Human Centric Design in Wealthsimple Ads: An In-depth Analysis

Jane Zhang
Oct 22, 2017 · 8 min read
All of the photos in this article have been taken by me, with my Samsung A5, apologies in advance for the quality of the photos. My Sony camera, with perfect timing, decided not to work when I tried to shoot with it.

Discretion: the following analysis is my opinion alone. I was not endorsed to write this and it was completely out of appreciation and voluntary.

There aren’t many print ads out there that made me feel the way I did when I saw Wealthsimple’s ads in St. George subway station in Toronto. In early-fall of 2017, Wealthsimple installed their vinyl ads throughout both levels of the station, North and South platforms as well as the East and West platforms. They utilized the walls beyond the tracks, the pillars, and the stairs.

What was exciting about this ad was that the people behind it approached it similarly like how a designer approached exhibition design. There was a good, robust system in place and the use of writing, colour, and photography was very well done. Most importantly, they executed on human-centred design. Let’s look at this on a deeper level.

Investing for Humans

When talking about human-centred design, the only thing that should come to mind is empathy. And what that means is really connecting with the end users. Wealthsimple’s key message is very human-centric because they know better than anyone that dealing with money is hard for a lot of people. There is a perception that investing is for people who are experts in this field and it can be very intimidating for the average person. Yes, you can argue that even experts are humans, but Wealthsimple then cleverly explains what they mean when they say “Investing for Humans” by following up with:

‘investing for humans who…’

The message that follows the phrase ‘investing for humans who…’ is key in establishing the connection between Wealthsimple and the viewer. In this case, it targets people who want to take care of their parents or kids. Their user scenarios are quite real and faced by many. Wealthsimple could’ve easily said something along the lines of ‘investing for humans who want to save money’, but they went the extra step to understand why we need money. Money is one of the most complicated relationship humans can have, ever. Many things orbit around money in our lives and the use of these relatable statements remind us why we rely so much on money and why it is so central to our lives. Notice that you don’t see the word money in their ads- people don’t pursue money for the sake of it, there is an end goal and this is where empathy kicks in. Wealthsimple knows that money has much deeper implications.

Clever Use of User Personas

The use of user personas in ads was never new and has been used by everyone nowadays. A good example is how Town Shoes shows the viewer the point of view of a woman, very much like how first-person shooting games are like. UX, UI, and UX/UI designers (I don’t know the difference anymore so I put it all here) use personas aggressively to help guide their design to the needs of users.

Comparison between two opposing statements creates the illusion that Wealthsimple can cater to anyone.

Wealthsimple used their user personas cleverly in their ads here. We have three components here:

1) the text;
2) the individual;
3) the plain solid coloured background.

  1. The text ties into the overall narrative, which starts with ‘investing for humans who…’, and matches the photography where we just have a human. The following text creates situations that just about everyone can relate to. It is simple and very real.
  2. The individuals used throughout all ads were simple, and diversity was present. The representation of people is not exactly perfect, but it was quite good. They had representation of people from gen x and y, people who did not conform to the binary-gender system, varying in ethnicity, and religious beliefs.
  3. The solid background colours are used to link up opposing text and exploits tension. In the photo above, it compares those who want to retire early and those who never want to retire. Through the use of these two posters, we immediately understand that Wealthsimple has something to offer for everyone. Generally, good businesses want to narrow down on their target audience because then they can better cater their services. Wealthsimple did have a strong emphasis on the younger generation (20–30 year olds), but through the use of opposing situations, they created an illusion that they can provide value beyond their main target audience.

Another unique aspect is the limited use of Wealthsimple’s logo. They have restricted their logos only for when they show their app on the phone and on the laptop. They really let the message stand out. This is a bit risky because people can just glance at their ads and maybe not realize it is about Wealthsimple. But the risk brings the benefit in which people develop a deeper connection with the message. It’s always tempting to put too much information and putting less requires restraint. As Edward Tufte would say about data visualization, we should use as less ink as possible to reveal the data. Anything additional does not add meaning and will only distort the message.

The Sameness in Us All

Another note on the individuals used in their ads is that they all look equal. They don’t have anything to indicate that they are different from each other, all are wearing solid coloured shirts sitting at the same height, there aren’t fancy sunglasses or jewellery showing their social status. They are all perceived to be the same. As a result, Wealthsimple can easily switch statements around.

On the left, the individual is paired with the statement “investing for humans who are young and responsible”
The second from the left, she is paired with “investing for humans who know the value of a Bitcoin”

Switching statements around in which it is not designated to a specific person means that these statements apply to anyone, even if you don’t look like the individual in the poster. It almost feels like Wealthsimple could’ve randomized these statements to the individuals.

It Felt Like I was In A Museum, I walked Around Reading Everything

I really did read them, each poster had a story to tell and I was interested. Beyond these stories, I really enjoyed how they used the pillars.

These pillars can be a shoot or miss for ads, but it was very consistent in rhythm for Wealthsimple. We see a hand poking out holding a phone showing the Wealthsimple app, and we see the logomark at the bottom. The other face of the pillar simply has the wordmark. So simple yet effective. Once again, this goes back to being human-centric in message and by design. They could’ve done a blown up screen showing the app, instead, there is more emphasis on a person holding the phone. The cost for this is that screen of the app is smaller, which makes it easy for people to miss the app, but seeing the arm of a person makes this more relatable on a different level. People can’t relate to devices, but we can relate to people using them. I once did a project creating a map for a series of trails in Ireland. We had just a bike illustrated on a trail to show the bike trail. Our instructor then told us “there is a difference between a bike on the trail and someone riding that bike”. This is subtle, but it is an important distinction in creating a well-designed map. It has to be a reflection of the user.

I really like how they staged this. The arm and phone is centred and in focus. You see subtle stories in the different arms presented.

Similarly for the laptop below, they could’ve had it where it was cooly resting there without the hand on the keyboard. But they chose to include that to once again make it more of a human interaction.

And a quick note on what this screen shows, “Socially Responsible”. This is one of key services the platform offers and it contradicts how I viewed investing. I always had the idea investing was not transparent because as an average person, I don’t really know what is going on behind the numbers. This poster highlights socially responsible investing as one of their value propositions, which diversifies the customers Wealthsimple can attract. It is very interesting that they did not put this at the forefront on their ad but as something in the screen — this was very subtle and once again, if you didn’t pay attention, you would miss it. But then again, good design is always in the details.

Good Design is by Intention

Crafting a story with intention utilizing all the techniques available to you is very hard. I struggle with it as a designer, and I really cannot imagine how a filmmaker copes with it. They deal with events that happen in seconds and yet still have to control for it. Edgar Wright’s opening scene for Baby Driver is a fantastic example of this. He packs as much information into this scene to serve the story to develop in following scenes. And what he pulls off is not by some luck. It’s by having a strong intention and clear goal. When I feel something that is well made, I can sense something central in its core driving the creation. And if you look close enough, you can backtrack to their starting point. In the case of the Wealthsimple ideas, their core vision was around ‘investing for humans’. A vision becomes very clear when the message is delivered across clearly. And I think Wealthsimple did just that.

Jane Zhang

Written by

Data Visualization Designer. I provide a new perspective on how to see and understand the world.

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