Retirement Isn’t All Sunshine and Palm Trees (Part 2): Take a Ride on My Golf Cart

Reserved parking

This is part 2 of the series Retirement Isn’t All Sunshine and Palm Trees. If you missed part 1, check it out. My Motley Fool colleague Michele and I looked into why we were seeing high interest and low retention on our paid Social Security offering. We took the opportunity to study the retirement planning and transition as a whole and where Social Security fit within it.

So Wait, What Are We Doing Again?

Before jumping into interviews, Michele and I explicitly defined our overarching goal, target market, discovery objectives, key questions, and current assumptions. Once we had internal buy-in on those, we put together a project timeline, recruiting plan, and loose interview script.

Connecting with People

We pulled in another designer, Holly, and conducted 12 interviews with a mix of people from the target market. While most were over the phone, we were fortunate that one member was willing to speak with us in her home. After conducting a bunch of phone interviews, I really appreciated the chance to talk with someone in person. There are subtle cues that are impossible to detect over the phone, and I love seeing the beauty in their everyday. Our homes are full of little hints about who we are and what we value.

I was often amazed by how open our members were willing to be with us. Each of their stories included layers of fear, anxiety, and excitement about retirement and what that would mean for them. For many, work has been a major part of their self-image. Giving that up meant they’d need to redefine how they saw themselves and measured their self-worth. Layered on top of that is the prospect of cutting off their source of income and depending solely on savings for an indeterminate amount of time. I could start to see why it’s a complicated decision and why the regular, predictable checks from Social Security would be so appealing.

One member told me about his accident that lead to crippling injuries. While enduring years of pain, a dozen surgeries, and dodging financial catastrophes, he was able to invest a part of the small sums he received from Social Security and other insurance. Those investments have grown to a modest nest egg that gets him through the tough times. His definition of “retirement” was different from what we expected, and his story has stuck with me as a reminder of how quickly life can change and that we all need a little help sometimes.

Making Sense of It All

The real challenge began after we’d completed the interviews and had transcripts of each conversation. There are many approaches to synthesis, some of which I’ve had more success with than others. We believed we’d eventually want to capture our insights as a journey map, and we wanted to apply the journey mapping method from Adaptive Path’s UX Intensive. Therefore, we took the time while combing the transcripts to break the notes into the different journey map building blocks, using specific post-it colors for each block type (Doing, Feeling, Thinking, Touchpoints, People, Context, and Stages).

Our raw notes, sorted by block type

Wild, Unstructured Clustering

Adaptive Path encourages trying different approaches to sorting, often starting from an open sort and seeing what patterns emerge.

Sorting in action

While this lead to some themes, it didn’t feel like we were finished yet.

Theme clouds without post-its

Don’t Stop Believin’

We put up a new butcher paper wall and moved each and every post-it to show the collective journey over time. Many of the themes we’d identified during the open sort appeared as we organized the post-its into the journey. It was surprisingly satisfying to see the two sorting exercises come together.

Re-sorted post-its

Not trusting post-its on a wall, I dropped the quotes and notes into a google spreadsheet. I also liked having a record of how we got to where we were going.

Hold onto that feelin’

I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the Map!

It’s always hard to let go of the details when you’ve been swimming in them for weeks or months, but the cutting room floor is your best friend at this point. We won’t go through the many iterations that lead to the final product (they sucked). While never perfect, I think the final version was detailed enough to be meaningful, but high-level enough to show that the retirement journey is a long one filled with emotion and complexity.

I’m the Map!

Journey maps are only the beginning of the journey (see what I did there?!). The insights they communicate are only as useful as the impact they have on your products and business. What we discovered has helped us create a new product, kick off incremental improvement experiments, and inspired future efforts we plan to spin up. Curious? Stay tuned for more!