Future Self

Saving money for retirement, especially when young, can be overwhelming and difficult to prioritize. Future Self is an attempt to make this process a bit more personal, attainable, and emotionally-immediate.

- Future Self was a class project for HCDE 518 (User Centered Design) during Fall 2015 at the University of Washington.

The Team

Kate Schenot
Sahil Anand
Nathan Hedin


We typically divided each task into three equal components (either executing the same task three times, or taking three equal parts of a whole). As this project was part of an introductory class to "User Centered Design", we were all able to touch every aspect of the process - research, design, prototyping and evaluation.

The Problem

“Workers under the age of 35 have the lowest participation rate in 401(k) plans of any age group.”

— Vanguard Institutional Investor Group

The National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) shows that over half of working households may be unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living in retirement. ​Failing to save for retirement at a young age means missing out on compounded investment earnings that can substantially ease the burden of building a nest egg.

NRRI Retirement Risk Index
National Retirement Risk Index for Working households at Risk

Furthermore, enabling new generations to sufficiently prepare for retirement will also reduce the impact of unprepared and aging generations on their families, community and society as a whole. Our team decided to explore ways to motivate young workers to save more now, to gain more later.


Financials and future planning are topics rife with personal pitfalls and social taboos. Therefore, asking in-depth questions about feelings, hopes, and fears was important to us. A simple survey would not have addressed deeper and more personal motivations the way a one-on-one conversation could. Hence, we decided to make use of complimentary methods to research the needs and motivations of our users.


We conducted in-person interviews with 7 participants and also included a drawing exercise early in the interview. The drawing exercise was a means of having users articulate their current financial landscape, future retirement goals, and expected action path succintly. These drawings became helpful, compact maps of each user’s “financial life plan” and provided additional context and language for the conversation.


Secondary research provided valuable insights into our target users and informed our other research methods as well. Since we had only a limited amount of time to conduct research, these insights proved helpful in identifying anomalies or unexpected trends in our findings. Competitor analysis was helpful in understanding what has already been tried, what works, and how our competitors are leveraging people's motivations and desires.


The survey provided general trends about retirement planning and gaming habits among our target user group. While not an exhaustive user research method, surveying contributed quantitative results that helped support and provide context for the more comprehensive data collected during interviewing and draw the experience exercises.


Once we were done with research, we organized all the data to explore the relationships and themes in our findings. This process of condensing our research revealed some key insights.

I don't understand this..

A large number of millenials lack adequate financial knowledge to effectively control their finances and maximize their savings.

How much is enough?

Majority of the millenials are not aware of how much they need to save in order to maintain the same standard of living once they retire.

Guilt and Fear

People will avoid feelings of guilt and fear. They prefer inaction to discomfort. Our solution must be positive and motivating, rather than feeling punitive or scolding.


Users have different goals and plans, and often times conflicting priorities. Existing retirement applications are indifferent to these needs.


Using the data from our research, we were able to segment our target users into three fictional personas, based on our understanding of their needs and goals for the system.

Primary Persona
Secondary Persona

We also created a negative persona for our project. This anti-persona represented the group of users the product is intended to never really satisfy.

Negative Persona

“Personas helped us get past our personal opinions and presuppositions to understand what users truly need.”

Personas also helped to prioritize decisions surrounding functionality and features by adding a layer of real-world consideration to the conversation. It allowed us to effectively communicate our research insights, and also acted as a source of inspiration during ideation.


Next, we compiled a list of design requirements after analysing the data gathered during research. Writing down these requirements early in the process kept us on track and allowed us to drive the tone and overall experience of using the app.


The product must educate users about the steps they need to take – in small, easily digestible (and friendly) steps.


The product must show the user how his/her retirement can fit within his/her current financial goals and priorities.

Easy to Understand

The language the product uses must be easy to understand, and free of jargon.

Positive & Motivating

The product must be positive and motivating. No part of it should make the user feel guilty or fearful (on purpose).


The product must ask users about their goals, priorities, and individual situation – rather than making any assumptions.

Soft Compulsion

The product may involve some elements of soft compulsion (auto-deposit, triggers, etc) in order to increase efficacy.


We wanted to build something that would accomodate the unique contexts and goals of our users - something that spoke to them in an authentic, engaging and personal way. Retirement savings should be fun and understandable, rather than overwhelming and drenched in the apathy of resigned powerlessness. With our personas and design requirements at hand, we created sketches for multiple distinct ideas of how we might address the needs of our users.

"Sketches allowed me to visually capture and communicate my ideas more effectively with my team."

Our ideation process involved multiple rounds of brainstorming and sketching exercises. We critiqued every idea together, filtered them after discussing their strengths, weakness, feasability and originality, and finaly chose three most promising ones.

Tamagotchi Grandpa
Oregon Trail to Retirement
Future Self


The next step was to prototype and evaluate our ideas. Given the strict time constraints, we chose to go forward with our favorite of the three ideas generated during the ideation process - Future Self.


To quickly validate our idea, we built a low-fidelity paper prototype and conducted an informal round of testing with users. We also had peer review sessions with other teams from our program. Our participants liked the concept of a conversational style interface, the tone and the language used by the application. We also received important feedback and suggestions to improve some aspects of the design and interactions.

Paper Prototypes for Future Self


Our informal tests with the paper prototype revealed some areas where the interactions were confusing for users. Also, we felt that the onboarding process was too long and could be simplified further. Using process flow diagrams, we were able to understand and simplify these interactions reducing the onboarding time by a large extent.

Process flow diagram for Future Self


For the High Fidelity Prototype, we used an online prototyping tool called UXPin. Below are some visual designs from the prototype.

high fidelity prototype

Having a UI style guide was useful since all three members of our team were working on different parts of the prototype simultaneously. It ensured consistency in the look and overall feel of the application.

The interactive version of our High Fidelity Prototype illustrates the onboarding process for the application and a sample interaction with the conversational interface - Interactive Prototype



We conducted two rounds of evaluation, one for each prototype (paper and interactive) with 6 different participants. A brief set of tasks built around scenarios took the users through all the parts of the developed prototype.

At the end of each evaluation, we created a table of findings and recommendations differentiated by levels of severity.

"The usability tests helped us identify some key issues and problem areas in our prototypes which we had overlooked."

Some of the high severity recommendations were implemented during our next iteration and tested once again with users. We couldn't implement all the recommedations since we had limited time. You can find our summarised test report here - Usability Report


I really enjoyed working on this project. I learned a great deal about design thinking and the importance of following a user-centered process. Some of the important takeaways are

  • Every assumption about the user and the problem should be tested using research.
  • Sketches and paper prototypes are inexpensive ways to communicate ideas and receive feedback early in the design process.
  • Personas can enable the team to focus, prioritize decisions and design for the right set of users.
  • Testing early and often saves a lot of time and keeps the team on the right track.
  • Working with a team of individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives boosted our creativity and we were able to generate many clever and innovative ideas.


For our final class of HCDE 518 - User Centered Design, we created a design specification document and a final presentation. You can find links to these documents here: