Everything is designed, whether we make time for it or not. As life gets busy, it’s easy for us to become reactive rather than being intentional with our own lives. Or, in the words of UX designers: We stop doing user research, we stop iterating, and we hinder meeting our own needs. Sometimes, we even design our lives based on other people’s expectations of us. Be the designer of your own destiny. If UX designers can mold the experience that we have with digital interfaces, then why can’t we shape the lives we want to live? Through thoughtful financial planning, which gets to the core of your goals and values, you can UX design your financial life.

The User-Centered Design Process

Designers play an influential role in the outcome of a product. The essence of UX design is its focus on user research and on an iterative, human-centered approach to creating solutions. The process is most just: research, design, testing, repeat. Design thinking, and it’s empathetic process provides the perfect blueprint for performing user research on yourself, creating the life you need, and going back to the drawing board when life changes. This human-centered design process is nothing new. What if we could also apply these principles to UX design your financial life? All of the research, design, and testing tools we need to design our lives intentionally is inherent in the financial planning process.

Auditing Your Past

While we all have ambitious goals, the key to accomplishing them is by building a collection of small, consistent habits. Think of your past and take note of things you’ve noticed about money. What is your relationship like with money? How has that changed over time? What aspects of your financial life are you pleased with? Do you generally operate from a scarcity mindset or one of abundance? 

It might help to create a journey map of your life. The best way to get started is to take a look back at how you’ve your life so far. Record events, thoughts, experiences, feelings, and people that influence who you are today. Spend some time thoroughly thinking about your journey, and this could be the most significant, eye-opening act of introspection you will do. It’s the ultimate content auditing exercise.

Usability Testing The Present

Once you’ve assessed your past, it’s time to look at how you’re spending time and resources in the present. Create a persona that’s consistent with your current self. Start by listing everything you do and how money plays a role. Personal values drive behavior and help guide the decisions that we make. What are your values and goals? What do you want from life? 

The truth of the matter is, no one else is going to prioritize what’s important to you. Figure out what truly matters and prioritize it. Similar to a feature prioritization exercise when building new software, differentiate the must-haves and should-haves from the could-haves and would-haves. Consequentially, this makes you conscious of how you spend your time and money – and can have a tremendous impact on your overall happiness and fulfillment.  

Affinity Mapping Your Future

This step is all about laying the foundation toward completing your life goals. Affinity maps are used to find patterns and trends in qualitative data. They’re often used by UX designers to make sense of user/stakeholder interviews. In regards to designing your financial life, an affinity map is a powerful technique for Millennials in tech to determine what you want and need out of your lives and to create a vision of what your life might look like in the future through actionable and measurable goals.

Before doing this exercise, it’s a possibility your goals and actions might have been misaligned. By visually mapping out your aspirations and aligning your current self toward a trajectory to achieving those goals, you have convergence. My fiancée and I do this activity as we are planning our future together and we look back at it, regularly, to measure if we’re staying on track.

If we think of our individual lives as design projects, we can sketch, deconstruct, reconstruct, and act upon the things we do. You don’t need a fancy template to get started with affinity mapping — just a lot of post-it notes and a beautiful big wall, window, or table. I’m sure there’s a plethora in your savvy tech offices. 

How To Affinity Map Your Life

  • On its own post-it note, write down essential values or activities you want to prioritize.
  • Write down any vital goals and experiences you want to achieve. 
  • Categorize the insights under “I” statements.
  • Organize the data by the insights they suggest. For instance, post-it notes reading “I want to create an impact” and “I want more control and flexibility of my life” may fall under “I want to start a business.” Soon these will become your success metrics, or Key Performance Indicators, of a fulfilling life. 

Wireframing: Design Your Solution

Now that you’ve audited, validated, and crafted a vision for the lifestyle you want to have, what do you do with this information?

Design a financial plan!

Financial planning is a collaborative process that helps maximize your potential for meeting life goals through financial advice that integrates relevant elements of your personal and financial circumstances. In a sense, it aligns the life you want with the life you are living and adjusts to the frequent changes.

Life is not static. Whether you’re deciding on an offer at a startup or preparing for a new addition to the family, circumstances will change, as will your goals and aspirations. Revisit your journey map and iterate your future story based on a new understanding of values, goals, and priorities. The aptitude to understand, ideate, hypothesize, and execute diligently and iteratively is invaluable. This repeated behavior are tenants of the design thinking process, and by the same token are used to UX design your financial life. There is no real endpoint. For that reason, it’s much less about the outcome than it is about the way you go about achieving it. Therein lies the beauty in financial planning. 

The ROI: A Fulfilling Life

The return on investment for designing your ideal life is about as straightforward as UX design solutions get. An intentional and well-designed lifestyle is consistently creative, productive, evolving, and there’s sometimes an element of surprise. Naturally, mindfully designing your life can allow you to pursue your passions, and perhaps help you find your purpose. 

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