A Holistic Vision for Planning

Northwestern Mutual wanted to increase client engagement between advisor check-ins and better communicate its protect and prosper value prop. My role was Design Director. Deliverables included a vision prototype for the mobile app and six features to increase engagement.

Service
UI/UX
Expertise
UI/UX Design
Deliverables
Vision Prototype, Design Brief, High Fidelity Mocks

Challenge

The Northwestern Mutual (NM) app is an app that provides NM’s insurance customers with the ability to make payments, view statements and keep updated on the value of their policies. For the most part, NM investment clients do not find value in the app because most of the data they want to view is not available. Clients also do not recognize the power of being a NM insurance and investment client because the app is missing the mark on an integrated view of the value of protecting them and their family in addition to investing.

How might we help people improve their financial behaviors by enabling them to interact with and optimize their plan, review their products, and engage their advisor?

Solution

This project required dual agile tracks with one team focused on the one to two year vision while the other team began to take insights from the vision track and incorporate them into the execution track. 

The vision work also provided inspiration for the internal development team on how to engage clients and help them understand the value of being an integrated client. It was intentionally outsourced to an agency to increase velocity and spark new thinking. 

The vision team created a prototype that used design to show what was possible. The prototype created alignment around where the development team was today and where they needed to go. 

  • Clients (the users) mostly wanted to use the current app for self-service so most of the current features and priorities focused on self-service. 
  • The business wanted to move beyond self-service in order that there was an increase client engagement between advisor check-ins. The hypothesis was an increase in engagement would result in clients expanded their relationship by buying more products. So, most of the vision prototype was focused on features that were not self-service and in some situations pushed down self-service features.
  • The business also wanted to increase integrated clients or clients that were buying insurance and trusting NM with their investment portfolio. However, most people only know NM as an insurance company.

The development team needed to balance user and business needs. It also became obvious the team needed to better understand NM’s business model and play an active role in communicating the value prop without detracting from the self-service experience. 

The project also aligned the team around a common design challenge: 

How might we help people improve their financial behaviors, understanding how to protect themselves from the unexpected and invest early, while also enabling interaction with their products, their advisor and their plan?

One executive simply stated, how might we improve the experience, extending beyond self-service? 

The team successfully prioritized six new features from the vision prototype based on feasibility and the likelihood it would increase engagement with the advisor or plan. One of the features that leaned heavily on time intensive data integrations was reimagined by the team and became a brand moment that was innovative, modern and excited everyone up to the CEO. 

This NM "badge" represents the three NM pillars: protect, prosper and planning. Design by Bridget Ma.

The team created a unique NM “badge” that visually showed that to get the most out of your NM experience, you need to be protected with our insurance, invest in your future and have a plan to follow.

While it was a challenge to align the team with the vision work and integrate the contributions of an external team, it provided a valuable opportunity for growth and learning. The perception that the internal team wasn’t trusted to deliver vision work was a misunderstanding that we can address moving forward. During the 14-week engagement, there were some communication gaps, but these instances highlighted the importance of clear and detailed communication, especially for our early career designers.

Although it felt like we were “starting from the beginning” under a tight deadline, it was a testament to our team’s resilience and adaptability. The decision to keep conversations with executives and the business separate from the full development team was strategic, but we recognize the importance of involving everyone in future discussions. This experience has given us insights and lessons that will undoubtedly shape our future projects for the better.

Approach

As the head of design for consumer facing products, my role was to guide the creative direction alongside the agency focused on the future vision while also working with our internal leadership team (product management, design, engineering, the business) to keep that work within its scope. This included participating in all workshops, being the subject matter expert for design at NM and providing design feedback. Simultaneously, I was beginning to translate the vision into a roadmap for the team to execute against and get buy-in from the internal design team.

The agency took on a 14-week engagement, focusing on business priorities and the biggest opportunity areas to use hero flows to add form to ideas in order that alignment on the vision was achieved. The agency was tasked with creating one, interconnected flow that demonstrated the connection between an advisor, a financial plan and the client. 

The agency facilitated: 

  • Stakeholder interviews with executives
  • Secondary research and competitive analysis
  • Stakeholder workshop with executives and design leadership
  • Design reviews with the CEO, executive stakeholders and the execution team

The agency delivered: 

  • A high-fidelity clickable prototype
  • A video communicating the hero story for executive audiences.

The internal design team facilitated: 

  • Blue sky to execution workshops
  • Estimation sessions, feasibility sessions and impact projections
  • Research with stakeholders, advisors and users (IDI’s, Focus Groups)
  • Accessibility audit
  • Low-fidelity concept and high-fidelity concept design reviews
  • Enterprise conversations on platform design and scalability of visual language changes
  • Translated key flows to light and dark mode
  • Translated prototype to native patterns

The mobile app before the launch of the new badge and light UI refresh.

The mobile app for a client with a plan and no products.

The Team

Vision Team

Gloria Wu, Designer

Jarret Pickens, Designer

Laura Levisay, Designer

Kathryn Marinaro, Creative Director

Delivery Team

Lindsay Ackerman, Designer

Bridget Ma, Designer

Joe McNeil, Designer

Laura Cochran, Consumer Product Design Director


Case Studies

Learn More About My Work

A curated collection of diverse projects to illustrate the depth of my experience and impact of my work.

A Holistic Vision for Planning
Northwestern Mutual wanted to increase client engagement between advisor check-ins and better communicate its protect and prosper value prop. My role was Design Director. Deliverables included a vision prototype for the mobile app and six features to increase engagement.
Furnishing WeWork
The development team at WeWork created a proprietary design application called Furnish. My role was Sr. UX Researcher. Deliverables included a Service Blueprint, generative UX Research insights and low-fidelity concepts.
Building a Leading Consumer Digital Bank
Valley Bank online account opening experience had a 85 percent drop off following the first page. We formed a cross-functional team to optimize the onboarding experience. My role was Design Director. Deliverables included all design artifacts, content strategy and UX Research.
Tracking WeWork's Real Estate Deals
This project was a zero to one effort to design software to support the WeWork real estate team. Deliverables included personas and experience maps. My role was the UX Research lead.
Automating Photo Editing
Copilot is a proprietary content management system used by Condé Nast editors. One of the team’s primary missions was to create an application that allows editors to write once and publish anywhere. My role was the UX Lead. Deliverables included experience maps, prototypes, wireframes and high-fidelity designs.
Improving the Refugee Experience
I joined USDS as a lead UX Researcher directing field research in SE Asia focused on better understanding the refugee admissions process end-to-end. In 2015, President Obama increased the annual refugee intake from 70,000 to 85,000, with a commitment to accept 10,000 Syrians. Our team focused on understanding how technology could help the president meet this goal without adding more people or impacting the integrity of the process.
What Guides Me

Leadership Principles

My passion for human-centered design and ability to merge human factors with business considerations allows me to make significant contributions as a design leader and partner to product, engineering, data and marketing teams.

Together is better than alone.

Embracing collaboration over working in isolation not only enhances productivity but also enriches personal and team development. This is particularly evident in the realms of research and design, where shared insights and creativity can lead to extraordinary outcomes. Let’s celebrate the power of teamwork!

Balance autonomy & alignment.

My aim is to illuminate the path the company intends to take, empowering the team to align their priorities and plans accordingly. I wholeheartedly champion autonomy and creativity within our cross-functional teams.

Optimize for inclusion.

Enriching your circle with individuals who offer diverse perspectives can significantly enhance your abilities as a researcher or designer. This diversity, stemming from our collective experiences as a team, is a treasure trove of insights and ideas.

Remember the human.

This is the glue that holds us together. Human-centered design puts people at the center of everything. It doesn’t matter if you are designing for a stakeholder, colleague, user, buyer, merchant or any number of other descriptors. What is important is that you stay grounded in human factors throughout the design process.