Budgets were a dirty word with those I interviewed. Most found the experience of sitting down and calculating a budget unbearably tedious. They were also unhappy with the automatic budgeting that Mint provided, since it assumed the user spent a uniform amount on the same things every month.
How might we keep a user’s finances on track without a typical budget?
The Big Idea: Macro-Budgeting
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For a user to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, their income needs to serve three purposes at the bare minimum: pay for essentials (monthly bills), pay for non-essentials (discretionary spending) and use towards financial goals like debt payoff or saving. With those three categories in mind, I wanted to demonstrate how a user’s income is partitioned into money for Bills, Spending, and Goals. Showing this as a step-by-step process using animation and color would make it easy to understand.
Exploration: Isometric Stacks
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It sounds obvious, but during my research I read that consumers have an easier time associating graphics with money if the graphics actually depict money. I first tried out the isometric look for an animated demo I made.
Experiment: Concierge Prototype
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To test the concept of 3-category macro-budgeting, I devised a “Concierge Prototype” of the service. I asked 6 test users to create a mint account, link their bank and credit cards to it, and pick a simple password they could share with me. I then logged in as them, downloaded their transaction data, and used statistical analysis to determine their paycheck (when and how much) and monthly bills (when and how much). I used that information to break their income down into the three categories I was focusing on and presented a financial assessment in a PDF I emailed them. The dollar graphic and visual breakdown tested well and gave me the confidence to move forward with an app design.
Testing: Clickable Prototype
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My next step was to translate the PDF Concierge Prototype into a mobile app. This is from a clickable prototype I put on my phone for in-person testing. The most frustrating aspect was that I had to used canned figures for income and bills, and in in-authenticity was a distraction for users. Other feedback was that the colors were gloomy and not distinct enough.
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With the knowledge that the original colors of Purple, Blue, and Green weren’t distinct enough, I experimented with other colors until I settled on the near-primary palette of Green, Blue and Red. Users felt the process was too long, so I used chevrons to indicate what step they were on. Finally, I added a summary screen at the end we called “Your Paycheck Plan.”