Rocaton is an investment company based in Connecticut. It advises large institutional and high net worth investors. Rocaton came to the consulting firm where I worked in 2014 and wanted our help with a new project. They had a vision to build an online dashboard to visualize plans, products, sponsors and other key information for their advisors.
We soon reached a mutual agreement about cost. But there was a short timeline - only four weeks. We knew this would be challenging. Rocaton wanted to quickly test out this idea with only a few key members in the company before rolling it out to everyone else.
Coming Up with a Hypothesis
The goal is to create an online dashboard that lets Rocaton's employees see the details of each plan, product, sponsor and vendor. The dashboard should also help them understand the relationship between each financial entity.
For this product to be considered successful, a Rocaton financial advisor needs to be able to:
- Quick search and find a particular plan, product, sponsor or vendor
- See the details of each entity and its relationship with other products, plans or sponsors
- add plans to a prospect list to monitor their performances
Understanding New Terminologies
For those of us who don't work in finance, dealing with financial terms can be very intimidating. Before we started designing, our small team of one designer, two developers and an account lead gathered in a small conference to set up our mini "situation room". We want to make sure everyone understands those financial terms and is on the same page with what we want to deliver for Rocaton. Our account lead Ben led the discussion, not only because of his role but also because he have experiences working in large financial companies.
- A plan is a collection of financial products.
- A product is a specific financial vehicle (ie. a stock, an index, bond)
- A sponsor is a company that buys a plan to invest its cash reserve as a form of investment
- A vendor is a service provider who works with the companies (ie. accounting firm)
Despite our best effort, the team gained little progress after an entire day of white boarding out financial terminologies. We just couldn't see the relationship between a plan and a product, a sponsor and a plan, and so on. After two sluggish days, we decided to request a member of Rocaton's team come up to Toronto to help expedite our learnings. It helped us out tremendously. After one day of having their member with us, our brains began to register the connections between different financial terms and things started to make sense.
We used a technique called design studio to help us prototype fast and encourage collaboration amongst team members.
- First we break down the entire app into smaller pieces (plan view, product view, sponsor view, etc.)
- The entire team sits in a circle, each with a pen and papers
- Pick one piece for a round of paper sketching and put 10 minutes on the clock
- No talking during the 10 minutes
- When the time is up, we each take turns to explain our sketches. The rest of the team can only ask clarification questions or point out parts that they like
- After the first round of feedback, we put everyone's sketch up on the wall. Parts on a sketch that have gathered positive feedback are marked out
- We then take another round of sketching out designs. Each person can choose to incorporate the parts with popular votes into their current sketches
- We continue doing this sketch-feedback loop until we have a good prototype that we're ready to make into higher fidelity mockups
Getting Early Buy-ins
When presenting a design, I'm always battling two sets of expectations from the audience: aesthetics and functionality. Feeling confident about the outcome from our design studio, I wanted to separate out the aesthetics component to get buy-ins early. I created the following style guide and artboard with sample components to get it approved by Rocaton.
After the style guide was approved by Rocaton, I began to create high fidelity mockups based on the outcomes of design studio.
Plan View (alternative)
After four weeks of hard work, we delivered the project on time for Rocaton. The client was very happy with the result and glad that we were able to produce a prototype of their idea that fast.