UX RESEARCH / DESIGN STRATEGY / SERVICE DESIGN
Update: This post describes my internship experience at Northwestern Mutual during the summer of 2022. For more information on my current work as a full-time UX Researcher, please reach to me directly!
I joined Northwestern Mutual as a UX Research intern over the summer of 2022. At Northwestern Mutual, I had the opportunity to shadow various researchers and contribute to their ongoing projects. This included conducting reviews of past research, assisting in design sprint workshops, and peer reviewing research deliverables.
In addition to these responsibilities, I was given the opportunity to plan and execute a final research project with my fellow design interns. Exact details, findings, and deliverables cannot be distributed as they are the property of Northwestern Mutual, but I have generally described the problem statement and process below. Please feel free to reach out to me if you would like to learn more about my experience!
Marissa Drake, Emerald Obie, Ethan Sylvia, and Eric Yoon.
The 2022 intern class consisted of six UX designers and two UX researchers, including myself. For the final project we were asked to work together to develop and test a product that communicates the value of retaining a juvenile insurance policy to young adults aged 18 to 25.
We had six weeks to conduct generative research, design, test, and redesign.
We structured our research plan into two phases. The first phase consisted of generative research to give designers a deeper understanding of the problem space and userbase, so that they could use the opportunities identified in our research to guide their ideation process. The second phase consisted of evaluative research to ensure their prototyped design aligned with user needs.
We took advantage of two main methodologies during phase one, a literature review and exploratory user interviews. In phase two, we conducted usability testing and co-design workshops.
In phase one, I collaborated with another UX Research intern to complete a literature review of internal, academic, and industry research on juvenile insurance policies and intergenerational planning.
Given the problem statement, we hypothesized that lack of financial literacy was an impediment to juvenile policy retention. So, if young adults had received better financial education, they would be more likely to retain their juvenile policies as adults.
Thus, we developed the following research goals:
Understand the starting point – Understand how, if at all, young adults are educated on personal finances, investments, and insurance.
Uncover Difficulties – Uncover the pain points and obstacles to establishing financial literacy, particularly regarding insurance.
Find Connections – Discover the relevance of early exposure to financial concepts to financial decisions in adulthood.
Build Context – Understand the conversation between all stakeholders during advisor meetings.
To manage our quick turnaround time, we took advantage of tools like Mural to analyze the literature, map common themes, and organize our findings before drafting a final report.
Additionally, we conducted two user interviews with Northwestern Mutual clients. These interviews gave designers the opportunity to hear first-hand perspectives on juvenile policy ownership, although they were not representative. To further empower designers, we created a Mural template that they used to collectively take notes during the research sessions. Following the sessions, we facilitated research debriefs where we helped designers make sense of the interviews and collectively build key takeaways. This was significant because encouraging designers to take a more active role in the process set the foundation for a strong relationship between research and design. Thus, our guidance was welcomed throughout the project.
We identified several key insights and two design opportunities through the literature review and user interviews. The first design opportunity asked how might we design tools that motivate young adults to stay engaged and learn about finances more deeply? The second design opportunity asked how might we design experiences or systems that encourage moments of collaboration and connection between parents and their children?
After we presented our phase one research report to our stakeholders, the designers split into two groups of three and began designing. I took on a lead research role for one group while assisting another UX research intern with their group.
To better support the designers as they worked, I set up weekly stand-up meetings and provided supplemental materials depending on their needs. For example, I developed two user personas based on research into their target users. We then used these personas to create a journey map that outlined pain points and opportunities.
Once the prototype was finalized, I conducted five 1:1 usability tests with Northwestern Mutual clients. These sessions were 45 minutes long and consisted of both task-based testing using the prototype and traditional user interview questions.
This phase of research was structured around the following goals:
Uncover Difficulties – Uncover pain points and obstacles in the design’s user interface.
Understand Expectations – Understand users’ expectations and mental models of the design concept.
Evaluate Strengths and Weaknesses – Evaluate whether the design concept provides value and meets user needs.
Discover Opportunities – Discover new design opportunities based on user feedback.
As in phase one, I invited designers to be active observers by using Mural to note-take and by attending research debrief sessions. Additionally, I organized and facilitated a co-design workshop after interviews were completed to help designers ideate and develop next steps that were tied to research insights. Thus, I took on a design strategy/service design role to ensure we were collectively solving for the user.
This workshop ran for 2.5 hours and consisted of several research and design thinking activities, including:
Interview Analysis – Designers and researchers compiled notes on each interview and discussed common themes, pain points, key successes, and other insights.
Goal Matching – Designers developed “I want… so that” statements and matched their interview notes to a corresponding goal.
PPO Identification – Designers identified pain points and opportunities within the current prototype.
HMW Development – Designers formed “how might we” questions based on user feedback and categorized them into common themes.
Ideation – Designers used the analysis and design thinking activities to ideate on the top three how might we questions.
Prioritization – Designers prioritized their ideas based on innovation, desirability, feasibility, and viability. As a last step, designers presented their top three ideas to the other design group and received feedback.
By the end of the workshop, designers had a clear evaluation of their prototype and had mapped out their exact next steps. To test whether the workshop was truly valuable, I asked them to complete an anonymous survey. 100% of the designers found the workshop helpful. They also all agreed that they would use ideas from the workshop in their updated prototype. 67% of designers felt that the workshop was worth their time, while 33% wanted the workshop to be slightly shorter.
After the workshop, I compiled a formal research report of my findings and recommendations. I then presented this report to all stakeholders.
IMPACT / REFLECTION
This project pushed me to expand as both a researcher and design thinker.