Product Design and UXD: Setting Up a Successful Collaboration


June 22, 2018

By Dusan Koljensic, Head of Product Design, with Mike Musser, Director of User Experience Design, Fidelity Labs

Fidelity Labs has created a process called ADEPT to create and evaluate the future of new product offerings. In this process, user experience (UX) designers are brought in at the pilot phase of a project, bringing their expertise to the table at a key juncture to ensure its success.

As the innovation arm for Fidelity Investments, Fidelity Labs has been working since 2006 to create what Clayton Christensen, writing in the MIT Sloan Management Review, calls a “business-generation engine.” Essentially, this means that a business can innovate not just once, but repeatedly. In doing so, it can create a lasting stream of new products or services that meet previously unmet or poorly met customer needs.

As Fidelity Labs has experimented with more than 30 projects, we created a process for innovation that goes by the acronym ADEPT. A mix of Lean Startup, design thinking, and our own experience, it articulates a predictable process by which we create and evaluate the future of new offerings.

Graphic illustrating the ADEPT design process.

It is this process that separates us from core business. We are evaluated on the ability to move quickly, to deeply understand customer needs and to identify compelling opportunities.

Design is an important piece of this innovation practice, sitting at the center of the creation process. But who should do design in such a model? Fidelity Investments already has a large and talented user experience design (UXD) organization. This large and talented team of designers sustains and evolves Fidelity’s products on a daily basis. Is it redundant to build a team of designers at Fidelity Labs?

Product design, as part of the Fidelity Labs mandate, is charged with looking beyond conventional norms in business and development so that we can find new opportunities.

UXD brings the full toolkit to build products in the larger enterprise. They have the knowledge and background with the established corporate design patterns and templates, the established branding and identity and an understanding of known constraints and how to work with them. They also have a view into the other upcoming work in the ecosystem into which the new product will be released.

Design is one of the key assets that we could either borrow or forget from core business. In one project, the Fidelity Labs’ product design team brought a product from Assess through Pilot, and brought in our partners in UXD to “catch” the product over the metaphorical fence at Transition. That product was a success, but the process resulted in extra work that could have been avoided. Because the PD team wasn’t closely enough aligned with the UXD requirements, many elements needed to change to fit into the larger organizational structure.

Other projects have taken different paths, depending on whether they were going to be ultimately transitioned back into the business lines or not. In the project that we’ll be considering, the UXD team was brought in at the beginning of the pilot phase to be hands-on with its creation. This product won’t be launching until year-end, but the early signs are that this earlier engagement will result in a product that will better migrate into the core business.

Early in the ADEPT process, Fidelity Labs product designers look far and wide for possible solutions to a customer need. The work can be messy—pencil sketches and Post-it notes, with a mandate to learn rather than to produce. Designers may intentionally test concepts that are very far from the Fidelity brand to understand what people want and why. And everyone on the team is 100 percent on that project only—a model that would make it hard for someone from another group to commit to while maintaining their primary job.

At the end of the design and experiment phases, the team has homed in on an idea and is ready to build it to test with customers at scale. At that point, it makes sense to partner with UXD to make sure that we are building the product in line with the latest thinking for the company. Think of it like a slow-motion baton pass, where the UXD team has plenty of time to get up to speed on the product before they have to run with it on their own, and the PD team has lots of help from UXD in making sure they are building a product that can scale in the organization. And hopefully at the end of it, we have a product that helps millions of Americans live better financial lives. Because no matter what letter comes before the “D” in our titles, we are all working toward that same goal.

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