Dave Sherrod
UX, UI, & VISUAL DESIGN
Made with

Link by Prudential

Prudential's marquee life goal management and achievement platform.

Link by Prudential

Link Context & Challenge

In 2016, for the first time in its 143-year history, Prudential decided to take its insurance and investment products directly to consumers. This would mark a significant change in approach of relying exclusively on Pru's network of financial advisors to interact with and advise clients and prospects about their financial health. Our goal with (the then, no-named) Link, was to devise a compelling and valuable self-service component of our overall financial and advisory approach. Our specific task was creating a self-service experience that would support and promote existing means of advisor-client interaction (phone and in-person appointment creation)  into a common platform.

My Role

  • Pod Lead
  • End-to-end Visual Director
  • Contributing UX Designer
  • Contributing Researcher

My Process

Link by Prudential

RESEARCH & ASSESSMENT

Link by Prudential

Assessing the Robo Landscape

Circa 2008 the so-named robo-advisory space began to blossom and by 2017 (when our then small innovation team began to prepare for Prudential's incremental entry) the competitive landscape was rife with startups and established companies all vying to plant their flag and grab market share.

Conducting competitive analysis, we assessed the offerings, features, and inherent user experiences of several self-directed investment platforms and products.

With key stakeholders, we established a hierarchy of elements and approaches we felt would be most aligned with Prudential's reputation and relationship-heavy customer focus. Categorically ranking these elements ("must-have", "would-be-nice", and "not needed") provided a loose structure within which we could stay focused and productive. 

Prudential's traditional advisor-client consultation process.
Prudential's traditional advisor-client consultation process.

Reaching Out to Customers

Prudential has a long history of taking great care managing advisor-client relationships. For decades they have honed empathizing with clients which greatly benefitted us with respect to the consultative relationship side of advisory. However, we also needed to investigate the opinions, preferences, and attitudes of Prudential customers regarding self-directed aspects of investment. 

We poured through recent articles and studies for insight and  surveyed our Advisory clients via Survey Monkey. Questions were scripted to gain insight about customer financial goal-setting and management, current and future goals, and comfort levels associated with self-directed versus managed account investment.

Abridged examples of guiding survey questions:

  • How comfortable are you in managing your own investments? (0 Not at All - 10 Very Comfortable)
  • What age would you like to retire?
  • Are you confident you will be able to retire per your desired timetable?

IDEATION

Link by Prudential

Brain Droppings

While rallying participants to join one of our brainstorming meetings, I referred to the pending meeting as the "brain droppings session", inadvertently borrowing from the late comedian, George Carlin's book title, "Brain Droppings" (published 1997 and highly recommended for mature, stand-up loving audiences). Given the only semi-structured, free-associating aspect of these sessions, the name resonated and became a fun moniker for such idea exchanges. 

During these ideation sessions, I led my Pod and other key stakeholders in group whiteboard sketching and segmented storyboarding. This was crucial for helping us formulate strategy and direction. We also ran an empathy mapping workshop which allowed us to reexamine tentative product direction decisions to date and provided us opportunity to better characterize target users. This was particularly useful in helping us create our personas as well.

Millennials are prudent savers, self-directed, and seek socially-conscious investment. They struggle with debt, are risk-averse, and are mobile first.
Millennials are prudent savers, self-directed, and seek socially-conscious investment. They struggle with debt, are risk-averse, and are mobile first.

Self-Directed Goal-Seekers

We wanted to identify customers likely motivated by our product's self-directed aspects, while also discerning typical traits of customers seeking those goals. 

This meant evaluating and leveraging existing Prudential personas (previously produced for related products and services), finding commonality amongst them if possible, and deciding from a hierarchal standpoint what to include in our product and where to place our focus.

First-tier goals:

  • Retirement
  • Building an Emergency Fund
  • Family Protection (Insurance)

Second-tier goals:

College Savings, Buy a Home, Buy a Car, Get Married, & Custom

Our millennial personas set the tone for early artifact creation, prototyping, and our eventual 1.0 (unnamed, "Your Future. Visualized.") release.

Link by Prudential

Ideas Taking Form

Our research, analysis, and personas provided us focus regarding customers and the goals they care most about. 

Now it was time to rock the designs and get to sketching and storyboarding concepts.

Given our millennial personas, we decided to take the mobile first approach. We agreed that a customer goal-achievement timeline should be central to any of our concepts along with a means to ask customers questions about their goals. We combined the best of our ideas into a high-fidelity, one-page concept. We continued to vet and expressed this concept via paper prototyping/sorting, wire frames, and eventually high-fidelity prototype.

DESIGN

One of many early concepts user-tested for, amongst other things, the relationship questionnnaire and goal timeline.
One of many early concepts user-tested for, amongst other things, the relationship questionnnaire and goal timeline.

Seeing Our Concepts Through

We created many conceptual approaches throughout the collective lifespan of our multi-staged Link design cycle. These concepts were expressed mainly through sketching and high-fidelity one-page composites. Concepts that faired well internally and showed promise during A/B testing were turned into wires, then click-through prototypes and tested further. 

This process brought into discovery a few themes that would persist through the greater process and into the live product

At a high level, the product journey would consist of customers answering questions pertaining to money, life stage, and goals. Based on questionnaire answers, goals would populate a timeline in real time and would indicate allocated dollar amounts and estimated goal completion date. Time and required allocation amount could then be improved by adding more detail to the goals. Goals and underlying goal details would then populate a shopping cart of sorts where suggested Prudential products and services could be used to model and adjust goal achievement time estimates.

Mobile-first Riffs

I experimented with the duration, sequence, and occurrence location(s) of our questionnaire and tried varying approaches with respect to UI facilitation. We tried a traditional multi-question questionnaire form, a one question per screen sequence, and a more conversational interactive "texting style" (potentially AI) approach.


Flow Mapping & Varying Fidelity Wire Frames

Through site mapping and wire frames, we established a structure for our product that consisted of a beginning (questionnaire), middle (timeline/goal editing), and end (an internally analogized shopping cart of sorts).

Link by Prudential

Higher Fidelity Composites & Prototypes

We had a solid product flow and a good set of working wires. We continued to fine-tune them and add to them, representing the three stages of our product flow and select use cases. I then used these polished screens to create an InVision prototype for user testing.

Link by Prudential

USER TESTING

Testing for goal-populating timeline in early version 1.0
Testing for goal-populating timeline in early version 1.0

Feedback & Product Adjustments

We tested our three-stage concepts with persona-targeted test subjects using usertesting.com. Most users found the flow and UI of the product to be easy to navigate and understand but some felt the experience was too lengthy. Users wanted the time to completion to be quicker and wanted more reward for doing so. For time spent, some users suggested upping the product's value with things like customized, goal-supporting insight. 

In an attempt to remedy the generic while providing more guidance, we leveraged/integrated more goals/financial time-tested content from Prudential Advisory Services. Among other adjustments we also experimented with shortening the duration of the initial questionnaire while adding more required detail during the goal editing stage.

Link by Prudential®, a responsive, WCAG 2.0 accessible goals-achievement platform.
Link by Prudential®, a responsive, WCAG 2.0 accessible goals-achievement platform.


Moderated & Unmoderated Testing

Shortly after we went live with 1.0 ("Your Future. Visualized.) we were very excited to open the Prudential usability lab. I attended many testing sessions in our new lab and, along with continued user testing.com sessions feedback, gained a ton of insight. We also archived video of most of our tests which was very helpful for times when I could not attend sessions in person.

Our dedicated research team ran hundreds of moderated and unmoderated tests leading up to the releases of v1.0 and v2.0 (initially Advice 2.0, but going live as LINK by Prudential). 

I learned from every round of tests and we implemented incremental changes to Link accordingly.

TAKEAWAYS

What I learned from this project

Link's targeted user base was an interesting mix of debt-conscious millennials and older, more financially established customers, all with diverse views of self-directed investing and unique advise seeking proclivities. This guided the thinking of our design in interesting ways.

I was consistently reminded that usability does not always indicate value. Throughout our discovery and user testing, some of which I conducted personally, test participants expressed that they liked the flexibility, task-supporting flow, and educational overtones inherent in the platform.  Most also expressed likability for the look and feel and felt it helped support the add and edit goals/view and get goal solutions task flow. Some of the same customers however also commented that reaching a completed state of the profile and goals timeline required rather lengthy time requirement. Moreover, they expressed that for the time-investment required, the level and quality of the payoff reward could be improved. Some felt the solutions provided for the goals could have been more personalized.

As of early 2019, Link still had some maturing to do but I feel the platform is extremely viable for future incremental improvement. Regarding app usability our teams hit the mark in impressive ways. However while initial intrigue and usability are important parts of Link's success equation, overall enduring value must be based on continued attention and care regarding user's motivation and quality of reward. With more personalization, value-adding features such as outside account balances importation ability, better integrated advisory aspects, and enhancement of a more consultative feel, the Link experience could become an important means for customers to help maintain financial health and keep their eye on the prize of reaching their financial goals.

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https://www.prudential.com/link

Link by Prudential

Did You Know...?

As Link's Visual Design Director, I steered the platform's visual design strategy and defined it's end-to-end look and feel. This included definition and documentation of foundational design system elements and UI interactions and transitions.

Examples will be viewable in the near future in Advice 2.0/Link Visuals case study (authoring underway).