Case Story 

gamified mobile app

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This is a case story about designing and building an educational financial literacy mobile app. Our client, Susan, was CEO and founder of a corporate educational firm. During this five-week project, my role was to:

1. lead preliminary research
2. select evidence-based design approach
3. co-create prototype
4. write all UX and brand copy

After our team delivered Susan the final product, she hired me to help her continue to build and test the game.

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Years ago, Susan had a dream about a money conservation game. She woke up, grabbed her laptop, and recorded the mechanics in an Excel document.

But from there, she didn't know what to do.

As a writer, researcher, and designer, I empathize with her struggles as a creator. I also empathize with users who struggle to learn finance. (It's hard!) Our team knew we had to turn Susan's game into a tangible product that users would love.

Susan helping students boost their financial literacy.

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As a book nerd with a background in psychology and anthropology, I love data.

After we conducted thorough market research about gaming and financial literacy, we built out a competitive analysis. We interviewed several specialists in the finance and gaming industries. We sent out surveys, and we tried to gather as much data as possible.

Then, we crunched it all with an Affinity Map, my favorite UX research tool.

Click the sticky notes to view our maps.

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we discovered...

that our target audience should be young adults. They scored highest in three important category metrics:

A.) high need for improved financial literacy
B.) low experience with money
C.) strong likelihood of using mobile devices for gaming

We were confident we could bridge our users' needs with Susan's dream product.

Synthesis Docs
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and we learned...

People avoid money. Even though they desire to be smart with it.

Some believe they are too busy to learn money management, or too stressed, too old, too young, not "mathy" enough. For many, money is challenging and boring. Money is a problem they feel unable to solve.

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bad thoughts about money...

...cause bad feelings about money...

...and bad decisions about money.

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But why?

Here's how it all goes down inside the brain. When people fear money for whatever reason, they think negative thoughts about money. This results in negative mental stories about money. These stories, with all their glorious inaccuracies, travel from the prefontal cortex all the way through the brain to the amygdala.

Which is SUPER reactive.

This tiny brain center specializes in emotions, not logic. So when it hears scary money stories, it doesn't stop to ask if the stories are true. It panics. And it floods the human body with fear, guilt, and emotional overwhelm.

The emotional brain is adept at identifying this story's villain: money.

And they deal with the villain in one of three ways: by fighting, by fleeing, or by freezing in terror.

No wonder we avoid money.

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We needed to disrupt the cycle of bad money thinking. And we needed to transform money from villain to...something fun.

We would design an entertaining mobile game that:

  1. provides a fun theme and objective and doesn't trigger thoughts of money at all
  2. removes key blockers such as jargon, numbers, and stressful "corporate vibes"
Through nurturing design, we would help our users grow their financial literacy.
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We branched out and chose an eco-friendly and gender-neutral design theme: trees!

Its plot and objective is simple for users to grasp: build a tree farm. In place of scary stories about debt and stocks and ROI, our users play money games. They make risk-free decisions in a safe space and discover ways to grow their walnut, birch, and maple inventories.

Best of all, our game teaches complex finance strategy without any mention of money.

No theory, just play.

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When we tested our product on real-life users, we received more great feedback. I designed a usability test script that assessed: 

Which features are easy?
Which are frustrating?
Do users want to play this game again? Why or why not?

As my teammates tested users, I conducted A/B testing to discover layout preferences. Based on our findings, we made some changes to the low fidelity prototype.

And we took it to high fidelity.

bridging design

FEEDBACK: Too much jargon.

SOLUTION: We tried to avoid finance terms, but a few slipped into our design.
We made new accessible, often humorous, screens with no scary jargon.

Two mobile prototype screens

FEEDBACK: Too many numbers.

SOLUTION: We focused on visuals.
We replaced text with icons.

Two mobile prototype screens

FEEDBACK: Charts are "too busy."

SOLUTION: We reduced visual load by removing repeat data that users could find in more intuitive locations.

Two mobile prototype screens
Executive Summary

we also...

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cleaned up

Removing blockers was our top priority, so we went full Marie Kondo on our app. We removed any icons, text, or design that risked cluttering the aesthetic.

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closed the gender gap

Women were a secondary target market, so we incorporated gender-neutral themes, colors, and copy. We didn't want users to perceive any part of our product as "gendered."

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created more tools

When users discover they can teach themselves, they want more learning tools. We built a "study guide" feature so users can track progress, review concepts, and share tips.

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final outcomes

While our team created a great user-centered product, the final draft would certainly have benefitted from more usability tests that incorporated our last-minute feature changes. Impression testing and additional user interviews may also have helped us home in on user frustrations to really target those those extra painful points.

But the project wasn't over for me yet! Susan offered me a position on her product team as Lead UX Writer & Researcher.

On this specialized team, I created new marketing copy, built novel game scenarios, and drafted pitch decks and executive summaries to obtain investor funding.

Slowly but surely, Susan's incredible dream game is coming to life!

Our Kickstarter
Eight screens in a mobile prototype