Designing for complex systems

2016: User Research, UX Design, Visual Design, Systems Design, Brand Styling


Genie was the final product of a three part system that aimed to help transition college students between dependent to independent financial statuses. We first identified the main problem spaces by talking to students about money management. Aiming to start difficult conversations about money management and budgeting, it was important for genie to have an approachable, yet professional and trustworthy look that was consistent in between the systems. Working with Jessie Headrick our team worked to identity the main spaces a conversation about money could be started on campus. 


three main approaches:

  • Identify that there is a problem (or an undesirable situation that could be improved) (print)
  • Inspire and offer a possibility for change (print/environment)
  • Provide one such tool to bring about that change (digital)

In targeting three different methods of reaching students, we were working within complex systems of what people expected from different medium. Our app targeted a change in behavior where students would better manage their money with a tool that tracked the most important parts of student spendings. While our digital component wasn’t an all-encompassing tool to fix the problem of money management — it was aimed as a resource to help students begin the practice of financial management for a more financially independent future. Because talking about money tended to be a sensitive, we asked questions that revealed student's relationship with money management such as:

  • What do you wish you knew related to money coming into college?
  • What platforms do you use for money management?
  • What past knowledge/ understanding do you have about money?
  • On what do you spend most of your discretionary spending on?
  • Did they have experience with money management?

Targeting the system

If the app provided a digital resource, the print and environmental pieces were aimed to spark internal dialogues about money. We chose the spots for our environmental and print pieces based on campus locations where students spent a lot of their time and money. We wanted to help students think about how their money was being spent without having them feel like they were being judged. In order to make the concept relatable to students, we planned to use scenarios, language, and voices that were relatable to create communication that was digestible to an audience with mixed financial understandings. 


At the end, we created an interactive infographic system. We imagined a flow chart of questions probing at financial habits that could be improved through budgeting. We saw this print piece initiating some internal conversation about financial habits and become an internal motivator. These easily relatable questions invites our audience to try out the app for awhile. Overall the voice was casual but poked at some issues that our audience was most likely experiencing.


Developing the Brand

The brand of Genie was an inspiration of our goals. Talking to students made us realize that students were in many ways intimidated by money management and just 'wished' it could be taken cared of for them. We thought that this concept was an interesting one to explore for the brand, that knowing your budget for the day should be as easy wishing it away! Determining how the Genie brand would be visually manifested was more difficult. We wanted the brand to be taken seriously and be related back to money management. 

Our very first sketch of Genie was an illustration of the more commonly known Genie We soon realized that Disney-ified version of Genie was not believable in the context of managing money. At the end, we came upon the idea of making the piggy bank the genie in form. That is using the typical wispiness of a genie and basic form of a piggy bank together. Though a lot of our visual communication takes on a sketching hand drawn quality, we thought vectorizing the illustration of the Genie pig was best in order to bridge the print and digital piece.