Harbor is a web-based platform that aims to help people plan for retirement by making complex financial and retirement information accessible. Harbor is a completely free service. It is a platform that not only helps plan for retirement, but also helps with decisions during retirement. The client tasked our team of three UX designers with making information on the platform’s dashboard more accessible.

Before we worked with Harbor, the information on the dashboard was not very accessible. Visually, it was difficult for users to digest the large amount of information.

A full design thinking process later, we delivered a unique, viable, research-based design in three, one-week sprints.
   Harbor’s main dashboard before redesign


We looked at the current state of the target users and discovered the following insights:
We looked at the competitive landscape to see how Harbor currently stacked up and to find an opportunity for differentiation. We researched the following competitors:
We analyzed the competition based on how much they focused on retirement and how they presented information. Some competitors, such as Betterment and True Link, were more investment-focused. Others, such as Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, were more focused on retirement calculators. Some robo-advisors lacked a human element. We found that there was not a single platform that offered all retirement tools and information for free. Harbor was in a unique position to fill this need in the market.


We kept the client’s interest in mind of focusing on the dashboard, but we went into user research casting a wide net to discover all of the goals, needs, frustrations, and motivations of the target users for this product. We interviewed five individuals that demographically represent the pre-retiree target customer and four subject-matter experts.


Mary, 55

Edward, 51

Vanessa, 62

Merle, 55

Stacey, 56

Subject-matter experts

Financial Advisor

Financial Advisor

Certified Financial Planner

Certified Financial Planner

From these conversations, we gleaned the following key insights:


Some pre-retirees fail to see the urgency in planning for retirement in their current life situation.

“Retirement is kind of on the back burner; there’s so much going on right now.” - Edward, 51


Trust is important to establish buy-in with this product and a human element is crucial for fostering this trust.

“Trust is built over time by empathizing with customers and making them feel like you understand them.” - Carla, SME


There is a strong barrier of entry for retirement planning.

“I have a desire to learn, but I can’t even tell you what those things are.” - Mary, 55


Through these conversations, we developed two personas to get a deeper understanding of the user’s needs. One was a financial novice trying to understand the unfamiliar and complex financial concepts in order to start planning for retirement. The other was a knowledge seeker that has a good retirement plan but is trying to optimize it.
Anne, 58

Financial novice


Office Manager
Maria, 50

Knowledge seeker


Anne’s ex-husband was the one in charge of finances. Anne needs to learn to manage her own finances and plan for retirement since her husband is no longer in the picture.
Maria learned the importance of saving money early on in life and has a decent amount saved for retirement. She is looking for ways to learn more about optimizing her retirement.
A challenge was to identify a common ground that met both Anne and Maria’s needs. Although they were in slightly different stages of retirement, they both wanted to become more financially confident and make informed decisions backed by knowledge; they also disliked financial jargon. Moving forward, we wanted to make sure information was accessible by simplifying language but still retaining the full rigor behind the information.


The research suggested that most pre-retirees want to plan for retirement and think about it regularly. Looking closer at the data, we identified a lack of motivation as being the greatest barrier that kept users from taking action toward planning for retirement. We discovered three different components that factor into this barrier.


Users don’t take action toward planning for retirement because they're unfamiliar with the retirement planning world. They are also intimidated by the complexity of its information and concepts. They don’t have an easy way in.


Some users, regardless of having knowledge of planning for retirement, simply don’t prioritize taking action to start planning or contribute to their retirement. They feel they are not ready. They fail to see how they can make progress for retirement at any point.


This is something that spills over into both camps of users. It’s essential for establishing that buy-in and commitment from users trying to break into retirement planning.
Identifying these three motivation barriers allowed us to understand the root-problem. At this point, we needed to frame this root-problem in a statement that would guide our design through ideation.

A lack of knowledge, trust, and misaligned priorities have contributed to a retirement crisis where pre-retirees either fail to plan for retirement or fully optimize their strategy. How might we motivate pre-retirees to change the way they approach retirement planning, so that they are empowered to make their own informed decisions?
Having identified the problem, we then moved to thinking of possible solutions. We wanted to make sure our designed solutions remained closely aligned to our research and what we knew about our users, so we developed a set of design principles to guide our design. The following principles reflect qualities that met Anne and Maria’s needs for a retirement planning platform.

I have the final say:

product should instill confidence for users to take control and make their own decisions.

Speak my language:

the design should convey complex financial information in language and interface that is straightforward and easy to understand.

Show me more:

the information should be adjustable by users and adapt to different and unique financial scenarios.

You get me:

product should affirm trust by reflecting a human touch and understanding challenges associated with life.
These principles allowed us to match up our ideas to make sure they were in line with user needs. They allowed us to maintain our users’ needs top of mind moving forward.


When ideating concepts, we thought of ways to explore the need for each component of the motivation barrier:


simplify the language


create a human presence


personalize information


This is a feature that allowed users to set micro-goals in order to take action and see immediate progress on their retirement goals.

My driving thought behind creating this concept was to find a way to engage users before they decide to sign up for Harbor. Signing up for a new retirement planning service can have a high barrier of entry for someone with no experience with retirement planning.

This concept allowed users to explore and try Harbor before signing up. Users set a micro-goal such as buying one fewer coffee per week and see how that translates to retirement planning. The user then received an actionable email touchpoint where they confirm or deny completion of goal. I decided to have the email touchpoint because my research showed that users are on their email throughout the day.

If the user completed the goal, they received a message of celebration. This creates a feeling of accomplishment even before signing up for Harbor. Testing showed that users were more inclined to try Harbor after completing the micro-goal.
“With retirement, you’re always thinking years later. You’re not really thinking of it now. It’s more of a serious, long-term goal. So, starting with this micro-goal, it keeps you in the now. This is good.”
- Karen, 46


A pre-registration process that builds motivation by showing potential retirement scenarios that users can take into consideration for planning.

This concept drove curiosity, motivation, and inspiration by orienting around the goal, not the task. Users selected any life goals that apply to their life. The system uses this information to provide personalized advice and projections.


A feature that combines actionable insights, progress updates, and in depth educational content to motivate and increase financial awareness.

Our research noted that users access their email more than anything else. So this concept engages the user where they are.


In general, users found the micro-goals motivating, the scenario-goals intuitive, and the email touchpoints as guiding. All three concepts were well-received by the client, so we decided to incorporate a version of all three concepts into the final design.


Initially, all three concepts lived in isolation in various parts of the site. The micro-goals lived on the homepage and email. The scenario-goals was part of the onboarding experience. The email touchpoints were part of the return-user flow. The final design consisted of a pre-registration process that not only gathered user’s financial information, but combined all concepts by:
  • Painting a retirement picture with scenarios

  • Picking micro-goals to take immediate action

  • Sending emails with educational content based on selected micro-goals or retirement scenarios

Onboarding sequence with scenario-goals and micro-goals

We also redesigned the dashboard based on user testing and proven design best-practices
Left: original dashboard. Right: redesigned dashboard. We used a card layout on the redesign to group information. This decreased the information overload and increased readability. The hierarchy of information was also changed to reflect what users prioritize on their dashboard.

Our final design was well received by the client. They were delighted that we shed a different and valuable light on the project. The client has already started implementing our design. They have implemented certain elements of the onboarding, dashboard layout, and micro-goals.


Given the short time-frame of this project, we had a few recommendations for further testing and validation.


We recommend further testing of dashboard information hierarchy to further optimize since we were only able to test with a limited number of users.


We recommended further research on micro-goal topics to establish a set that is most relevant to pre-retirees. Generating micro-goals that align with user’s individual plan and progress is also worth exploring.


Email touchpoint themes should also be explored further. More user research around topics of interest would provide insight into these themes.

More research around these recommendations means more personalization, and it will allow the product to evolve with the user. This is important for a user like Anne that is starting with very limited knowledge, but will eventually need more advanced information like Maria. This ensures that Harbor will remain relevant for the user as they level up in retirement knowledge.


A major takeaway from this project was to start broad and always refer to the identified problem when ideating concepts. During ideation, my team started redesigning the main dashboard. Redesigning the dashboard was necessary, but it did not solve the need around motivation addressed in the identified problem. I realized this halfway into wireframing the new dashboard. I pivoted quickly and went back to the drawing board to brainstorm concepts that aligned with the problem. With this, I also learned the value of being flexible under tight deadlines. Having experienced that common pitfall early in my career made me aware of why it happens and prepared me for my next project and projects to come.

During this client project, it was also important for me to apply this flexibility with my teammates. Our personality types were not an ideal match for a positive and productive work experience. I am very self-reflective, and I regularly evaluate how I can flex parts of my personality to improve communication and the interaction as a whole. Very early in the project, I realized I had to find a way to strike some harmony. I challenged myself to reach just outside of my usual personality to increase the likelihood of a more positive team experience, and it worked. We were successful in communicating each of our ideas and aligning on key decisions.


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