At American Express, I became aware of a need to improve the connectivity between all online account management experiences. In order to achieve this, my team had to rethink the information architecture and redefine a common global vision for all product teams. After a significant amount of work, including research, design, planning and development, and ensuring stakeholder involvement from the outset, we delivered a design that improved operational efficiency, reduced risk, and increased user engagement.
“Bryn is all about structure and order … and we needed that. The foundations he lay have become the governing principles of our design strategy. Something that sets Bryn apart is his ability to think in systems to consider an array of different mental models, then address issues with a balanced perspective.”
Online servicing at American Express used to be as simple as checking the balance on your card and paying your bill. However, as the product offering expanded and new services were added, silos formed, and the experience became disconnected. This had a hugely negative impact on satisfaction, operations, and financial performance indicators.
We delivered a global set of robust yet adaptive information architecture rules that enables new products and services to be added without compromising the existing system.
The backbone of this project, a relational database allowed us to explore all of the information points an individual may need to access, establish necessary connections, and build prioritisation models.
Driven by our database, we defined sourcing logic that related information types to components, while allowing groups to adapt and change over time.
We defined and published a library of templates. Some simply gave directional guidance for specific component types (as below), while others gave detailed page structures and instruction.
We defined and published a library of modular components. This included everything from general structure and build logic (as below) to high-fidelity interface design based on global design tokens (as in vision section).
We defined patterns for a wide variety of information and interaction scenarios to enable a large number of distributed teams to deliver experience continuity. In cases where there was a variety of appropriate patterns, we built selection logic to help ensure full template and component utility.
- Our focus was on understanding the information each customer may need to interact with. We then built research-informed connections between items, aligned them to tasks, and attached metadata. This metadata included things such as frequency of use, proportion of customers, and emotivity; all of which allowed us to start building a prioritisation model.
- From there, we set about designing a flexible navigation framework that this information could be ported into. Working closely with the design system team and technical leads, we were able to derive a robust set of patterns that could wrap around all experiences. We were also able to create a range of navigation tools and rules to improve contextual connections.
- Bringing it all together, we produced and published an experience vision to act as a directional aid to all product teams. This included an entirely new information architecture that was aligned to the customer experience, rather than the organisational structure of the business. As we began to build and iterate towards the vision, we established feedback loops that enabled us to keep the vision useful and relevant.
We broke the discovery into three distinct areas: existence, usage, and expectation. This allowed us to build an accurate picture of reality and better understand the needs of both the business and our customers.
By creating a centralised resource that related all of the captured information, we were able to explore customer profiles and understand the experience they were receiving. This also allowed us to analyse how we group, categorise and serve information.
All recommendations and changes were sense checked against technical and business restrictions. Priority was given to progress over perfection.
We developed a robust information architecture blueprint with several layers of fidelity, from which we derived a best estimate at the interface implications and deigned the patterns required to enable this.
We built a cross-functional team based on the needs of the overall project, and included senior leadership representatives in order to maintain high levels of communication, ensure the required support and commitment, and secure stakeholder buy in at all stages.
Throughout the vision creation process, we paid close attention to communicating how we intended the vision to be used. We dedicated a significant amount of energy to up-front discovery and definition, but ultimately, this was just the foundation for an ongoing, adaptive body of work.
Once the vision was complete, we helped the teams responsible for delivery to break it down into themes that would inform their roadmap. We also established feedback loops and continually assessed all work against the experience vision in order to make any necessary adjustments.
- Breaking things down to pure information: stripping back names, groups and categories enables people to reset their thinking.
- Taking stakeholders with you on the journey is essential in order for them to take ownership.
- Simply doing the design isn’t enough. You have to build flexible components that can house a range of content and provide people with the tools to make decisions. This is particularly relevant when designing for a range of markets that have difference service offerings and languages.
- When dealing with complex systems, people need something concrete to work towards. While the process of design and development may be agile and iterative, unless people pull in the same directions, it can become chaotic. A unified vision provides a common starting point for all parties.
- Alignment of all product teams working on online servicing to a common (global) vision.
- Many more features added without negatively impacting any satisfaction or financial markers.
- Improved operational efficiency.
- Improved designer contentment.
- Significantly higher levels of user engagement.