help up with research and make sense of the data that we saw. Among them were a contextual inquiry/interviews, ethnographic research, concept maps, compelling storytelling, service slices, dissecting a system, talk aloud method, and semantic zooms. From this data, we developed several crucial insight of which we would use to inspire design ideas.
In a couple of brainstorming session, we used reframing methods and tools including a 2×2 diagram to decide on which design ideas we would like to build out. In building out these design solutions, we used techniques including storyboarding, mapping a user journey, service blueprint, lean canvases, theory of change canvases, and wireframing.
In the process of research, building prototypes, and testing out the ideas we have learned so much and gained some insights we’d like to share. In all this sharing of ideas and experiences, a foundational skill is to listen. But there is a difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. Most of us listen to respond, but by listening to understand we are better able to incorporate the needs, we heard into our design. Additionally, as we are building and testing out design ideas, we’ve found value in failing fast and early then iterating as a way to make sure we are developing the right solution for the audience.


We exist to create a world where working students have the option to prioritize school over work, because working students face a daily decision between financing living expenses, meeting academic requirements all while experiencing cognitive overload.

To do that, we need to answer the question:

  • Why do donors find giving to a financially burdened student valuable?
  • What drives people to donate?
  • What is the thinking that makes people donate one-time vs consistently (on a subscription model)?
  • How would students spend the money?
  • What would students spend that money on?
  • How do we measure and track the impact of a donation?
  • What would make a donor stop giving?
  • Who donors are more likely to give to?
  • Would students be willing to ask their social network for financial support?

So this week we will:

  • Conduct interviews with people who have donated to students, or in general
  • Refine our service blueprint for the ideal state.

In the Near Future

Our team project is called FundEDU, a platform to connect working students that are strained financially with donors. This platform attempts to help student persist in school by helping cognitively fatigued working students be able to focus on school.

For the future of FundEDU we hope by the end of April we would have worked rigorously to get FundEDU to a place where it could be pitched to the investor. After AC4D, our personal goals is to join the world of design as interaction designers at an agency and have the opportunity to sharpen the research, sense-making and creation skills we have learned.

Paving Our Path

To get closer to our goals for FundEDU we intend to work on the following between now and the end of April.

  • Find users and keep solution flexible; change it to fit user needs.
  • Use tools and methodologies learned to outline the user flow, components of the business and how it relates, create a prototype that can be taken to users and tested, reach out to the public to look for users.
  • Validate/learn, validate/learn, validate/learn.

Individually, we are focusing our energy to continue growing in the following areas and ability:

  • Form an opinion and insert it
  • Continuous learning about design and topics
  • Take responsibility for designs
  • Focus on the user’s experience — empathize
  • Keep larger context in mind as we create things for individuals to use
  • Keep asking ourselves why something should exist in the world

Where Good Intent Intersects with Design

In the world we live in, when a person’s attempt to fix a problem goes sideways we often hear the defense “well they had good intentions,” or “it was well-meaning.” However, in the case where a solution with good intentions goes off the rails, we aren’t satisfied because we don’t care to hear the reasons why things fail. We want a solution. We want things to work. As a result, good intentions get put on trial, and its value gets debated. Moreover, we end up with expressions and books with titles like “good intentions are not enough.”

Our class has been pondering the questions of “Are good intentions helpful? Or is it selfish altruism? Beneficial for the person we want to help or ourselves?” Moreover, these questions have the implications of should we let good intentions be the guide in the way we want to do good in the world.

Hi, I am Kim, born a chaos muppet and self-made order muppet. I naturally embrace chaos as a challenge to create an order from it. I want to share with you my philosophy on how embarrassing disorder and working towards creating order makes for a well rounded, thoughtful interaction designer. I want to use an example to walk you through the mind of a chaos muppet trying to create some order. Here are the steps I went through to unpack this topic of ‘what is this thing, good intention?’, and ‘what are its values.’

1. Breakdown and Sort the Conversation.

In the debate of ‘how good intention intersects with Design’, putting intent on trial is not fair, because we have not taken the time to understand its nature. So let’s begin by parsing out the facts from opinions.

  • Humans problems are made by humans and/or are a result of humans not playing well with what exists.
  • As long as humans are around, there will be problems.
  • Bandaid solutions are great for stopping the bleeding, the emergency at hand.
  • Complex things are made of smaller pieces that work together.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • We learn by trying or testing things out.
Opinions: (I’ve underlined what part makes the statement an opinion.)
  • Intentions aren’t good enough.
  • Design solutions only create more problems.
  • Wicked problems are hard or feel impossible to solve.

By doing this, we can start to understand which practical steps we can take next. Opinions are a flimsy foundation to build on because opinions and views are a verbal extension of our feelings.  It doesn’t make opinions and viewpoints less valuable, but it does make your foundation a moving target.

2. Find a pattern then ask the right questions.

We have been asking our self if good intentions ARE enough. Depending on whom you talk to and their experiences you will hear a mix of things. So, is the good intention behind a design solution sufficient for it to work? After all, when we see examples of design solutions with large scale impact and success, the founders and designers always talk about the intent of the project, take Spring Health Water’s project in India for example. They intended to create technology that is easy to use and maintain, create income for shop owners, jobs for those working for the company, and to supply clean, uncontaminated water to the masses at a super affordable price. The intention seems good, and the execution proved successful, yet today they are now struggling with getting adoption in rural areas. People’s intentions are not the only variable at play here.

The question “Are the good intentions behind a design solution enough for the solution to work?” begs the questions “Well, what is the goal?” Let’s say the goal is to have an impact (far-reaching, or profound), and sustainability (the solution should thrive, and not become relegated to the history pages of design as a field.)

In another example the effort to reduce alcoholism, we see plenty of efforts working at various scales. I’ve summarized these efforts and mapped it relative to its impact and sustainability. Here we see efforts to reduce alcoholism on working at various levels:

  • Small group  — ex. A family & friend intervention for a one person
  • Organization— ex. MADD (Mothers against drunk driving)
  • Nationally — ex. Prohibition, AMOD (A Measure of degree) which is an effort born out of numerous terrible stories we hear about college students and their drunken mistakes.
 Impact x Sustainability_01
The thing with these design solutions mapping is that it can change quickly, when any variable is changed or introduced.
Impact and sustainability can change with an introduction of any variable.
Impact and sustainability can change with the introduction of any variable.

If these solution’s outcomes can change so dramatically with a change in any variable, then this tells me that we are looking at the problem & solution relationship all wrong. We have been conditioned and taught that problems and solutions have a cause and effect relationship, but this is a narrow perspective. It assumes that one key variable is responsible for the solution’s success or failure. Instead, when dealing with problems that persist despite our intentions and attempts, we need to consider that the relationship of problem and solutions is one if systems, where all variables have the potential to influence on the outcome dramatically. This is true of many, if not all wicked problem.

So the question to ask when considering how Intentions intersect with Design, should be: “What is the role of intentions in design? Also, Why?”


3. Understanding Design Solutions In a System

Here I have three design solution’s trajectories of its impact on Behavioral Changes over Time.
Low impact, unsustainable design solutions are unresponsive to their environment AND individuals. While attempting to address problems may have some degree of behavioral change on a group of people, it will not move the needle of the behavior over time. This is because these types of solutions are not dynamic enough to respond to constant forces acting on the individuals such one’s health, financial strains, personal beliefs, events in the world, policies, and regulations.
High impact, less sustainable design solutions, are responsive to both people and the environment but fall short on the front of adapting to deeper & wider reaching variable such as cultural norms, natural disasters, a profound personal life event like death or having a baby. The nature of this solution is that it works until it doesn’t.
High impact and sustainable design solutions are ones that build on each other’s success. They are ones that respond to acting forces AND adapt quickly to continue moving the needle of behavioral change before deeper & wider reaching variable comes along to undo the previous design solutions success.


4. Answering the right questions.

“What is the role of intentions role in design? Also, Why?”. While design solutions exist in a complex system where their success is influenced by variables such as time, scale, people, environmental factors (health, culture, world events, and more), and so much more, intentions are best associated with the design solutions themselves.
Here is the breakdown of design solutions. If Design theory is the framework and engine that shapes and defines how a design idea navigates towards an end goal, and people are the ones driving the ideas, then intentions are best described as the fuel. Fuel has lots of potential energy and power. When applied to the proper system with proper equipment and constraints they work as a source of energy for the design to keep moving forward. In an open space without direction, they are highly explosive.
Intentions as fuel
Without cooperation, collaboration, direction, and focus, we are all bound to collide on and get nowhere productive.

Direction for design

On Options and Intentions

The value of something made is not what the thing is, but how well it adapts to the people using it, and how quickly can you and your team adapt the thing to changing time and environment. When it comes to opinions, I am less interested in take individual opinions to the boxing ring and go head to head with one another. Your opinions serve to orient your self in the world, help you sleep at night, and to make friends. Where intentions are just another flavor of an opinion. That’s all good and dandy, but it alone is self-serving. When someone tells me their opinion, my first question is, “GREAT! What are you going to do with it?” On the other side of this conversation, if I told you my thoughts and opinions, what are you going to do with it? If the answer is a sincere “nothing”, then we have effectively wasted our breath and time.
Opinions WITH facts, however, works great to provoke conversations that shape theories, idea, and understanding. This, in turn, helps shape your focus and strategy. This is more productive, but it still doesn’t get you a solution. Working as a designer, I am more interested in hearing opinions, informed by facts AND experiences, and quickly finding a way to incorporate it into a system that solves a complex problem, and how quickly can you and your team collaborate and move quickly and responsively.
I hold the opinion that all things in the world MUST have a balance to be sustainable and bearable, take life and death, winners and losers, pains and happiness, good and bad. That is beauty of the world, the balance. Moving forward, my plans are to take this opinion, and find a systematic way to find balance in extreme human conditions.

In Conclusion

So that my friend is how this chaos muppet has used her ordering skills to make some sense of the intersection of good intentions and Design. To sum up, there is no right way to build a thing, but there is an effective way to utilize the resources we have collaboratively to create a change in a general direction we all can agree on. In outlining a design solution, we first need to stay focused on what is the immediate goal we want to work on, a design idea, what resources best get us results, and how to proceed.

Banking with Financial Modeling: A Student Redesign Project

Over the past two weeks, my classmates and I had set out to take feedback from users who played with our first rendition of a mobile bank app that we each design, imagined ourselves as working for a bank that was acquired was tasked to add financial modeling elements functionalities to our bank app. Mint one example of financial modeling. I’d like to share with you the journey I took to develop the idea and design, what I set out to learned and the things I discovered along the way.

The Process

Redesign Guidelines.

Just before this project, I had conducted user testing on the last iteration of my design. From that research I took my learnings about user motivation, habits and made a guideline of what to include in my next revision. Those guidelines were as follows.

  • Regarding UI and Copy
    • Use less icons, this was more distracting and created a busy feeling rather than informative
    • “forwards/backward” should be indicated with a specific call-to-action language, avoid image and generic language (i.e. review, back)
    • move navigation items in the same hierarchy. user’s prior experience demonstrated that this is best at the top left of the screen
    • Physically separate navigation links and buttons from confirmation targets.
    • a bank app should be visually clean, simple and information dense but still concise to only the most pertinent and supportive of what the user is trying to do.
  • Regarding User Experience
    • Users want to have control and flexibility over security
    • Users want the experience to be immediate and reassurance that what they are looking at is up to date and accurate
    • Be attentive to the detail of flow, messaging and accuracy of what is being displayed, the slightest confusion will immediately lead to distrust because this is a banking app.

Learning User Expectations of Financial Modeling  + More Guidelines

Financial modeling is not something that I am too familiar enough. To gauge what the what user’s the prior experience of a financial modeling app looks like I set out to analyze an existing app,  Mint,  and created a concept map of its functionalities. I then reviewed the concept map and isolated the core functionalities based on the following elements I was trying to integrate.

  • provide a snapshot of your finances and their trends
  • allow the user to analyze any specific transaction in any account to see if it is historically anomalous in
    the context of all of your spending
  • provide a simple “what if” modeling system based on “playing with” your recurring
    payment amounts, so users can see how changes in monthly spending impact your account
  • help the user figure out what amount of money is “safe to spend” at any given time.
  • Include the original banking functionalities that I had designed for originally
    • the ability to make a deposit
    • the ability to check one’s account balance and see the transaction details

The Re-Design + Build Out

The Fuzzy Front End & Creating a Process Flow Diagram for Clarity 

This is the fuzzy front end. It was a struggle to just ‘know’ what to put together and how. The earlier guidelines help me with what features should be included and how should the details be but I was still missing something to move this forward. In developing the process diagram I quickly learned the missing piece was a ‘why’. It was not until I was randomly piecing feature and elements together that I was able to start speaking to why they feature or elements should exist together.

A few squared and diamonds into it, I decide that my overarching goal of the app should be to test and see if an app when well designed, can provoke people to consider more frequently and in depth about their long and short term financial wellness. If the app can do this and also provide a simple to use tools to take steps to improve or maintain financial wellness.

Sketch for Direction & Digitized Mock-Ups

As I was mapping the process flow, I would make rough sketches of what the screen could look like and laid out what information should be included on the screen and how that information was best laid out.

In going between the process flow mapping and the hand sketched, I was able to see in real time if an idea of which pieces information, feature, and diagrams play well on limited screen size. I was also able to put the screens to and features I was building out to the litmus test of me overarching and functionality goals.  Something that wouldn’t fit nicely on a single screen, or made the screen too ‘busy’ was a great signal that I needed to revisit the grouping, and break down the ideas into something smaller.

Once I was happy enough I moved onto digitizing the screens in Sketch. It is important to emphasis ‘enough’ because I have learned that when it comes to doing something creative, it is SO EASY for me to go down a rabbit hole in the details. The focus of this step was to have a high-level flow, with details in the layout and functionality and some copy, but not the icons,  font. That stuff comes later.

The Wireframe

A lot of change happened between the last iteration and this one based on user feedback and lesson’s I’ve learned. As a designer, and research I made my process in developing the idea more robust, and focused on the details of the flow and if that ties back to my overarching goal for the users. As a researcher, I focused less on the details of what the user was going to see, and more on the flow of how the users can step through the mockup, this meant less time spend on screen to screen actions and more time focused on what is the least number of steps that a user has to take to achieve the task I will give them during user testing.


In regards to the actual design the changes I made were:

  • apply a structure and pattern to navigation
    • banking options in a menu at the button so navigation can happen single-handedly
    • back buttons at the top in the same spot
    • there is the main screen have a banking menu and pages that go into detail don’t
  • make the screen more simple and clean by
    • using mostly white and with just some specks of color on only the elements that are prioritized
    • User good copy over icons for navigation
    • icons have the same style
  • make information more prominent by using models when necessary to explain something to a user to get their attention

Here is the results. Click here for a larger more details view of the screens.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.07.45 AM

User Research

Interviews and Research Objectives.

While I was digitizing, I had made simultaneously arrangements for scheduled user testing. This helps give me a hard deadline to complete me digitizing and remain focus and avoid those detailed rabbit holes.

In my user research I had set out to learn the following:

  • a user’s banking and financial planning and assessment behaviors
  • what are a user’s banking and planning goals
  • what do users plan for? what motivates this person’s financial planning
  • do user already have a tool to help with monitoring or making budgets. If so what is it?

I think testing the design using the Talk-Aloud method where I would give user prompts and ask the user to talk me through what they are doing and I would occasionally ask them to elaborate on why.  This method allows me to listen in on how the person thinks about finances, their expectations, and reasons for disappointment and enthusiasm. By getting a glimpse of this, I could better understand what flows and elements get people excited or make them anxieties.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.07.28 AM

Testing Results and Lessons Learned


Testing Results and Recommendations.

During user testing, there were three key screens that proved most problematic. Here are the problems and recommendations I would make.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.43.50 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.43.58 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.44.06 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.44.15 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.44.23 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.44.29 AM


Lessons About the User.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 9.44.38 AM

Lessons on Being a Research.

There are some things in my control, i.e. presentation, some of the setting and my mood. There are something out of my control, i.e. how I am received. This came up when I realized the effect my voice has on other people. I have what I like to call a ‘sultry’ voice. It can be deep. So, when testing with women I noticed that they would often look to me to the direction which would affect the research data. Knowing this I paid extra attention to my tone and tried to lighten it, as well as be very intentional with my diction. In one example a user would as me “Is this what I am supposed to click? I don’t know” and I had responded with “What do you think that thing should do?” This did not help the user feel more confident in taking control. It was only after I asked questions with less room for negotiating a conversation that I get better results. In this last example, I started to ask “What is this screen telling you?” over “What do you think this that thing should do?”

Lessons as a Working Designer.

I found that a lot of my ideas of how elements should act on a page limited by the tools I was using. In one example I wanted a certain sorting bar to stay constant even as sections of data can be scrolled through have still had that sorting bar apply to that newly displayed data. This proved most challenging in Sketch and Invision.  My compromise was to apply that bar multiple times per data section. Looking back, this is not something I would hand over to a developer and ask them to build it based on the mockup. I would prefer to do a manual demonstration to  show the developer what I was aiming for in the design.  So in conclusion, DON’T rely to heavily on tools, they limit your vision to their features and offerings.

Another thing I realized was how inconsiderate my design can be to a developer. If this a project that I would like to see the light of day, I would integrate a developer earlier in part of my design process and ask them to talk me through parts that they imagine diffuclt to build and why.

In Conclusion

I still have mixed feelings about this project. There is no doubt that I learned a lot from this, but there is part of me that wishes There was more time to brew over the design ideas, the reasons for doing, and the benefit of the app at all. It’s cool to make something a tinker with it and learn as you go, what I would like personally is just a little more time to sit and take in all that has been achieved. I liken this project to a sprinting marathon. That is when you have to run top speed for a full marathon. It’s not a thing, but it can be! I know in the back of my mind that there is a payoff, and there is something to be achieved but it’s hard to enjoy it while you are doing it, because well, I’m not an Olympian or an expert UX designer with slick wireframing skills (yet).

Prototypes Are Like Wet Clay: Reshaping and Testing Designs

This week our team of Kay WymanAaron Steinman, and myself recruited people that were excited to test out our pilot produces and services. Using out initial models, low-fidelity demos we shared our designs and gathered feedback. After a week of listening to people react to the work, we find ourselves needing to reshape our products and services to adapts to what people are asking about and to get a deeper understanding of why certain parts of the design aren’t picking up traction. The moment we think we have created a bowl, or vase, or mug natural forces taken hold of the medium and exerts itself on what we’ve put together, giving the piece a more organic look and feel. It’s like working with wet clay.  If this sounds like it can be discouraging, you are absolutely right. But the problem is that we are standing too close. Once our team regrouped and talked about the problem each product was attempting to solve, how people reacted to it, the things we learned to work well and not work we were able to take a step back and appreciate the new form each product and service is taking. Below we would like to share with you our findings from this past week.



(sounds like ‘Funded  You’)

Many believe that higher education is the best way to achieve economic mobility.  This can be true but is often not for those that have not found the right path for themselves.  The journey of education if beautiful in that it offers the potential for growth, hope, and opportunity. But if this that is not properly honed and focus, all of that potential will convert into large debts, time lost and a battered ego. Education and economic mobility then becomes out of reach or difficult to get through because of the great financial cost.  

FundEDU is the only crowdfunding platform for higher education that connects students to their community of support.

This past week we wanted to learn specifics about who and how many people will find this valuable. In order to gauge interest, we made a simple landing page announcing a website “coming soon” to capture email signups and a Facebook ad to drive traffic and measure interest by clicks. The test was designed to see if people are interested in “yet another” crowdfunding platform, even if it is specifically geared towards higher education.

Our hypothesis was that people would be generally interested in exploring a new, as yet unknown funding option for education and would be motivated to click on our ad. However, since we are not offering much in the way of an actual product yet, we would garner a few signups from the landing page.

The Facebook ad targeted people in the United States with some high school or some college, who were interested in either Austin Community College or General Assembly. The rationale for choosing the two schools was: 1) we wanted the ad to get in front of people already thinking about education. 2) Generating local interest from a school in Austin that serves many post-traditional students could provide us with leads for further testing. 3) General Assembly is a popular, but unaccredited school, so students would have limited access to traditional government aid for education.

On the first day of our ad campaign, our ad reached about 650 people and received 6 clicks, costing $4.03. That means each click was $0.67. While this is an expensive price for a click and not a full conversion, it still shows a strong sign of interest. More robust ads and landing pages built for each target customer segment could make these metrics more cost-effective. However, our next steps are to create a prototype to get in front of users for feedback. It’s important to see why people are interested in an educational crowdfunding platform. The fun of design is that the reasons for behavior or feeling are never exactly what you think.

Through the testing process, we learned that a very simple ad and landing page can start catching people’s attention for a product. Our class has been practicing “de-risking” through validating ideas quickly and cheaply, but this iteration proved the point in just one day and for $4. As the results came in, the limitations of this test became apparent as well. We do not know what prompted each individual to click the link or how they thought the service would work. 

Our hypothesis moving forward is that student and prospective students are looking for any funding channel because education is almost always expensive and government aid when it is available, does not cover living expenses. However, we suspect there is more nuance here or perhaps other compelling reasons to seek out crowdfunding altogether. This will be the focus of next week’s testing.



Me Mentor


We all have goals and aspirations that sit in the back of our minds just waiting for the opportune time to start working towards them. We often tell ourselves that we are too busy, or don’t have the right support or resources. For the few aspirations that do make it out of our heads and into the world, setting goals and staying focused is difficult when you have so many things to balance. In reality, everything that is achieved is a result of several small steps that build upon one another.  So how do we achieve a goal when breaking down ideas into smaller tasks is a skill that many aren’t taught. Me Mentor is a personal coaching subscription that helps make defining these steps easier, and routine. The Me Mentor process and personal coach supports you in learning how to identify, define, and take it one step at a time with encouragement and support. Learn to organize your time, thoughts, hopes, and future.

This week our prototype consisted of a Me Mentor form and a designer playing the role as a personal coach. With this prototype we were testing if people would be interested and find beneficial the combination of an encouraging voice, advice on how to break down goals into smallest bit size takes for the benefit of continued momentum, and having a list to refer to as a means to pick up where you left of for the goal you are trying to achieve.

This week we recruited two users to use our Me Mentor goal setting and planning worksheet, and then checked in on each user at the end of the day to follow up on their progress, reflect, and get specific on how they will fit in the next step in the next day.

Lesson #1. We learned from our two users that the practice of writing a goal and the plan they thought of to execute it made the idea real and motivating to start. We also learned that having another person coach them on how to break down steps into smaller pieces made it possible to have continued momentum. In one example, one user had the goal to write a paper and this person’s steps #1 and #2 were to look up requirements, then write a rough draft. This person also originally estimated that it would take 1-2 days between those two steps.  This plan could be equated to running short burst sprints, where each sprint is interrupted by a hard stop. We suggested that instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, they could begin to think deeply about the topic by creating an outline based on their ideas and the requirements. This helped the person continued their stream of motivation, instead of getting distracted by another unrelated task in between steps #1 and #2. This motivation is more like running at a steadily paced marathon, with continued endurance. We were able to validate that the model of a worksheet and personal coaching is valuable to help a person maintain consistent momentum.

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Lesson #2. We learned quickly is that this model does not scale at all. Having seen this, we understood first hand why, as another research team states it, “effective advising it intrusive advising”, and why this is rare. Even with all the good intentions, time and schedule, and other life events will interrupt the flow.

Lesson #3. We also learned that this model is most something that is easily adopted by our original intended target audience, a working student that is considered post-traditional and who struggle with college persistence. Another thing we learned is that not all goals are the same, and can have the same process and advising applied easily. Some goals start out as an idea for a lifestyle or feeling they want to achieve. This is where our design research skills prove the most useful. After a conversation, their original goal was broken into two goals, one for changing habits, another way to change a behavior, a much harder task, that takes time and reflection.


(sounds like ‘For Me’)

This week our “Pre-hire” idea got a name change. We wanted to come up with something less product-description and more recognizable. We landed on the name “VorMi,” which is pronounced with a German “f” sound in place of the “v.”  
We hypothesized that employers would be available for a short 15-20 minute meeting to discuss VorMi. To test our hypothesis, we went door-to-door to 4 companies located in downtown Austin asking to speak with hiring managers / HR representatives to get feedback regarding our pre-hire system.

We learned that canvassing is not the most effective method for getting in front of the right people to gauge interest. The next step is to reach out via email to schedule time with our employer-side target audience and to continue seeking out companies we believe to be a proper fit for our product.

Our MVP is a pitch deck that explains who we are, the origins of our design idea, the problem our product addresses, and lays out the benefits to potential stakeholders. We continue to hypothesize that businesses with entry-level positions requiring some amount of ‘hard’ skills (such as coding or proficiency with a certain software) would be interested in taking part in a student’s academic journey.


What’s next

This next week, our team will be sussing out the meaning behind what we found, reshaping out pilots and prototypes, talking to more people, looking for more people to test these designs, and building and iterating on service design blueprints.

Does any of the problems, designs or ideas interest you? Please email us at kim.nguyen@ac4d.com, kay.wyman@ac4d.com or aaron.steinman@ac4d.com and let’s talk! 

Bank App Part III: User Testing, Feedback and Recommendations

Last week, I had presented an initial Bank App Concept. This concept was a redesign based on my personal preference. Four guests were then invited to on see our work and provide feedback to each student. With this feedback, I revised my initial design, digitized the drafts and took my design into the real world for user testing.

Assumptions and New Features

With the second redesign, I baked in a few of my assumptions and features that I wanted to learn from user testing.  I set out to discover the following.

  • Do users value Touch ID and will always opt-in to make logging in a faster process?
  • Does laying our the main banking activities laid out like a buffet make navigating and conducting a task simpler, and faster?
  • Is a visual of a user’s debt to ‘money they have’ and how they compare valuable information for the user? How would they respond to that ratio?
  • Do icons make finding buttons and links more straightforward to find?

Users I Spoke To

Given the timeline of this project, I knew that I would not get as much of a variety of participants. So I set out to self-description a deeper understanding of what motivated the users’ banking choices.  One way I did this was to ask the testing participant to describe themselves by what spirit animal they are, or what magic power do they wish they had and why.

Listening to their response and reason I got a sense of what they value as people. I considered that self-description when I revisited their feedback. What was interesting was how their self description helped explain why certain features caught their attention in a good or bad way, what bothered and excited them about the design, and found the following to be my participant’s banking style and goals. From those, I identified some more universal goals to incorporate into my key takeaways.

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What was interesting what some of the contradictions I would hear from the users. There is a fine line to straddle between sufficient communications and ‘intuitive’ design flows. One example was when I chose to make the ‘Remember User ID’ Automatically be enabled when a user would allow “Touch ID.” From a technical perspective, it made complete sense, how else can you log in without a user ID. But this is not what I heard from Leo, who looks for full control of his banking choices.  At the same time, I also heard from Leo that having an extra message after completing a deposit was redundant, and felt inefficient.

This contradiction is not because Leo can’t make up his mind, but a clear indicator that what is deemed as good communication, and intuitive user flow is defined differently depending on how the user perceived money and banking.

The need to further communication in around certain features such as password and ID management and less around transaction completion made me hyper-aware that there is a balancing act to be made. I am going forward to the problems identified, and proposed solutions will need to be guided by these takeaways, which were informed by the feedback, user’s banking style and goals.

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The people I spoke to had real personal goals including, improving their credit score, getting a mortgage, improving their spending habits. Any goals made around money takes time, patience, and focused intent to achieve. It is unsurprising that people will react so quickly, intensely, and be firm in their resolve when technology behaved unexpectedly.  Anything unexpected can be quickly interpreted as an obstacle for them to achieve these goals they set for themselves.  Moving forward with my next iteration, I intend to use the data I have on user behavior to guide more of my redesign, as oppose to what ‘feels’ right to me. My job as a designer is not to intuit what people need, but to hear and crafts something based on what people demonstrate to me their needs and desires are.

Problems and Recommendations

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Bank App Part II: Mock Ups and Lesson’s Learned


Since my last posting, I have taken my concept map created a mock-up of my new map. The designing, and creating process has been very fun. It was also very easy to get lost in the details of the visuals. Here are the results.

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When I set out on planning how to execute I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and jump right into an app to start my mock-up. Creating digitally is so gratifying especially with smart and beautiful software such as Sketch and Invision, and have your ideas take form so cleanly and quickly. The learning curve was extremely small as well. But if I had the chance to do this again, I would execute the planning MUCH differently.  This is what I’ve learned.

On the topic of planning. 

1. For the speed, cohesiveness, and complete ideas start with pen and paper!  When working with software, it is very easy to go down rabbit holes and spend hours fussing over details. I lost so much time tweaking, and am left with a less thoughtfully laid outflow.  While software makes it easy to tweak the details, pen an paper is easier for tweaking ideas and concepts. Additionally, the drawings would function as a checklist of what to do next, and give direction every time you walk away from the project and come back to it.

2. Ask for feedback early. Because I did not have a complete sketch, I didn’t start getting feedback until I finished a few mockups digitally. 

3. Stop fussing about the details. That can come later.

4. Don’t use your first time doing a project as a time to learn tools. 

Systems of Support and Demand on a Post Traditional Student

In early December 2018, my classmates and I delivered a presentation on our research findings about the post-traditional student experience, seen in this Facebook video.  My teammates and I studied this topic through the lens of “how does working impact the post-traditional student’s educational experience?”

Having gone through the data, we came to the insight that, while many students encounter obstacles along their academic journey, the need to work and establish financial stability often stretches the working student so thin that any obstacle they encounter becomes a speed bump, interrupting even derailing their plans and motivations for education. From technical difficulties to family instability, all challenges they face were equally impactful.

Recently I have read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In his book, he eloquently lays out how habits an events in a person’s life may seem small and insignificant, but in the long run, will add up to have a grand effect in the long run. The reason being is that each habit or even sets an upward or downward trajectory. It is only over time that we can see the big picture effect of the positive or negative trajectory. Take for instances the way a plane ascends and descends. You must set an angle for the plan to tip upwards or downwards, and it is only after a few minutes that you can reach thousands of feet above the ground or land on the ground.

When following the stories of our participants, we heard a common thread which was exactly that, a series of negative events that would over time build up to create a massive obstacle that prevents students from succeeding in school.  We also heard from students that opposite where the people and events in their lives have had a net positive trajectory, and they are well on their way to graduating.  In the cases of student that seems to break from these negative events and challenges act as a system against them, what if there was a way to engineer a system to counteract the negative on that steers students of their educational course? What if we can identify the missing pieces or identify and priorities the challenges to help course correct?

In the following figure, I’ve mapped out a high level-understanding on the elements that play a role on a student and the educational institutions, support structures and employers impact the working student.


In doing so, I have noticed that there are a lot of loose ends that require the working students to analyze, process and connect the dots. Tragically, as a working student, your mental capacities have already been exhausted by school and an undesirable job.

In next week’s blog, I am to take a deeper dive into the elements that may be missing, as well as a step out to understand what human factors can work to overcome the system of challenges a working student faces.

MY (very own) UFCU : A Story of Redesigning an App

This week at AC4D, I took on the challenge of redesigning my banking app. Like most adults, I have a handful of banking options because no single bank offers all the services I want and need. For this project, I chose the University Federal Credit Union’s (UFCU) mobile banking app.

Setting out on this experiment, immediately I had some choices to make between a banking app that I no longer bank with but still keep around or the new banking app that I use only one or two features out of.  I opted to audit the app of my older bank, UFCU, a seemingly simpler one. I felt like an imposter because I haven’t actually banked (as in depositing my paychecks into and use a debit card) with them for years. As I earned more money over time, I found myself not getting what I needed from UFCU. I don’t even know if my debit card is still active since I last used it in 2013!  I mostly keep my membership because I know that my tenure with them will get me a low loan interest rate, and even better customer service. And that is about the only reason I use UFCU for, loans.

The sad balance of my old UFCU accounts.

This mobile app was entirely new to me. And I have to say that it was very lovely compared to the first time I enrolled in 2011-2012, on my old Motorola Razor flip phone, remember that one? Back then phones still fit in your back pocket, and we didn’t have touch screens and touch ID sign in. Everything, including UFCU’s mobile app, has changed so much. I was impressed with the new UFCU.

While auditing and mapping the feature of the mobile app I kept asking myself “Who are their customers now? Why did they prioritize the features that they did?” It certainly was not for me. Here is a look at the current state of the app.


So in my redesign, I imagined a blend of the customer I use to be, and the customer I am now.  Pretending as if this redesign was for the current project, and wanting to maintain architecture as to not alienate existing customer while surfacing the features that would have been handy when if I still had a loan with them.  Here are the results.


If only I can add ‘full ATM fee refund’ as a feature and ‘earning airline points with card purchases’, then I would be set to coming back to UFCU.

PeletonU & AC4D: Digging Deep into Education and the Workforce.

Another mystery to be solved

As the second quarter of the 2018-2019 Austin Center for Design kicks off, I am excited to share that the 2019 AC4D class will be working closely with PeletonU, a unique group of people who provide comprehensive support to help get post-traditional students through college.

In a team of three, Gerald Codina, Aaron Steinman, and I will be exploring one facet of a growing problem.

A Growing Problem

Growing up, we were often told that the path to a happy secure future is to go to school, work hard and the seeds you have sewn in your efforts will fruit. Sadly, this is not the system that about 44 million people experience. Collectively, student debt in the U.S. is over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt. Year over year, we witness this number grows exponentially. Clearly, something is amiss. Were we lied to as children? Or did we not work nearly as hard as we thought? The answer is a bit of both, or neither depending on how you slice the pie.

The system that has been set is a dated and broken one given today’s standards. Over the last 15-years, the average college tuition has steadily increased. Where tuition in this statistic represents the cost of only 1-year of education + room and fees. Keep in mind that while an bachelor’s degree is expected to graduate in 4 years (tuition X 4), but in reality, the typical student will take 6-years to complete college (tuition X 6). Depending on where you went to school, if you were in- or out- of state, how long you attended, it’s not impossible to imagine a debt number in the 6 figures. Even with the staggering collective numbers, the law treats education debt differently than all other debt. Under the provisions of Chapter 13, student debt is effectively like a terminal illness, you can try to treat it with blunt tools, or lose everything to discharge yourself of it, more on the topic here.

Elephant in the Room

We all have debt, but we don’t often talk about how we get there. This is not an accident. Debt has a negative effect on one’s psychology, putting up in a ‘scarcity mindset’ that has real implications on our decision-making process.

At junctures of complex problems like this, it is important to recognize that this is a man-made problem. In the spirit of optimism and practicality, we MUST talk about the issues honestly, to understand them deeply, before we can begin to pick apart the messy pieces.

Our Intent

My team and I will be working closely with PeletonU, Advisors, students and several designers to understand the decision-making process that financially independent students face while considering their current state and employment. We aim to understand, map and help navigate this complex environment and consider all the possibilities for a brighter future for all those involved.