Engaging Youth for Financial Empowerment

Winner of the 2015 THINK Prize sponsored by OpenIDEO, CO-OP Financial Services & Mastercard


Sponsor: OpenIDEO Financial Empowerment Challenge, Co-Op Financial Services, Mastercard

Role: Project Owner, Service Designer, Project Manager

Sector: Social Service Design

Industry: Finance


Project Overview

This project  is a concept born and developed on OpenIDEO as a part of the Financial Empowerment Challenge. The idea takes the form of a grassroots youth campaign engaging our current generation of students, ages 17 and up, in open discussions in order to break down social taboos and change the way we think and communicate about money and financial stability. Full details can be viewed here



My Money & Me Process.png

Design Summary

The problem is broad. It strikes a a universal chord. We all need money to survive and thrive on this planet. It is at the core of our basic needs. However, many people around the world find themselves lacking the necessary education and support to build financial stability. The goal of this project was to develop a design solution that would tap the power of communities to extend the reach of financial education, resources and support, ultimately leading to a brighter financial future for everyone.  

"How might we use the power of communities to financially empower those who need it most?"

I looked to a bright spot in my local community to get started. Chaco Credit Union puts it's mission, "people helping people" into action every day through community financial education programs. I sat down with four of these dedicated community leaders in recorded video interview sessions to get their take on the issues. Through the course of the day, four themes surfaced:

Empowerment — How Chaco empowers the community through investments and a member-run business model.

Programs & Services—They launched two education initiatives for teens and adults, a new budgeting app and second chance checking.

Collaboration—They partner with community organizations such as schools, churches and shelters.

ChallengesTheir obstacles include engagement with the community due to lack of motivation to change, volunteer needs and apathy.

After speaking with the team at Chaco, it became clearer that there were many bright spots around the country, and many dedicated public servants aiming to improve the lives of those in their community through financial empowerment. So, I posed the question: How could the success of Chaco and other local credit unions around the country, be distilled, expanded or channeled to inform a global solution?

During my interviews Mitch Vocke from Chaco Credit Union mentioned “Rock the Vote” as an example of a successful movement that got young people motivated and interested in the elections. That reference was the spark that initiated the idea for a grassroots campaign that engages students in open discussions about money. I posted the concept on the OpenIDEO global platform and over the course of the first month, 11 other people from the OpenIDEO community joined my virtual team to collaborate.

One of those contributors was Ryan Zimmerman, a teacher from a K-12 school in Atlanta, GA. He decided to shape his design thinking curriculum around the My Money & Me idea. He engaged his 76 students and gathered their feedback for the concept.  As the process moved along to prototyping, we asked his class to test a prototype called Money Talk, a conversation starter kit for teens. The kit was designed to initiate conversations in a supervised classroom setting, collect information about youth psychographics, and test student willingness to participate outside of the classroom with online and take-home activities. The downloadable kit can be used in high school and university classrooms, clubs, churches and community groups to spark conversations about money. 

As momentum built, the concept grew and expanded rapidly thanks to the global, collaborative effort of dozens of people from around the world. They contributed their ideas, provocations, questions and feedback to help build on the idea.


User Journey




This idea was a winner of the THINK Prize 15 and was chosen as a Top Idea for the OpenIDEO Financial Empowerment Challenge. It was also a catalyst for the founding of the OpenIDEO San Diego Chapter in September 2015 and that chapter's participation as workshop facilitators in the THINK Conference 2016 in Coronado, CA.

This story was recently published on the OpenIDEO Stories Medium Page.

  OpenIDEO – Financial Empowerment Challenge: Announcing Top Ideas 

OpenIDEO – Financial Empowerment Challenge: Announcing Top Ideas 

  CO-OP Financial Services – THINK Prize 15 Top Ideas Have Been Chosen

CO-OP Financial Services – THINK Prize 15 Top Ideas Have Been Chosen

  CO-OP – THINK Prize 15 Ideas Are True Winners

CO-OP – THINK Prize 15 Ideas Are True Winners


Designing Process for Startup Success

Why invest in process design? Your clients. When your team is working in sync with minimal obstacles, your customers experience smoother, more consistent interactions along your service path. It's not about achieving perfection; it's about having a plan so that team members can find their way through the chaotic moments to a clearly defined target. The design process is about less redundancy, higher efficiency and confident employees that turn out great products, resulting in bigger profit margins and happy customers that keep coming back for more.



Benchmarking, Contextual Inquiry, Stakeholder Interviews, Task Modeling, Process Mapping/ Modeling, Process Design, Affinity Mapping, Conflict Management, Communication Facilitation, Report Writing & Design.


Improved collective understanding of department roles and needs for clearer hand-offs and workflows; Visual Process Map indicating a potential 50% increase in efficiency; Report on company pain points, team feedback & suggestions for next steps.


Company: eLearning Mind

Role: Service Design Consultant, Project Manager

Sector: Development Process Design, Human-Centered Design

Industry: Digital Learning




I was approached by the leadership team of a San Diego-based eLearning company to create a process map to be used as a company-wide visual tool that could help team members efficiently find their way through the development process and increase understanding of cross-departmental functions. As a startup that had experienced rapid growth over the previous year, the team needed a structured plan that would get all team members working on the same page and prepare them for future expansion. Working closely with the VP of Product and his team, I began the project with a process prototype they had put together in the form of an outline.



Determined to build process model with and not for the team, I put together a plan to engage as many team members as possible, covering all departments, Executive Leadership, Sales, Instructional Design, Project Management, Design and Development. I began by benchmarking various mapping models and collecting available data and documents from each team, and then scheduled a series of stakeholder interviews, contextual inquiries as well as time for immersed observation. 

Research Results

I interviewed team members individually and in groups of multiple configurations to cover all points of agreement and disagreement. 

Once all teams had been interviewed, I organized the comments into an affinity map that uncovered several primary themes, helping to identify and prioritize issues according to the number of people affected and perceived levels of urgency.



As I collected input from the various departments, I began to sketch out the process so that I may visualize and share rough, low-fi models as early as possible. These sketches acted as rapid prototypes to be tested during early interviews and became more detailed and accurate with each iteration.

MAP Structure

Both the process model and the map design evolved over a few weeks. Each round of feedback added more detail in the design elements, adding clarification to communication design. As the tool became clearer, the process became more defined and easier to see. This visual clarity led to deeper discovery of the the process flow, departmental hand-offs/ responsibilities, communication chains and inter-departmental relationships. 

Each department has it's own swim lane so a team member can look at his/her own department, follow it through to the end and quickly see how their tasks and responsibilities relate to those of other departments. 


While drawing the process accurately presented a challenge, the real work was finding agreement between all departments. With the company split between New York and San Diego, an all-hands meeting was not an option. Therefore a great deal of work went into tracking and addressing inter-department conflicts and facilitating productive communication to find solutions. In the end, all departments agreed to the final results. Both the map of the general process and one key sub process was printed and hung on the wall as a visual guide. Team member collaboration throughout the project, set the stage for change management, earning buy-in and establishing champions for implementation.



I updated leadership with a series of informal reports throughout the project by way of Slack, emails and photos of sketches and affinity mapping results. 

A formal report showed the results and suggestions from members of the entire company as well as my own recommendations for how to use and proceed with the research.  

As I had come to the end of my contract, I left the research in the hands of the company leaders with a plan for a 50% improvement in process efficiency and some general suggestions for a change management plan. As the process was still a prototype and required time for testing, I recommended a checkpoint in three months to measure progress and work through any unexpected challenges.


Designing Tuscan Luxury 

What is the defining factor that makes a brand "luxury"? Service. While this work began with the objective to enhance client presentations with rendered design concepts, closer examination of the business revealed the need for the consideration and re-design of multiple touch points along the path of the client experience.  The project quickly expanded into a yearlong contract to revamp the company’s visual brand, client presentations, internal communications and online presence with the goal of realigning company's service image with the elaborate, upscale floral designs they had been providing for years.



Business Review, Journey Mapping, Stakeholder Interviews, Pain point Identification, Internal Process Evaluation and Design, Redesign of Digital and Face-to-Face Interactions, Visual Branding. 


Visual branding and Interactions re-designed to align with the industry standards and business goals; New modern, responsive website; Better processes and tools for improved efficiency and flexibility of services.


Company: Tuscany Flowers Florence

Role: Service Design Manager, User-Experience Designer, Project Manager

Sector: Service Design

Industry: Floral & Event Design




Upon arrival to the company, I was tasked with identifying  design elements and operations that could use improvement. Over the course of the first week, I began to observe, and talk with internal stakeholders, employees that had spent years inside the company to begin to identify the potential scope of work and challenges faced in their workplace. By the end of week one, I determined that there were multiple pieces of their brand image and internal processes that could be better aligned with the goals of their business and service standards of their industry. The objective was defined: Evaluate and re-design service interactions and design operations to better align with the Luxury Event service industry.



During the discovery phase I built a picture of the current state of the business, marketing plans and design processes by employing a series of research tactics:

  • Business Review of goals and targets
  • Marketing plan and tools review & evaluation
  • Mapping the current workflow from the client and stakeholder points of view
  • Stakeholder interviews 
  • Affinity mapping to identify common themes and primary pain points
  • Benchmarking for comparison and parity with competitive and compatible businesses



Once pain points were established and agreed upon among stakeholders, I held a meeting with business leadership to establish a prioritized list of challenges to tackle, identify constraints such as time and resources, and put together a plan of action for the coming months.



Client touchpoint evaluation & redesign

A client journey map was drawn up to reflect the client experience observed during observation and discussions with clients. As a primary partner in bringing clients through the service experience, wedding planners played an important role is collecting and providing feedback. Projects were prioritized according to impact on client experience and business objectives. Many of the projects affected multiple touch points in the client journey.

Business process EVALUATION & REDESIGN

Another goal was to uncover any major redundancies or inefficiencies within the internal operations of the Design Department that were hindering the quality of service. Photo finding/ selection and the need to repeatedly re-format the current proposal document throughout the design workflow were two primary pain points identified. 

DAM SYSTEM – With over 135,000 digital assets on file, it took designers an average of 8 minutes to find images needed for a proposal. By implementing Extensis Portfolio, search time was reduced to an average of 2 minutes per image. Considering an average of 50 images per proposal, the improved search functionality resulted in a time savings of approximately 5.5 hours per proposal. 

The viewing functionality gave clients the opportunity to explore the images more quickly during meetings. Allowing greater flexibility and quicker results when making selections for their event.

As Portfolio also identifies duplicates, the image bank was reduced from 135,000 to 18,000 in redundant images.

CLIENT PROPOSALS – were not only an important piece of the visual rebranding project, but addressed a major problem in the design process as well. Working in Word was causing the need to reformat the entire proposal with every small change. As there were several phases and often multiple rounds of revisions, this task was time consuming for the design team. By creating an InDesign file, I was able to create templates that allowed designers to drag and drop images into pre-formatted presentations directly from the DAM system. Layers made the document adaptable as the project moved through design phases and into production; reducing designer time by an average of 4 hours per project.


Implementation of the entire project took place over a one-year period, beginning with pieces that were identified as priorities. Co-creation of solutions with the designers and other staff was a key factor in gaining team support. The process updates required time and commitment to change as well as some staff education. For example, both Indesign and Extensis Portfolio were new to the team and required software training. By the end of the year all changes had been adopted with significant business rewards in efficiency and target audience reach. 


"Design Forward" and Beyond


Sponsor: OpenIDEO

Role: Chapter Founder & Organizer, Workshop Facilitator

Sector: Social Impact Design & Leadership


Project Overview

What can a small group of passionate Design Thinkers do in a year? Anything they want. The experience of the Financial Empowerment Challenge and Higher Ed workshops acted as a ripple effect through the community. As the chapter tied in with other like-minded design organizations, the group became known in San Diego as the place to "learn about and practice Design Thinking." 

Chapter Journey

  • The year kicked off to a great start with the news that the Higher Ed challenge idea was selected in the Top 25 on OpenIDEO.com!
  • The series of Higher Ed workshops led to the establishment of the Open IDEO SD Leadership team. The team gathered together in February to solidify chapter goals for 2016.
  • March led to an opportunity to "adopt an idea" and spread the HCD love by contributing research, ideas and provocations to an existing idea for the OpenIDEO Water and Sanitation challenge.
  • In an effort to further the education mission, another chapter leader and I, participated in the Acumen HCD Facilitator course and held a free, all-day HCD workshop for the San Diego community.
  • We went local in April with a Map-a-thon night aimed at identifying and and mapping out local design challenges around San Diego.
  • At the request of the members, we turned our attention back to the global platform in May to contribute to the OpenIDEO End of Life Challenge research phase. We spent the evening re-thinking how we, as a culture, can make the end of life more comfortable, rewarding and "less of a bummer".
  • June took the chapter to a new level of engagement.  In addition to hosting an HCD course and holding a meeting to solidify the chapter's local design challenge, member's designed a salon exhibit that engaged hundreds of people in a journey mapping exercise at Design Forward, a city-wide event aimed at putting San Diego on the map as an up-and-coming Design economy. 
  • July and August brought us into the Research phase of a local design challenge aimed at improving transportation in San Diego. I had the pleasure of leading that workshop with a truly excellent co-facilitator! We led the group in an activity that ended in a field research plan.
  • As a little side project a few of us participated in a Food Waste Challenge event where we picnicked in the park and left no waste behind, sharing food with those in need.
  • We continued our field research in September when we jumped on the trolley and interviewed passengers on their transportation experiences. That data we collected helped inform our October and November workshops, where we honed in on some concepts to improve our local transportation system.


The launch of the San Diego Chapter fulfilled a need within the design community that had previously gone unmet. While there were many experimental elements to the events and activities, the group is proud to say we've become integrated into the design community as educators and advocates for Human-Centered Design in San Diego. Many members have moved on to work more closely with Design Forward as board members and community advocates. Our chapter's workshops and collaboration with Design Forward and the UCSD Design Lab has paved the way for infinite opportunities to educate, practice and apply Design Thinking in our city.