Two and one-half years ago Fluid began a design project for Charles Schwab to craft a whole new web experience and look-and-feel for their customer account management portal. The design project coincided with a significant effort on Schwab’s part to update, enhance, and extend the entire back-end system responsible for account data, security, transactions, and content management, so the new site had to accomplish a few key goals:
- Create an experience that inspires trust, confidence, and credibility in all customers.
- Provide quick and easy access to consolidated account data and all transactional functions.
- Offer improved and new functionality without displacing or deprecating existing functionality customers had come to expect and rely upon.
- Modernize the site’s design to leverage new interaction patterns to provide access to deeper content without overwhelming or alienating customers.
- Consolidate the site’s research data and information into a more logically organized structure to improve findability and usability.
- Integrate the many marketing and awareness campaigns into a single, rule-guided system for presentation within the account management center.
- Extend the brand guidelines from the print, broadcast, and online marketing to the customer account center while crafting a reliable, efficient, and focused customer experience.
Schwab’s previous site (which is still available during this transition period) has been serving their customers for more than six years. During that time browser technology and customer expectations have changed, the site (like all web sites) grew organically to accommodate changing business needs, and the customer experience become fragmented and occasionally unfocused. Fluid was charged with helping Schwab craft a new, unified vision for the customer experience and then defining a design system that would essentially be everything to everyone, because in the world of finance the margin of error is zero. Mistakes in the customer experience cause customers to doubt the reliability of a system, and when that system is responsible for their money customers have no tolerance for mistakes.
The design process lasted ten months, starting with six weeks of stakeholder interviews and customer research. We crafted wireframes for hundreds of distinct pages and screens for six months, and during this time we went into the usability labs with click-through prototypes for eight rounds of testing with actual customers. Any feature or function that did not test well would be re-designed and tested again – only when an interaction was successful in two consecutive rounds of testing would it be removed from the task list and marked as “validated.” At the same time we were crafting and testing prototypes, we were also working closely with the internal brand group to establish a look-and-feel for the entire customer account management center, and in the last three rounds of testing we presented prototypes that incorporated the updated visual design, because the way a web site looks can actually have an effect on usability.
When all of the core and essential functionality and the new look-and-feel had been tested and validated, we moved into a refinement phase to extend the design to the remainder of the account management center. The project culminated in the delivery of a pair of extensive style guides that defined the design system and patterns for the interaction, information, and visual design.
Now, more than one and one-half years since the end of the design phase, the new Schwab Customer Account Center is being rolled out to all customers. How well has the design been implemented, and how well does it hold up? I’m happy to say that it has been implemented very well – the design and experience are true to the vision and to what was tested so successfully with so many real customers. Compare for yourself:
The previous Schwab Customer Account Center:
The new and improved Schwab Customer Account Center:
The new design increases content density, the organizational structure is actually flatter and makes it easier to find information, functionality has been made more efficient, and the entire experience from account data to transactions to market research is now consistent and on-brand.
Congratulations to everyone at Charles Schwab who had a vision for excellent customer experience and service, who demanded exacting standards, and who maintained focus while seeing this project come to fruition! Fluid is proud to have been a partner in this effort and in your continued success.