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Building Visual Communication Skills with Sketchnoting

July 1st, 2014


When Extractable’s UX designer Lisa Aufox asked who would want to participate in a sketchnoting workshop, I jumped at the chance. I’ve done some visual journaling before, and we use visual communication techniques in client presentations all the time. But I’ve often wondered how people can simultaneously listen to a talk, synthesize and organize the information, and get it all down in a sketchbook so that it’s both comprehensible and nice looking… that seemed like a daunting task for a word-focused content strategist.

Lisa broke sketchnoting down for us, and it’s a lot simpler than I thought it would be. Like any new skill, it’s going to take time to perfect, but as Lisa pointed out, it gets easier with practice as you build your visual vocabulary.

 Here are a few of the basics:

  • Focus on the main concepts—simplify, rather than trying to include every detail.
  • If you don’t have time to add that perfect image or text treatment, leave space for it and add it later.
  • Color and shading can add emphasis and depth. But, if you emphasize everything, then nothing stands out. Make it easy on yourself and add color and shading at the end of the talk, when you know the relative importance of each item. Lisa recommends starting with black and adding gray for shading, along with a single color.
  • Some speakers use metaphors and stories, which often translate easily into sketches, so take advantage of that when it happens.

Lisa shared a few basic tools and techniques, which we practiced together:

Techniques for emphasizing letters and words

lettersandwords copy

Drawing basic shapes

basicshapes copy

A few easy methods for drawing people and facial expressions

people copyDrawing objects (which went fine until I realized that while I can certainly recognize an anchor, I can’t actually draw one without some kind of visual reference)

objects copy

Drawing concepts (it was fairly easy to visualize “sharing,” but “adapt” was a whole different story)

concepts copy

Next, we talked about managing the layout. A single page or two-page spread works best, so that you can see the entire note without flipping pages. The challenge is to fill the page evenly and give each element the right emphasis without running out of space. Here are some layouts you can start with.


linear copy


skyscraper copy


radial copy


path copy



modular copy


popcorn copy 2

As practice, we all sketchnoted together while viewing How to Build Your Creative Confidence, a TEDTalk from David Kelley of IDEO. It’s fascinating to see all the different ways that the Extractable team found to represent the key points of the talk in their sketches.

closeup group copy

Now that I’ve learned the basics, I’m excited to use sketchnoting as a way to practice my visual communication skills. If you’re interested in learning more about sketchnoting, here are some resources to for inspiration:

Sketchnotes 101: The Basics of Visual Note-taking



Managing Projects with Critical Launch Dates

June 24th, 2014


I recently had a client with a web project that was extremely time sensitive. They were launching a new name and new branding. On a specific day everything was changing: print materials, location signage, and their website. They were planning a large unveiling and the new website had to be ready.

As a project manager at Extractable, the majority of projects I run tend to be planned using the Critical Path Method (CPM) of project management.

This is the standard agency planning method where the team sits down together, lists the various tasks they believe will be required to complete the project, and estimates the amount of time required to complete those tasks. Each task then gets strung together based on the order required to complete them.

The Critical Path Method has been used by agencies for decades, but there are often two consequences with using this:

1)   No task will be completed sooner than required. Since design and development are never perfect, the team will always continue to refine a deliverable until it needs to be completed.

 2) There are some tasks that will take longer than expected. Initial web development project plans are often 6 months to a year. There will be unexpected issues that weren’t accounted for during the initial planning. Everyone on the team knows this, but no one knows where it will happen. Because of the unexpected, every task on the plan gets a little extra time “just in case.” Some of the tasks don’t get enough “additional time” and they cause the final launch date to slip.

A process I read about in a book called Critical Chain written by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt seemed like a possible solution.

With this new way of planning, we would take the “just in case” time everyone adds to each task, remove it from each individual task, and string it together in a single block at the end of the project. This means the final launch date is the same as when using the Critical Path Method, but you have a large block of “additional time” at the end of the project which doesn’t have a task assigned to it. I really liked the idea of planning a project this way to reduce the risk of missing a critical launch date.

 There were two main issues I had to overcome within the agency if I was going to try the Critical Chain method:

 1)   The team had to accept a different way of managing the project. They were concerned that reducing the task estimates by removing the “just in case” time was simply going to make them work harder. The team had to trust that we could extend the deliverable timelines, when needed, by using the “additional time” we were bucketing at the end of the project.

 2) The client had to be flexible with deliverable dates. I presented the client with two project plans. They both had the same launch date, 6 months from the start. One plan had tasks neatly assigned all the way to launch. The second plan had tasks finishing after only 4 months with 2 months of “unassigned” time. I explained to the client the difference between the plans. The first one was our traditional plan. The second plan, I felt, reduced the risk of missing the launch date but the client had to be flexible with timing for deliverable reviews. For example, the agency normally takes two weeks for design concepts. We were planning only one week but it might not be ready after only 1 week. (It ended up taking 1 week and 2 days.) They had to be flexible and comfortable moving the dates if necessary

Results: After several conversations the team decided to trust a new planning process and the client agreed to be flexible. The website launched on the exact day the client needed.  The team hit most of the dates on the shortened project plan, but there were places we needed to adjust. We used 2 weeks from the “additional time” bucket for several of the deliverables. The client unexpectedly took an extra 4 weeks to gather content, which was allotted for within the “additional time” bucket. The remaining two weeks left of  “additional time” was spent completing extra QA on the site, which provided for a polished, tight website for an exciting launch of a new brand.

The Critical Chain project management process isn’t appropriate for all projects, but with the right combination of a team open to trying something new, a flexible client, and an immovable go-live date, the Critical Chain process can help reduce the risk of missing your launch.



Rethinking the Digital Agency RFP Process: Collaboration Is Key

June 5th, 2014


Businesses of all types are struggling to figure out how to reshape their digital experiences to better engage customers and drive business success. As a result, we at EXTRACTABLE are seeing an uptick in RFPs distributed by companies looking for the right digital agency to help them.

While EXTRACTBLE does receive its fair share of these RFPs, we’re finding that the traditional RFP process isn’t the most effective or logical way to choose a digital agency. Specifically, we feel it’s critical that the digital strategy, plan and budget are not set in stone before bringing on the agency. In this brave, new – and constantly evolving – world of digital marketing communications, many businesses may think they know what they need and go down the road in one direction, only to find out that their newly engaged agency would have recommended a different, more effective approach if they’d had a chance. When strategies and budgets are already locked down, everyone’s hands are tied and the client may not get the results their company desires.

Locked-in decisions can affect the long-term bottom line
Many times businesses make decisions about digital marketing based on what they think they already know, which undermines strategic planning. This makes the RFP process challenging for agencies, especially data-driven agencies like EXTRACTABLE. We make recommendations to a client based on research and data specific to that client. It’s what powers the strategy and the execution, and it’s why our clients reap measurable business value from our work. Without the right data, you won’t know how to reach potential customers in the most effective ways, or how to provide a personalized experience that can be key to moving prospects through a sales funnel.

The problem with traditional RFPs
RFPs are a normal part of many companies’ search for a new vendor, a process mandated by procurement departments that often have rigid requirements. But choosing the right digital services agency isn’t like making a simple off-the-shelf product purchase decision. It requires conversation and dialogue to see if the two organizations can form a productive working partnership. It requires asking experts – before signing off on a final plan – what they think your business should be doing and why.

Here are some issues with the traditional RFP process:

  • There’s very little flexibility with traditional RFPs, which can quash more innovative approaches and cause many companies to overlook or fail to consider a lot of great digital communication opportunities.
  • To quantify deliverables and get apples-to-apples estimates from agencies, business problems and solutions are predefined in a traditional RFP. But what if your assumptions were wrong from the get-go?
  • There’s not a lot of room in the traditional RFP process to engage agencies as consultative experts along the way. More often, there’s a big brick wall between client and agency – prohibiting the input, suggestions, ideas, research and analysis that comprise the value an agency brings to the table in the first place.


Missed opportunities
These are just some examples of opportunities businesses might miss when developing an RFP, ultimately resulting in their losing out on some serious ROI.

  • Content audit to determine effectiveness of existing content
  • Tools for creating new content, including content strategy, content models, calendars and style guides
  • User surveys
  • Usability testing
  • Content migration plans
  • KPI frameworks
  • Analytics benchmarking and measurement plans
  • Platform selection process with facilitated requirements gathering and ranking
  • Localization and globalization strategy
  • Personalization strategy and tactics
  • Search engine optimization


In an ideal world
RFPs aren’t going away, but we can definitely make the process better for digital agencies and, more importantly, for businesses. Here are some ideas to think about:

  • Start by issuing an RFP, but also engage partners early on who can help you think through all the considerations, requirements, information and questions you haven’t yet addressed. Perhaps at the Q&A phase, open it up for agencies to give recommendations on how to reshape the RFP itself. This will go a long way in ensuring you receive thoughtful, strategic, well-developed proposals from serious agencies capable of doing the actual work. It will also give you a preview of how the agencies think and communicate.
  • Share your budget and other information that an agency needs to create a successful proposal, such as requirements and expectations. Keeping the agency in the dark about important aspects of your business prevents them from developing a holistic strategy that captures all of your needs.
  • Upon choosing your agency partner, be open to hearing and considering new ideas that weren’t put forth in the RFP.
  • Be receptive to taking a fresh look at your existing customer research or to doing additional research that will inform a more successful digital strategy.
  • Consider the larger digital strategy versus focusing on ad hoc projects. A good agency will take several steps back to develop an overarching recommendation from which you can prioritize projects to execute in phases and as budget permits.


How this new approach to RFPs can benefit you – quantifiably
We all know that brand managers and CMOs everywhere are now being held accountable for meeting KPIs and showing quantifiable results. Data-driven strategies for all of your digital communications, from your website to mobile to apps, are essential to achieving your business goals. By taking the time during the RFP process to tap digital agencies’ expertise, such as how to best mine and apply data to develop effective strategies, you are setting yourself up to be able to demonstrate quantifiable results that will resonate with the C-suite.

While those RFPs can be annoying, they do start the process to a largely important relationship. And truly, a business’s digital success or failure frequently stems from the RFP process and the decisions that come out of it.

If you currently are writing an RFP and considering EXTRACTABLE, we would love to partner with you in an open process to help develop the final version. Please email us at



3 Easy Tips to Stay Updated on the Latest Technology Trends

June 3rd, 2014

I am not a tech guru and I don’t profess to be a geek. I am a designer at Extractable and I was recently invited to share my own process for staying updated on technology trends.  As Art Director, working on new site designs for great clients, it is crucial to stay current with fresh inspiration and have a firm grasp of new technology.

New technology and its implications affect everyone sooner or later, especially those of us involved in marketing and advertising.  While some ideas are hyped and then left behind quicker than the QR code, there are new opportunities constantly developing that eventually might become standard. Simply being an “observer” of daily human interaction with technology is not enough if you want to stay ahead of the tech game.

It’s true that we are unwittingly all participants in a sort of giant, crowd-sourced focus group that helps filter and propagate useful technology in our day-to-day routines. In addition, there are three easy steps information seekers can do to consciously stay abreast of the latest tech trends:


derek blog 1

Surely you have seen a Tesla Model S electric sedan silently glide past you at an intersection, parking lot or the freeway. It’s the second generation of the electric transportation technology revolution.

Seeing a Tesla and experiencing it, are two different things.  Don’t just watch it go by, go to a dealership…if you can, sit in one to truly know the implications of its “user experience”.

What makes this Tesla unique is its 100% digital, reconfigurable 12” cluster and 17” GUI touchscreen dashboard with an upgradable Linux OS interface which controls everything from the navigation system to air conditioning, seat temperature, the sound system, the car’s steering, lighting, ride settings and brake regeneration control. That requires some seriously thoughtful user experience design and futurist thinking.

Why does that matter? Humanity is accelerating and decisions are made quicker everyday—the world of knobs, switches and gauges is not efficient enough. Gesture-driven touch control, quick visual reference and intuitive design are how we are beginning to make all decisions online and offline. It’s enough to make your thumb and index finger tremble in anticipation. We are all becoming spoiled by the interface of our mobile devices, which is spreading to all other consumer goods. How do I know? I sat and rode in a Tesla and you should too.


derek blog 2

Everyone knows that information is a finger tap away. Blogs, newsletters, subscriptions, posts and feeds. How much noise and information is out there? Some interesting statistics:

Number of Blogs and Web Sites in 2013:

  •  -  over 101.7 Million blogs with 44.6 Billion blog posts
  • - over 63 Million blogs
  • LiveJournal - over 62.6 Million blogs
  • Number of Live websites in 2013 – 510 Million

That’s a lot chicken casserole recipes. So the point is to be selective.

(Source: Netcraft, April 2014)

So how do you find a good source of information for your particular browsing method? A simple rule is that if a website is responsive and optimized for mobile, it is most likely current in content.

Here are a few of my favorites:


Daily shot of knowledge with great technology information:


Facebook is not just for your friends’ Yosemite adventure pics. 

Join a few pages on Facebook that are insightful and post information regularly on technology that you personally find useful. My top three are:


You could also follow thought leaders on Twitter. Here are a few suggestions


Network and Participate 

Working at the Extractable office in SOMA in the midst of San Francisco’s tech community, we are lucky to have fresh, innovative energy surrounding us. Location has its inspirational rewards. Events, gathering of the minds and conventions are a truly a great way to stay abreast of trends. Register for groups with events in your area:

If you cant make an event in person, there are plenty of live feeds:


derek blog 3[1]

Finally, a great way to truly find the right direction in your search for tech trends and innovative ideas is to have the chance to speak with, and collaborate with interesting people. Don’t be too shy to ask questions and start a conversation with people that have experience and vision. If you are lucky, you might have a few in your office. So, find the right time to strike up a conversation in the break room with your company’s talented coworkers.

Here at Extractable, I am surrounded by experienced veterans of Silicon Valley, developers, geeks, and innovators of technology and web design—all of whom are ready to share their insight. When not crazy busy, they are always ready for a good coffee break discussion about data-driven design or the implications of the Apple Developers Conference right down the street.

In my profession, its necessary to stay current on technology, and if you’re reading this blog, it’s probably important to you, too. Challenge yourself to make it a habit to utilize these three easy tips. You’ll be surprised to see what’s waiting just around the corner.



Extractable in Forrester’s 2014 Interactive Design Agency Overview

May 28th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 4.12.37 PM

We are thrilled to be included in Forrester’s “Interactive Design Agency Overview, 2014” report by Senior Analyst Jonathan Browne.

The report is designed to help clients find the right agency to assist them with their interactive design projects. To be included, Forrester asked Extractable about our skills, industry experience, and geographical footprint. The report is a summary of their findings and is designed to help customer experience professionals select the right agency to support their digital customer experience improvement initiatives.

With the fast-changing digital landscape, we feel it’s important for marketers to stay current with the fast-changing ecosystem of agencies. Especially, if you are looking for a digital agency with core services around user-centered, data-driven design.  Companies should not assume that partners who led their industry last year are still in the lead.

Key Takeaways

Interactive Design Agencies Are Critical Partners
Interactive touchpoints are core elements of virtually any firm’s customer experience ecosystem today. That’s why it’s crucial for customer experience professionals and stakeholders throughout the business to identify and hire the right agencies to support the design and development of these touchpoints.

Keep An Ongoing Review Of Your Agency’s Evolving Capabilities
CX professionals should conduct periodic reviews with their agency partners to ensure that the agency’s development road map will keep pace with the changing needs and expectations of the company’s customers. Companies should occasionally “test drive” new vendors on ad hoc projects to see if they deserve a place on the firm’s agency roster.

The report, “Forrester’s 2014 Interactive Design Agency Overview” is available for a fee from Forrester here. 





EXTRACTABLE Wins IAC’s Best Financial Services Online Video

May 20th, 2014

Award Winning Financial Digital Agency

Extractable created a series of online videos for LendingTree.

To help LendingTree’s customer base and extend the brand’s position in the marketplace, LendingTree sought to produce an educational video series aiming to demystify the mortgage and home loan process.

Extractable produced a seven-part video series that covers a range of topics from mortgage qualification guidelines to an overview of loan types and mortgage terminology. Each video ranges from one to three minutes in length and covers a specific “stage” in the mortgage process. Users can watch the series in order to understand the entire homebuyer’s loan process, or they can self-select by topic.

The videos have been  viewed online across a range of channels, and optimized for search engines.

We are so proud of this amazing win. Go team and congrats to our client partners at LendingTree!

See the full case study here.


Insurance Providers Using Digital to Drive Better Customer Experiences

May 7th, 2014


According to the research service BI Intelligence, 22% of the world’s population will own smartphones by the end of 2014. Twenty percent will own a PC. And 6% — that’s one out of every 17 people on the planet — will own a tablet. With more and more of our daily lives spent in front of one or multiple screens, companies across every industry are seeking ways to become (and stay) relevant in the digital space. The insurance industry is no exception to the rule. Take a look at these examples:

 An insurance startup has simplified an overly complex industry.stry.

Josh Kushner, founder of venture capital firm Thrive Capital shared his frustration with the health insurance space during a recent interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “I opened my insurance bill one day and I realized that I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I’m educated, I run a growing business, and I didn’t know what my benefits were with doctors or hospitals I had in my network, how to file a claim…” Being the young entrepreneur that he is, Josh decided to create a new type of health insurance company — from scratch. His goal was to “make it simple, transparent, understandable, and relatable, primarily through technology, data, and design.”

The result is Oscar, a NYC-based startup with more than 40,000 physicians in its network. The Oscar website includes a robust provider search that includes physician fees and patient reviews; an online quoting tool that enables prospective customers to fill in their marital status, number of kids, income, and zip code in a Mad Libs format; a Facebook-like timeline of the subscriber’s medical history; and, of course, clear billing information that’s aggregated per visit.

 Social media mavens have increased customer engagement.

Ernst & Young’s recent report Insurance in a Digital World: The Time Is Now discusses research that uncovered a “positive correlation in customer satisfaction between quality and frequency of contact, increased cross-selling and less switching to providers, yet we found nearly two-thirds of customers claim they receive no, or just one, annual contact from their insurer.” Certainly insurers could do well to reach out to policyholders more often.

Social media has made reaching out a two-way street. Esurance’s home page encourages customers to “Call us 24/7 or ping us on Facebook, where we have the fastest response time among leading competitors.”

Many insurance companies have taken up residence on Twitter in order to push soft marketing messages and provide customer support. And even Pinterest has gained recent popularity with insurers — American Family Insurance’s  “The house of your dreams” board is filled with pictures of inspirational kitchens and bathrooms, while Allstate’s “For Your Move” board provides checklists and other guides to ease the home moving process.

Customer-focused firms have leveraged mobile to cut costs.

Esurance has proven itself to be a mobile leader by leveraging built-in smartphone features to benefit both the customer experience and business metrics. For example, customers can add a new car to their policy by scanning the Vehicle Identification Number — reducing the probability of errors that can arise from human  error. After an accident, customers can initiate the claims process via the same mobile app and submit pictures of the damage taken with the phone’s camera — the pictorial evidence reducing the amount of time that it takes to process a claim.

And just last month, the company launched is latest mobile innovation: video appraisal. Eligible customers can now use their phone’s video function to chat in real-time with an appraiser. This enables customers to get an immediate claim estimate and also eliminates the time and cost associated with having an appraiser travel to the vehicle location.

Data-driven firms have learned to make decisions based on cold, hard facts.  

The Insurance in a Digital World study showed that an alarming 89% of insurance providers fail to leverage data about customers’ past interactions when making online product or service recommendations. Yet while many firms struggle with the basics of Web analytics and targeted marketing, Progressive has taken data science to the next level by tracking drivers on the road.

Progressive gives policyholders and prospective customers who enroll in its Snapshot® program a small device that sits below the vehicle’s steering wheel. Over the course of 30 days of driving, Progressive records the driver’s habits — like number of miles driven, hard breaks, and late night driving — and makes this information available to the driver online, along with tips for safer driving. At the end of 30 days, the company calculates a personalized rate based on the driver’s average road habits.

These insurance leaders have raised the bar for the entire industry.

Ernst & Young recently surveyed 5,000 insurance customers in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the US. According to the resulting Voice of the Customer report, “Customers expect great service as a matter of course and the fact that they have received it will not stop them from shopping around.” Providing a great digital customer experience has also become table stakes. Digital is no longer an option. It’s an imperative.

But many insurers still struggle to deliver in digital channels. A recent McKinsey survey of U.S. and European P&C and life insurers found that 39% didn’t have a digital strategy that addressed the entire customer lifecycle. Not surprisingly, a large number of the respondents (83%) had digital marketing initiatives, but digital efforts lagged when it came to supporting post-purchase activities like submitting a claim.

What’s the underlying reason? Ernst & Young found that legacy technology constraints topped the list of insurers’ inhibitors to digital growth, but constraints related to internal company structure and culture are also key challenges.

To drive the change towards becoming a digitally focused company, insurance executives need to bring a deeper understanding of customers’ digital behaviors, needs, and expectations to employees across the organization. Customer journey maps are great tools for documenting this information. Insurers should map the digital and non-digital interactions that customers have as they do business with their firm over time, overlaying information about customers’ typical digital habits. Look for pain points and opportunities to migrate non-digital interactions to mobile, tablet, or desktop channels.

Extractable works with a number of insurers across personal, life and commercial lines – building experiences that are improving delivery and service to consumers; enabling brokers and agents to better provide for their customers: and doing so across mobile tablet and desktop devices.

Let us know how we can help you with digital strategy, customer experience delivery and technology integration.





EXTRACTABLE Wins Sitecore’s Best Health Insurance Site

May 6th, 2014




Last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) asked EXTRACTABLE to revamp its web presence.

Goals were to simplify navigation and organize content more effectively. The redesign project had to address the needs of multiple audiences, including individuals, seniors, employers, brokers, and healthcare professionals. In addition, BCBSAZ wanted to preemptively provide site visitors with new content regarding the recent healthcare reforms. The new build includes Google Search, a custom login using internal authentication, form submissions that integrate into, social network feeds from Facebook and Twitter, and an internal broker service to power a customized microsite.

Marketers have also created a set of pages within Sitecore that notifies users of their eligibility for Affordable Care Act (ACA) health plans. Users then receive relevant information for ACA and non-ACA plans. The site has driven an immediate lift in non-branded traffic and prospects generating quotes. Moreover, areas that are key to the strategy are already showing significant lift in traffic.

For example, non-branded SEO is up 21% and mobile traffic is up 300%. That lift has resulted in more quotes and more leads.

We are so proud of this significant win. Go team and congrats to our client partners at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona!

See the full case study here. 



Nudge and Digital Design: Driving Online Decision Making

April 29th, 2014

As a Senior Project Manager I’ve seen many complex projects through launch and beyond. I’ve been doing this for the better part of 20 years starting my career at NASA and working on some of the first sites on the web. Over the last few several years, I’ve narrowed my focus to the financial space—including leading the global digital strategy for American Express’s corporate card, the go-to-market digital strategy for an asset-backed debt product being offered by a large energy provider, planning consumer targeted regional personalization for a major insurance carrier, and reshaping defined contribution portals for some of the biggest international record keepers.

A recent article in The Atlantic got me thinking about some of our financial services clients struggling to find ways to create better outcomes for participants in defined contribution plans like 401(k)s. Such plans are historically marred by low participation, low contribution rates, and inappropriate asset allocations.

The article outlined how Square is disrupting the dynamics of tipping by “nudging” people. By simply suggesting a tip amount or requiring users to select “No tip”, gratuities increased by up to 45% in some venues.


Square’s impact is not surprising to data and economic geeks who have understood this principle since at least 2008 when two professors from the University of Chicago published their seminal work Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. In it, they describe a nudge as…

 …any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.

If this simple concept can push the needle that far when applied in practice at your local coffee shop, what can it do in other areas?

Rational Actors

The financial planners I talk to agree, if we all acted in our own best interest (if we behaved as what economists refer to as “Rational Actors”) we’d all start saving for retirement in our early 20s. Saving a mere 6% of our annual income over our working lifetime when matched by our employer’s contribution would translate into 75% of current inflation-adjusted income for retirement.  So why, according to a study in 2006, do nearly a quarter of employees opt out if their employer sponsored 401(k) plans?

Rational to a Point

The reality is, we live in a world of limited information. We don’t all have PhDs in economics or certificates in financial planning. We live in a world dictated by our access to education and information, and so our decisions always take place in a world of what economists call “bounded rationality”. Many factors contribute including education, income, and age.  Can you remember how difficult it was to imagine life in retirement when you were in our early twenties, let alone predict when you might retire or what income you will need with any degree of accuracy? Everyone is bounded by his or her current situation, and financial planning is one of a number of demands competing for our time.

This makes it all the more important that UX designers at Extractable create an experience that encourages good decisions each time a user logs on to their company’s retirement portal, whether that’s to sign up for the first time or make changes to their asset allocation. Other areas where people operate in bounded rationality might include healthcare and peer-peer marketplaces.

Designing for Good Decision-Making

As the Square example shows us, nudge theory plays a significant role in designing digital experiences that emphasize good decision-making. It plays an even more significant role when building complex experiences including guiding retirement plan participants toward more beneficial retirement outcomes, for example, by nudging employees to participate by asking them if they want to opt-out.

Studies have shown that individuals participated at a much higher rate when they had to opt-out of a company retirement plan rather than opt-in.


Another powerful tool in the UX designer’s’ tool-belt are default options when presenting choices as, for example, choosing how much to contribute to their plan.

default-choiceBy preselecting an option for the user, we gently nudge them to take full advantage of an employers matching contribution.

These are just two examples of ways well designed digital experiences help nudge users in the right direction and solve the dual problem of limited time and limited information when faced with important life choices. The implications, of course, extend beyond retirement savings portals to other arenas. For example, having a patient cancel rather than schedule an annual physical or helping a seller to price a good or service to sell it quickly without unnecessarily giving up value.

At Extractable, we design these experiences all the time.


Follow me on LinkedIn and on Twitter!

Further Reading

To learn more about Nudge Theory, check out these resources:



Have You Gone Responsive or Adaptive Yet?

April 11th, 2014


As a senior developer for Extractable, I’ve been involved in many assignments that have to do with our clients wanting to “go mobile.” And you may be shocked to know that many businesses have yet to have a mobile site or even a mobile presence of some sort. Late last year I remember reading an article stating that if you don’t have a responsive site by 2014, (or are planning to do so in the near future), you’re going out of business. Now that’s a pretty bold statement, but one that is not that far off.

The fact of the matter is that mobile usage is increasing on a daily basis, in fact, mobile internet usage is projected to overtake desktop internet usage by 2014. (Source: Microsoft Tag). Consumers use their mobile devices to check email, get quick info about a company, search for products or services or just to do browsing as they do with their laptops. If these consumers don’t find your site to be mobile friendly, stats show they will immediately “jump ship” and move on to your competitor’s site whose site may be much easier to use.

So how can you meet the needs of this mobile user? By creating a mobile experience that works best for your content. There are two ways this can be done: Develop a Responsive site or develop an Adaptive Site. 

You may have heard these terms written in many articles and blog posts with the direction that one method is better than the other. I believe it’s a case-by-case decision. What may work for one website may not work for another.

Below is a brief description of each along with pros/cons.

Responsive Website

A responsive website automatically changes to fit the device you’re reading it on. A key difference between Responsive and Adaptive is that Responsive design is client-side which means the page is sent to the device browser (the client), and the browser then modifies the way the page looks in relation to the size of the browser window. The website initially serves the same content to every device but the layout will change depending on device size. This may result in content that is removed or a layout that looks rearranged in order to better fit the screen size at hand.


  • Single Website (one URL)
  • Adjusts to screen size on page load
  • Only one place to make changes


  • All content is downloaded whether it’s used or not
  • Pages will load much slower because of #1
  • You can typically triple the time it takes to build the website due to the complexity of accounting for all screen sizes

Adaptive Website

In Adaptive design, we develop a redefined set of layout sizes based on device screen size, then what served is “adapted” to the detected device. The web server detects the user’s device and will load the appropriate version of the site that is optimized for that particular device. This is a “server-side” approach because the server determines which version of the site to send to the user.


  • Single website (one URL)
  • Faster loading as it only receives content specific for that device
  • Can have completely different content for each device


  • Completely different sites
  • In most cases it will require more maintenance

In comparison, the visible difference is that responsive design will  alter its layout while you resize your browser window while the adaptive design will load a specific layout for the device you’re viewing the site on. If you resize your window with an adaptive website it will jump to a different breakpoint when you reach a screen size that suits another predefined layout.

Adaptive or Responsive – What’s The Right Choice? 

As mentioned previously, the decision to make a responsive or adaptive site should be a decision that is made case-by-case. Responsive websites generally work well for content-heavy websites with not a lot of difference in what the user should be experiencing between mobile desktop.

An Adaptive website is the winner most cases where user intent on mobile differs significantly, and website performance becomes a crucial factor. While both responsive design and adaptive both have their advantages it’s best to determine which one is right for you by putting your customer’s needs as the primary concern – (all while keeping in mind your own business goals.)

One more important note – As a developer that has seen countless sites… LESS IS MORE. Just because you have a desktop site that is packed with information and interactivity does not mean that all that content and interactivity should be scaled down to the mobile website. Simplicity, ease of use, and getting the necessary content to your user is critical and should be your number one priority. 

The future of the internet is no longer associated with just your desktop or laptop computer. Phones, tablets, game consoles, TVs, watches, glasses, etc., are all being used to browse the web. Is your site ready for these devices? If not, you should get to it!