BlackRock - Two validated concepts in two weeks
Two VALIDATED CONCEPTS IN TWO WEEKs
The output from this work is still in development and therefore some parts of this case study have to remain confidential. I am happy to show confidential parts in person.
Create and validate a new concept to be used by Financial Advisors that unlocks access to BlackRock’s research.
From nothing to two well thought through, visualised and validated concepts, ready to be pitched to the Chief Marketing Officer. All in 2 weeks.
I led discovery research with Financial Advisors (FAs) and BlackRock staff who head up business units that commonly interact with FAs and deal with BlackRock’s research.
I created concepts aimed at solving a range of user needs identified in the discovery phase. Ranging from low fidelity sketches to mid/high fidelity UI as the project progressed.
I took the most favoured concepts and designed them out fully. Designing journeys users would take through the products, while always considering the environment in which they would be used.
Testing and iterating
I tested the concepts and UI with Financial Advisors, exploring different user journeys and asking probing questions as the FAs explored the designs. I analysed the feedback, iterated the designs and tested again.
I set out a strategic vision for the two concepts we ended up creating. Covering their user value, business value and future opportunities.
As this project was relatively short, just two weeks, I thought I would tell the story of it by giving a day by day breakdown.
With this two week project, this two week sprint, my colleague and I took inspiration from The Google Design Sprint. So telling the story of this case study day by day lends itself well to the Design Sprint approach too.
Day 1 - The brief and early discovery
A typical project day 1, at least for the morning. Context around the brief, expectations and ideal outcomes.
But given this project was short, there was no time to waste.
We begun stakeholder interviews alongside our clients, 5 interviews in total, speaking with BlackRock staff from a range of relevant business units.
We got into the challenges they and their departments face around research and Financial Advisors (FAs) accessing and using BlackRock’s research.
We also used the time with them to tease out any existing insight they could share around FAs and how they use research. Unfortunately the insight they shared was either too high level or irrelevant for us to use as material for ideation.
After each stakeholder interview we had a project team synthesis. Discussing interesting points that came out and ideating on the fly if during conversation something sparked an idea.
By the end of the day we had quick win solutions, content variation ideas and product concepts, around 25 in total.
Day 2 - Rapid ideation
Off the back of all that we learnt in the kick-off, knowledge gained from the interviews and client hypotheses, we drew up four how might we questions.
Coming up with the how might we questions together as a team helped align our thinking.
They also gave us a good direction and focus when beginning ideation. We each took 2 how might we questions to answer.
Without them we would have been ideating against random quotes from the day before.
When coming up with ideas and concepts we used Crazy 8s.
Fold a piece of paper up to create 8 squares and then fill each square with an idea that solves the problem. We gave ourselves 15 minutes to complete it. Then present back the ideas to the group.
This was the first time I had tried Crazy 8s and found the method to have its pros and cons.
Crazy 8’s pros
- Urgency. The time pressure makes you think on your feet and deliver. The rough sketch you quickly jotted down as the time was running might spark a debate or a new concept
- It encourages collaboration. When team members present back their ideas to the group you’re encouraged to build on others ideas
- Ideas aplenty. From quick wins to ideas to solid concepts. Crazy 8s does produce a large list of ideas in a short period of time
Crazy 8’s cons
- Urgency. The time pressure makes you rush ideas and therefore you execute poorly or you don’t think them through well enough
- Delivering eight ideas. You want to fill your 8 squares in the allotted time. But that may mean having to move on from what could be a very good idea just so you fill the remaining squares
- Defining. If there isn’t clear definition amongst the team on the problem(s) the ideas are solving then team members risk coming up with ideas that don’t solve the true problem
My colleague, our two clients (but effectively team members) and I presented back our ideas and the rationale behind them to one another.
We actively encouraged discussion, debate and to build on each others ideas.
We soon begun iterating on ideas, combining two ideas together and taking parts from one and one from another to create a totally new concept.
By the end of our discussion we had a range of good ideas with some solid thinking behind them.
Then came prioritisation. We had time with FAs lined up in two days and wanted to take our best ideas through and put them in front of the FAs.
At this stage the ideas were more testing material and stimulus for conversation, rather than any final concepts or life changing products.
Collectively we prioritised 8 that we thought met user need, best answered our hypotheses and how might we questions.
My colleague and I sketched out the 8 in more detail, gave them more thought and iterated them further.
Day 3 - Concept cards
With our 8 concepts decided upon I digitised them and turned them into concept cards. Concept cards are a method we use at WAE to better set the context a concept would be used in.
Digitising the concepts allowed for more detail and more opportunity to create talking points in the concept that otherwise would have been hard to do on paper.
In parallel my colleague produced the discussion guide that we would use to guide our conversation with the FAs.
Day 4 - Interviewing and testing with Financial Advisors
Time in front of our end user, as ever, proved to be extremely valuable.
We spoke with 6 FAs, interviewing them for the first part of the session around their current attitudes and behaviours when it comes to research.
This uncovered pain points and needs they have, some of which our concepts answered, and some of which our concepts didn’t. This was ok though as it gave us a clear direction to focus our efforts when creating new concepts in the coming days.
The second part of the session we put the concept cards in front of the FAs.
The main purpose of the concept cards at this stage of the project was to facilitate conversation. They did just that. We uncovered insights that became high level themes that we could use to inform our product design in the coming days.
Feedback relating to specific functionality on concepts also came out, and from that we took the essence of what the functionality was doing and incorporated that experience into future ideation.
After we finished all our sessions with the FAs my colleague and I began synthesising all that we found.
Our clients unfortunately couldn’t attend the sessions so we wanted to make sure we had a report we could take them through first thing.
The report covered:
- Key insights
- High level findings
- The journeys and the opportunity areas in the journeys for our product to help FAs
- Pros and cons of each concept
- Learnings from each concept and how we can take those forward to inform future design efforts
Day 5 - Testing review and direction
I took the clients through what we found from the testing. As a team we then decided upon the direction we wanted to take the ideation and concepting for week 2. Considering where in the journey we are best placed to help solve a need, how that is done and what that experience looks and feels like.
The insight gleaned from the FAs provided us with a clearer direction on what they needed.
Using the insight we came up with new, more focussed how might we questions. These were questions that we new if we answered correctly they would meet the needs of FAs.
Further ideation then took place to answer the new how might we questions. Incorporating the concepts, functionality and essence of successful concepts where possible.
Day 6 - Co-creation
With a clearer focus of the problems we were solving my colleague and I ran a co-creation workshop with our clients and four other BlackRock Digital employees.
I presented what we had found and the opportunity areas we were designing for.
The workshop brought together fresh ideas, different thinking and perspectives and further alignment on what it was we were trying to achieve with this product.
The outcome from the session was a range of ideas and concepts.
Collaboratively with our clients we took the ideas further and fleshed them out, by the end of it we had two solid concepts.
From there I worked the two concepts up even further, stress testing various user journeys through them, exploring different features and interactions.
Every hour or so I was inviting the clients in to view my progress and talk them through my rationale. All of which I kept paper based. This was so I could prototype at speed and the clients didn’t get caught up in the aesthetics of the design.
Day 7 - Creating the concepts and testing preparation
With the product designs agreed on paper I converted them into mid fidelity wireframes.
The where, when and how FAs would use the products was important for us to test.
So with that in mind we designed the discussion guide so it placed the FAs in various real life situations they may find themselves in using the products.
- 'A client has just called you, they want to know how the French election result may affect their portfolio.’
- ‘It’s Monday morning and you want to get an understanding of world events coming up that may affect your portfolios.'
- ‘You’re on the train on your way to work and you receive this notification…'
We then asked what they would currently do in this situation. After collecting that feedback we then introduced the products.
Day 8 - Testing the concepts
In the morning I worked alongside a visual designer to finesse the concepts and take them to a higher level of fidelity.
We wanted to get the products as real as possible as to what they could be.
The visual improvement helped with telling the story of the products to the FAs and helped them understand what it would be like using them.
In the afternoon we tested with 6 more FAs. We dedicated the first 15 minutes of the session to discovery, just to validate and ensure what we heard in the first week was accurate. It was.
The majority of the session was then used to take the FAs through the products and getting their feedback.
The usual of asking open, unbiased, non-leading questions, and then probing around interesting insights and observations that came about.
The concepts tested well, both received positive feedback and met genuine user need...
“You don’t have to read the Wall Street Journal for 20 minutes anymore, you can use this and get what you need in 5.”
“This is a nice overview to have on a Sunday night or Monday morning, the big things that everyone will be talking about.”
“This seems like an easy way to get the information I require rather than search the internet."
In the observation room we had all of the screens that the FAs were interacting with printed. So whenever anything important came out we were able to quickly document it directly onto the screen.
Day 9 - Concept iterations and strategic deck
At the start of the project BlackRock wanted one validated concept. But the two concepts we created were both wanted by FAs, immediately.
So we decided to pursue both.
The method we used to document insight during the testing sessions enabled us to move at speed and with maximum efficiency when reviewing the feedback and deciding upon iterations to be made.
As a team we went through both concepts screen by screen reviewing what we could improve. With a day and a half of the project left these were not major changes or new functionality, more quick wins to further improve the experience.
With my colleague I also began working on a deck to help and support our clients when they took the concepts to present to their CMO.
We wanted to empower clients and equip them correctly. With this objective in mind we created a deck that the told story of:
- How we got to where we got to
- The FA user need around accessing and using research
- Our correct and incorrect hypotheses
- Description, rationale and user feedback for both products
- The user need and business value for both products
- The opportunities BlackRock has in the future with the products
Day 10 - Concept iterations and strategic deck
I completed all of the iterations we wanted to make to the products and also the deck.
My colleague and I then walked the clients through everything we had created to ensure they were in the best place possible before we left.
I also created two interactive prototypes - one for each of the products - in InVision so our clients could demonstrate the products during the presentation.
Two high fidelity prototypes that were rooted in customer insight, tested by real end users and iterated until the experience met the needs of Financial Advisors.
A comprehensive deck breaking down key functionality, user needs met and business benefits for both products.
But ultimately, confident, happy and prepared clients when taking the products and strategy deck to pitch to their CMO.
A couple weeks later…
"I wish all my meetings were like this… great work, fab concepts, great strategy, lets make this happen."
BlackRock Chief Marketing Officer
Be firm but fair
Tell the clients when you want them to leave you to it, there is such a thing as too much co-designing and wanting to keep the clients involved throughout. Politely state when you need private time to synthesise and get your head into the detail.
Clearly define the goal of the project at the start. Draw it up and stick it in the room you’re working in. Refer to it if and when expectations are beginning to deviate from the goal agreed by all.
No matter how many setbacks you get, keep challenging. It’s what you’re there for, you need to be able to take a step back, remain consultative and provide the expert point of view.