Moneythink Gets Human-Centered

Moneythink CEO Ted Gonder's thoughts on the impact of putting people first

“The impact that our engagement with IDEO.org has had in terms of user-centricity cannot be overstated. We took so much from our work together and have put what we learned directly into all of our internal strategy.”

That’s Ted Gonder, Cofounder and CEO of Moneythink, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to building financial literacy in low-income communities. IDEO.org partnered with Moneythink on two projects—the first to build the financial literacy of Chicago teens and the second with veterans—and though we’re immensely proud of the work we created together, we’re as excited to see Moneythink emerge as a human-centered powerhouse in the social sector.

This shift is due in large part to how Moneythink has operationalized human-centered design. They claim it’s part of what has kept them sharp and creative, so much so that Gonder was asked to sit on the President’s Advisory Council on Youth Financial Capability.

“At Moneythink, we talk about being problem-forward instead of solution-backward,” says Gonder, “and that orientation stems from our work with IDEO.org. We work hard to stay on that end of the spectrum.”

Teams at Moneythink frame their challenges in terms of “how might we” provocations, find ways to build lightweight prototypes of innovative ideas, and have made design sprints on everything from how to get teens to better engage with their app to how to design a better commute de rigueur. Better still, teams routinely test their ideas against the desires of the people they’re designing for.

Former Chief Innovation Officer Jennifer Shoop also notes that by embracing human-centered design, Moneythink has experienced a profound strategy shift as well.

One of our team mantras on the product side is ‘Nothing important happens inside the office.' We talk to users often and capture their opinions and feedback in meticulous detail. Everyone is expected to get out into the classroom once a month, and that comes from our emphasis on user feedback, core to what human-centered design is about.

Jennifer Shoop, Chief Innovation Officer, Moneythink

“When we were launching Moneythink Mobile, I remember being pretty stressed,” says Shoop. “Some numbers weren’t as good as I wanted them to be, and an IDEO.org team member helped me realize that a true pilot is about validating or invalidating value hypotheses. That has changed the entire way we think about testing a product, and it lets us orient ourselves as a learning organization.”

In the end, the benefit is to those Moneythink is looking to serve: low-income young people. 

“At a high level, I’d say that what sets us apart, and actually gives us a compelling competitive advantage, is that we stay really close to the end user,” says Gonder. “We have unique insight into young people, and we keep bringing that youth voice to the table.”

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