Experience Design: Beyond the Pixels

By Chris Paul August 13, 2015

User experience (UX) design has become a strategic and competitive imperative for any modern product development effort. Fueled by iconic examples from companies such as Apple, product leaders are under increasing pressure to leverage user experience to meet and exceed consumer, competitive and market expectations.

Modern technology consumers drive the market. They have a clear sense of how technology must fit into their daily routines and existing digital ecosystems. In terms of user expectations, they no longer differentiate between work and home technologies, demanding the same utility, elegance and seamlessness from both. Yet despite prominent examples of successful user experiences, many product teams still struggle to define what UX designers do or how to effectively incorporate UX into
their efforts to deliver products.

Loosely defined, UX design is the discipline of creating the means by which users operate a product. The discipline attracts individuals with an innate and deep curiosity about how things work and are used. The best designers are internally driven to solve problems. They don’t sleep until they’ve solved a challenge and validated the solution with real users. UX designers live in details seemingly imperceptible to many, but that, when taken in aggregate, define the quality of the user experience. When empowered, designers have a key function on product teams, forging the central links between product management, engineers and users. Once engaged, the design process offers teams a means to identify and leverage opportunities to delight, innovate and drive competitive advantage. We saw this firsthand at LPL.

At LPL, our financial advisory technology creates operational efficiencies that allow our clients to focus on what they do best: serve their clients, the investors. It’s one of our key differentiators in the market. Our design team obsesses over how users interact with technology and how we can make those interactions better, faster and more efficient. In 2013, we had reached a crossroads. How could we provide the best user experience on a superior technology platform that would meet and exceed the expectations of our clients? How could we set ourselves apart as a leader with the technology solutions we provide so that our clients could manage and grow their businesses? And finally, how could we appeal to users across generations?

Because we emphasize client satisfaction, the user experience was a top priority as we set out to create our next-generation technology platform, ClientWorksSM. The LPL technology leadership team initiated the project in the summer of 2013, and it quickly grew into one of the most ambitious technology transformations LPL has ever undertaken.

Our goal was to dramatically improve the efficiency and utility of our platform. We understood that our success would be judged by our clients, the advisor community. And that meant that the function of UX design would be a prominent one throughout the project.

As a start, we conducted a thorough evaluation of the current platform from a variety of perspectives, including end user, back-office user, efficiency, productivity, device/browser support and more. We invested in extensive research within the advisor community, engaging directly with advisors, sales associates, and support and operations staff across all business segments.

In the end, the design team invested more than 1,500 hours in office visits, feedback sessions and shadowing, plus hundreds of hours with subject-matter experts within LPL. This investment dramatically increased our chances of identifying core challenges and compelling opportunities for these users.

Armed with this data, the design team identified essential task flows and built corresponding journey maps to represent the current and aspirational user experiences. These tools helped the product team better understand the context for product use and identify opportunities for efficiency and productivity, innovations and competitive differentiators.

We created high-level user narratives and supporting storyboards to help communicate the shared vision to internal stakeholders, a critical step in any product development. The team used the storyboards as a starting point and partnered with engineering to create an interactive, clickable prototype that facilitated more efficient end-user validation. The prototype brought the storyboard to life and helped the design team quickly work through lower-level design details with our engineering partners.

The interactive prototype evolved as we drove refinements and inputs from user and business feedback sessions into product development. The prototype was easy to change and refine, encouraging a great deal of agility within the product team in the early stages of the development cycle. Ultimately, we used the prototype’s front-end code as the basis for the product’s production-level user interface code, capitalizing on this early development investment.

After analyzing the inputs and design docs, we identified three imperatives upon which to build the new platform: flexibility, simplicity and integration, and customization. Through the above process we were able to deliver on them all:

  •  Flexibility—We designed ClientWorks to be accessible from desktop and mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones. It allows our advisors to choose the platform and browser that best matches their business needs. 
  • Simplicity and integration—The modern user interface intuitively supports essential task flows. For example, daily tasks such as client and account management, moving money, trading and new-account opening are designed to reflect conceptual models for those tasks that were already established in the minds of the users. Links are created across supporting sub-systems to ensure users can complete all tasks in context. We developed core interaction patterns and guidelines to support these task flows and then propagated them across the platform’s applications to increase approachability and raise system-wide usability measures. We continuously iterated task flows and screen designs until we exceeded the usability and simplicity targets. 
  • Customization—ClientWorks encourags end users to tailor the platform to support the nuances of their specific business model. Sophisticated filtering controls allow advisors to collect the precise combination of information from across LPL systems to better understand their clients, accounts and business.

 

ClientWorks underwent an exhaustive set of measures on user satisfaction, task efficiency and productivity, achieving significant productivity improvements across the core tasks. Perhaps most compelling, we’ve provided advisors with near-instantaneous access to insights that previously took hours—or days—to achieve. ClientWorks also offers advisors a more
holistic view of their clients, associated accounts and their broader business, insights at the top of advisors’ wish lists.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Engaging our users directly in the design of ClientWorks allowed us to deliver compelling capabilities and build widespread support at LPL and within the advisor community. ClientWorks is now in active piloting with our early adopters.

Leading with the user experience has been critical to the success of ClientWorks. This approach ensured we had clearly defined business requirements driven from real-world use and balanced with internal business needs. We worked early on to establish UX designers as key contributors on the product teams and maintained a regular cadence of end-user interaction throughout the process. By leveraging the design team and the design process in this manner, we facilitated the creation of the compelling innovations necessary to drive market differentiation and product success.

Categories: Market Analysis Strategy Requirements
Chris Paul

Chris Paul

Chris Paul is a senior vice president of experience design at LPL Financial. Learn more at www.lpl.com.

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