80% of the jobs created in the U.S. come from small businesses.

Yet, as of 2019, only 4 out of 10 offer retirement benefits to their employees.

AARP's Innovation Lab dubbed The Hatchery, pulled together a small team with the big mission to increase the rate at which small business owners offer retirement to their employees. 

Since 2016, AARP had been trying to bring the product to market. Yet, the team kept facing the challenge of uncertainty. It stemmed primarily from "false positives" coming from "focus groups" said Eric Hicks head of product innovation.

Would Theory and I be able to get AARP's product to market in just a couple of months?

AARP innovation labs

The Hatchery, an AARP innovation lab, is an innovation accelerator that works with startups and investors to discover big ideas and bring them to scale to improve how people, 50-plus, live as they age.

I was brought on, by Theory, as a UX Design Facilitator to moderate two weeks of Design Sprints.

Theory Logo

Theory is an innovation studio that partners with enterprises, helping them avoid common pitfalls like death by committee and get ideas to market. 

Theory brought me on as a UX Strategist, and today I'm proud to say that I've become the Chief Design Officer working alongside Ryan Troll, Chris Rosenbaum, and the entire Theory Design Bench.

The Prescription

Focus groups had already been perscribed, and the team thought that they were receiving "false positives." Therefore, we opted not to use that research to guide the direction.

Instead, we perscribed "Design Sprints." This way we could be efficient and use one on one interviews as oppose to group think.

Yet, the stakeholders at AARP were unfamiliar with Design Sprints.  So, they were hestitant. However, they were familiar with the term "lean" and so the Theory team and I pivoted our language to "Lean UX" and facilitated the "Design Sprint" under that branding. This made the team more open and comfortable with the workshops. 

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 9.25.27 PM

Re-Discovering Strategy

On the left we start with the customers or "key players." On the far right, we set a 20 year goal. In the middle is the entire user flow. 

We circled the most crucial priority which is when the user visits the website, learns the value propositon, and decideds to engage. In pirate metrics we call this "acquisition." 

The strategy was to use a partnership with the Small Business Expo via email newsletter advertisement of thousands of small biz owners. 

How would we wow the small biz owners who'd eventually arrive in the coming months?

High Risk. High Reward.

In the lean ux matrix on the right, we're organizing business and user assumptions based upon whether we know something to be true, or not, and whether it's high or low risk. This helps the team spend their time on the right ideas. The ideas that are high risk, but unknown are the best to test during a design sprint.

Here Eric, the head of product, selects "Our product should behave like a financial Speak and Spell." 

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 9.33.09 PM
Showing off the team's Sketching Skills from Sketch Workshop.

Fearless Napkin Sketches

Like the architect Frank Ghery, we've got to just dive into the blank white canvas. Make mistakes. No matter if you think you can draw or not. This is about the quality of the idea, and not the quality of line. Words matter!

Here you can see my team's napkin sketches. They were brave. Not all ideas were chosen. The ones with blue dots, we went on to prototype.  

The Winner Is...

Here we can see the winning napkin sketch. Although, it is hard to read, being walked through it during the 5 minute presentation helped to unveil the hidden code. 

You're probably going to wonder if the prototype turned out looking like this right?

The Winning Sketch

Small Business Owner Panel

Using Theory's personal network of small business owners we were able to recruit a panel of 5 small business owners.

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 10.01.30 PM

Emotional Reaction To Artificial Intelligence

The reception was not as warm as our hopes. When discussing something as sensative as retirement with employees, small biz owners individually were put off by the chat bot. They rather talk with a "real person." 

Not all is lost.

During the remote moderated user test interviews, we were able to A/B test both what was on staging against what we came up with during the Design Sprint. 

On the right, we can see the preferred comparison screen on the left, versus the preexisting comparison screen on the right. 

A/B Test


When a Design Sprint invalidates the hypothesis, what do we do? We tweak and do another sprint. 

Even though A.I. Chat Bot might not be appealing, it doesn't negate that machine learning and data science can make our lives easier behind the scenes. It's just that having a conversation with a bot comes off the wrong way.

Final User Flow

Refining the UX Flow

Refining the UX Flow

With the artificial intelligence idea out of the way, the team and I could focus on what's important. Getting to value as fast as possible. Here you can see how we started with saving small biz owners money, and end with a phone call or email with a real person.

Selected Works

Big FisheCommerce

SpringboardInstructional Design

Elevated ThirdUX Strategy

UXPRENEURContent Strategy

HummDrumApp Design

The UX GalleryCommunity Design

How to increase user engagement with UX writing.UX Writing CyberSecurity Legal Innovation |CYBERLUCENT

Crowdsourcing Data Science Designing SearchMachine Learning Society & CO

Heatmap Analysis of Unmoderated Test Increases ConversionHeroX, PBC | XPRIZE Foundation, Inc.

Fashion eCommerceApliiq, Inc. | American Apparel Inc.