Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at CFUNITED 2009 (Lansdowne, VA) with: Nathan Stanford

The User Experience (UX) Of Pausing Automatic Investments At The Vanguard Group

By Ben Nadel on

Things are a little financially tight for me right now; so, I felt it would be prudent to pause the auto-payments I make into my retirement account at The Vanguard Group. Before I did this, I went into my calendar and added a reminder, a few months from today, to reactivate the payments. Then, I logged into my Vanguard Group account and found this online form:


 
 
 

 
Pausing automatic investments at the Vanguard Group.  
 
 
 

When I saw this form, I actually got a little sick. I felt nauseous. Because this form is so freaking well done that it blows my mind! As a user experience (UX) designer, I'm always on the lookout for user interfaces (UI) that inspire me. And, not only does this inspire me, it actually makes me feel bad because I don't know if I could ever come up with something so well thought-out.

As a user experience designer, the ultimate goal is not to solve the problems that our users say they have - it's to solve the problems that our users actually have. And that's exactly what this form is doing.

The problem I thought I had: I need to turn off automatic payments for now. Then turn them back on later.

The problem I really had: I don't want to stop investing in my retirement; I'm just not sure I can afford to over the next couple of months.

The difference here is deceptively small. In fact, one might even argue that both of these problems are really one in the same. But they're not. If you look at how I expressed my problem originally, I didn't really describe my problem at all - I simply described what I thought the solution to my problem would be. And this is where so many user interfaces go wrong - they try to implement the user's solution - not the right solution - not the best solution.

What Vanguard did here was think deeply about what the root of my problem really was; and then, they crafted a form that solved that problem in the best way possible. This is truly inspiring!



Reader Comments

It's easy to accidentally mistake a solution for a problem. In fact, it often seems so reasonable that you don't notice it happened until you start implementation and realize that something has gone wrong.

This came up recently with something as simple as search. The discussion started with "What products should be searchable?" Which seems a completely reasonable place to start. Except the discussion went nowhere because no one could agree on what product statuses should be included. I finally asked why the business wants users to search for products. As it turned out, in the discussion of why the business wanted users to search, the definition of what should be included in the pool of products that are searchable fell into place without discussion.

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@Matt,

Those kinds of discussions can be so tricky. Especially when people's emotions are involved. It hard to call out or question things without people getting touchy (myself included).

I try so things like, "I'm not sure I understand the value-add here?" or, "I'm not sure I understand the problem that we're trying to solve."

It's hard to critique design without sounding at least a little bit douchey :/

Then, things become really problematic when someone says something like, "Well, it doesn't really add any user value... but it's a good marketing angle." There's basically nothing you can say to that :)

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@Ben

That's kind of the difference between our worlds. UX has to focus on user value. I have to focus on value to the business. Which sometimes includes adding value to the user- after all, if you're not adding value for the user, the user won't add value to your business. A subtlety that needs pointing out whenever I hear "Well, our core business isn't writing web forms".

And yes- those discussions are tricky. I find that if I focus on the phrase "Tell me what business need you want fulfilled", it goes over much more easily. That way, you're not critiquing, you're offering to help.

In a quietly critique-y fashion. ;-)

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Hmmm... If it doesn't add any user value, doesn't that mean it's getting in the way of a good user experience? Which is more preferable: a positive user experience or a good marketing angle?

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@Matt, @Paul,

The user-vs-marketing issue is complex specifically because users aren't not the best at understanding their own needs. Just look at this blog post - it's about my revelation of seeing that what I needed was not the same thing as what I wanted.

At the end of the day, you definitely don't want users to say, "Your app is OK, but app XYZ has feature 123." You could say, "But, you don't really need feature 123".... but you 1) don't get that opportunity usually and 2) even if you try to explain to a user why they don't "need" something, it's really hard to actually convince them sometimes.

So, you make a lot of compromised :)

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Uhm, how strange that they provide you with that exact solution.... to be honest this is more of the type "let's make it a bit more complicated for those who want to completely stop giving us money" or "if we allows them to cancel all for the future date they might forget to come back". So this is not coincidental.

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@Peter,

In all fairness, the screen I was looking at was specifically for changing the payment schedule. On the screen right before that, they had these links:

* View schedule/skip investment
* Edit
* Delete

I'm afraid to click on "Delete", since I'm not sure if they have a confirmation (I assume they do); but, I don't think they are trying to hide the ability to stop altogether... after all, just stopping the auto-pay, they *still* have all my money :)

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This makes me think of http://darkpatterns.org/, which I'm sure you've seen that documents the darker, more evil side of UX.

Not sure what term we'd use for the pattern you describe... bright pattern? But that would be equally as useful a site.

Thanks for sharing!

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@Chris,

That looks super interesting. I love learning about human psychology and why we do the things that we do. Maybe I'll try to put that on in the background tomorrow if I have some less-intense coding to do. Thanks for the link!

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