Common Cents

Product Design

Common Cents is a financial literacy hub that enables users to enhance their understanding of essential financial concepts. Interactive modules, engaging videos, and other varied learning modalities allow users to tailor their learning to their own pace and preferences. Through personalized curriculum, users gain practical skills for a more empowered financial future.

This project was undertaken as a design exercise to experiment with potential solutions to complex design challenges.

User Problem

Financial literacy is a critical predictor of financial outcomes1. Many adults lack formal financial education, or received it long before they could conceptualize the impact of their monetary choices2. With each new age and stage of life, different financial challenges emerge, requiring adaptable and personalized solutions rather than a standardized approach.

User Research

Research Summary
To gather insights on budgeting and financial literacy, I conducted an online survey by reaching out to family, friends, and their extended networks. This approach allowed me to recruit a diverse group of participants varying in educational backgrounds, ages, and life stages. From this effort, I collected data from 21 individuals. My analysis of this data led to several key insights:
  • Investing, family financial planning, and retirement were the most popular topics learners were curious about.
  • People weren’t overly concerned with keeping a budget.
  • Many respondents don’t track spending, but also didn’t consider it a problem.
  • In a financial literacy app, users were most looking for personalized learning paths, retirement planning and savings calculators, and rewards.
  • Most users would spend under 30 minutes per week learning financial literacy.
Target Audience
The primary audience for Common Cents is American individuals under the age of 45. Survey results showed that there is less interest in learning about finances through digital platforms among older demographics, so designs are tailored to engage late-teens and adults up to age 45. While the core principles of Common Cents could be adapted for a global audience, this kind of expansion would require extensively broadening the content to include international financial laws and tax information to cater to the diverse needs of users worldwide.

Based on user interests, I came up with two target personas: 
  • Finance Newbies: these users have little formal knowledge about finance, and need more guidance on what to learn. They may need a more comprehensive overview of key terms, concepts, and goal-setting.
  • Finance Connoisseurs: these users are looking to expand their knowledge on financial concepts they are already familiar with. They likely have at least some experience with personal financial planning.

Style Guide

The color palette for Common Cents prominently features green, chosen for its association with American dollar bills and symbolic representation of positive financial growth. This selection is intended to evoke trust and reliability among the target audience. Purple was selected as a secondary color because it pops as a near-complement to green. The palette and typography is vibrant and bold, ensuring high visibility and readability. Additionally, the product incorporates a dark mode design, enhancing the modern aesthetic while improving readability under various lighting conditions.

User Flows

To better understand the complex interactions within Common Cents, I created several user flow diagrams.
Common Cents Lesson Flow

User Testing

I asked participants to perform specific tasks on a low-fidelity prototype to test the viability of proposed user flows and features. I asked testers to describe their thought processes with each task, their challenges, and what they enjoyed.
Making Progress
Progress bars weren’t obvious to users in the first round of testing. To clarify their intent, I added percentages to indicate completion rates.
AI Assistance
Many users expressed a desire for a direct way to ask questions about financial topics. While users have the opportunity to ask questions during Common Cents FAQ webinars, an AI chatbot offers a quick, concise solution for users seeking answers. The chatbot, Dolly (named after the dollar), is designed to provide users with general financial rules of thumb and direct them to additional resources or specific learning modules. Like other features on Common Cents, it is not intended to give personal financial advice.

I also considered the option of a community forum for users seeking answers, but decided against it, as it could potentially overcomplicate the user experience and detract from the streamlined learning environment.
Clear Navigation
Testers had difficulty understanding navigation within the app, so I revisited the name and symbolism of each section. I also took time to reconsider information hierarchy. Because the idea of an AI chat feature was so well-received by later testers, Chat gained its own tab in the bottom navigation.

Design Decisions

Modular, Manageable Microlearning
A common complaint about personal finance is that many people don’t know where to start. Common Cents offers structured lessons to give users an overview of important concepts. Most users indicated that they would spend less than 30 minutes per week learning about personal finance.

To make the experience quicker and less daunting, I employed microlearning. Broad financial concepts were broken down into several short, 5–10 minute lessons. Lessons include multiple learning modalities — including videos, text, and quizzes —  to make the information accessible to a variety of learning styles. 
Onboarding Personalization
User research indicated a strong preference for personalized learning experiences. To respond to this need, I introduced a personalized onboarding process for new users, allowing them to select their key financial topics of interest. As users begin exploring Common Cents, these preferences directly influence the learning modules and resources presented to them, ensuring that their initial interactions are highly relevant and engaging.
Open Exploration
Recognizing that some users prefer a less structured approach to learning, I designed a Resources hub to facilitate open exploration. This hub offers users the freedom to browse through live Q&A webinars, podcasts, videos, and articles at their own pace.

Content suggestions are dynamically tailored based on the user’s initial topic choices during onboarding and their ongoing interactions throughout the product, adapting to their interests. For instance, a user focused on family financial planning might find expanded offerings related to budgeting for multi-generational homes, life insurance, and college savings.
Interactive Tools for the Real World
Financial calculators give users context that can help them make better-informed financial choices. Visualize how a 1% contribution increase may grow wealth over time, or create a sensible budget with your own real data.
Keeping on Track
Awards, badges, and fun microinteractions reward users as they make progress on their learning journey.
A Multi-Media Platform
Common Cents is not just limited to a mobile app. Information could also be found via website, social media, booklets, and more.

Accessibility Considerations

  • Having multiple learning modalities benefits different learning styles and abilities. 
  • Videos come with transcripts.
  • Text-based lessons have the option to be read out loud.
  • High-contrast colors increase legibility.
  • Touchpoints are at least 40 px wide.


What I Learned
  • It's a balancing act to consider user requests. Some users had ideas that I ultimately decided would take away from the product's focus (budget tracking) or introduce legal concerns (personal financial advising).
  • Iterating, testing, and reiterating with a few key user testers efficently brought the product to its final result.
  • I experimented with IBM Watsonx and took a brief course on AI chatbots, which informed some of the design decisions in my prototype.
Next Steps
I'm curious about what it might take to transform this product from a design idea to a developed reality. I’d also want to know what I can do differently to maximize accessibility.
REAL TherapyView
Green Thumb