Envision the Future
Virtual Reality, Experience Design
Envision the Future is a project developed for a client, a local Pittsburgh Bank, as a part of the spring 2017 course, Learner Experience Design. The course focused on "designing experiences that engage people in educational activities that enhance their learning through meaningful, memorable, and enjoyable interactions with information" (Stacie Rohrbach, our instructor). Through readings, exercises, and our semester long project, we learned about how people process information, what motivates them do so, and how we can design educational experiences. Below is an overview of the project.
SOLVING FOR: A local Pittsburgh bank and their mass-affluent customers
PROBLEM: Many bank customers are not adept at short-term money management and long-term financial planning. When they fail to see the big picture, they can end up making poor financial decisions.
GOAL: Bridge the gap between short-term management and long-term planning by designing a tool that helps customers understand how their actions in the present affect the long-term, manage long-term spending effectively, and know about/take action on financial opportunities.
SOLUTION: A customer experience with 3 user education touch points that include a virtual reality experience, conversations with financial advisor, and an online tool.
PROCESS: This project was informed by a semester of investigating ways to design learning experiences, outlining opportunities, conceiving of conceptual models, developing stories, and using making as a form of inquiry.
Touch Point 1:
Virtual Reality Experience
We're hoping that this experience would exist at some sort of booth that the bank can host at many different events. When the customer puts on the head set, we first immerse them in a scene where financial opportunities are present in context. In this environment, they can explore different household articles that relate to different financial goals and choose what to invest in. At the end, we give them an overview of how much they need to save based on the lifestyle they selected. We hope this will help them see how these goals are relevant to their own lives and see how it is important to start saving for those goals even now. You can explore our scene here.
Touch point 2:
After customers finish with the VR experience, they are debriefed by a financial advisor who helps them adjust goals to meet their specific needs and shows them next steps to take towards achieving those goals. Then, the financial advisor can help them set up a flexible web tool that is tied to the customer's bank account so they can continue to manage their finances at home.
Touch Point 3:
The web tool gives customers concrete steps of how to invest their savings in to their long term goals. They can adjust how much they want to invest in each goal and specify how quickly they want to achieve it. Using those inputted numbers, the web tool calculates the ideal amount of money customers have leftover after monthly bills and expenses that should be invested towards their chosen goals.
Mapping Our Understanding
The start of this project was really challenging because we as college students had no idea about long-term financial planning. It actually helped us learn about necessary topics like retirement, health care, different types of accounts, and how banks work. We spent a good amount of time trying to familiarize ourself with the problem space before moving on. Personally, I'm not very good at doing so before I know how things work. So, we did a lot of diagramming and conversing with people who have experiences managing their finances.
Creating a Conceptual Model
During the first part of the semester, we learned about different learning models, and we synthesized them to create a model of our own of how the learning process works. These are some of those included methods.
1. Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT System
Why? (Meaning), What? (Concepts), How? (Skills), What If? (Adaptations)
2. Four Stages of Competence
Progress from incompetence to competence in a skill.
3. Cycle of Practice and Feedback
Practice → Observation → Targeted Feedback
4. Six Facets of Understanding
Can explain, can interpret, can apply, have perspective, can empathize, have self-knowledge
Provide support and then gradually remove supports as learning strengthens and progresses.
With our project, we wanted to build on customers' existing knowledge, present them with challenges that help them learn, which would help them gain competent skills over time.
After that, we brainstormed different directions our project could take, and presented three scenarios to our class mates in a rapid "speed dating" exercise.
Dream Big! A Virtual Reality Experience
Wearing a VR headset, you would answer questions about what type of lifestyle you want, and as you do, a scene is built from your answers. Afterwards, someone would debrief the experience with you and explain how to actually make those dreams a reality.
This digital experience would prompt you to answer questions about how you want to live at retirement age, and, based on your current financial situation, it would present you with a road map to achieve your goals. The sample frame work will have "mile stones" in place that you can drag a drop to make it more customized.
Game of Life
In this workshop, you compete and collaborate with other teams to see who can best invest and plan for the long-term. You will be given play money and have to invest it in different things. At the end, you'll see how much you have left for "retirement" and be given some tips for actually managing money in real life.
As feedback, people said that the "Game of Life" idea was too disconnected from reality, and probably more tailored to a younger audience. "Flexible Frameworks" was deemed most pragmatic, but it would be hard to get someone to keep using it over time. People were most attracted to the VR concept, though they cautioned us that it could easily become too unrealistic, and they suggested pairing it with a web based tool to ground it in reality.
From our feedback, we decided to move forward with the "Dream Big!" and "Flexible Framework" ideas. We made a story board and timeline of the whole experience.
We developed slides for our proposed idea, and went to the bank to get more feedback from our contacts there. A lot of questions we got were about how we could motivate customers to engage with our project both at the start and over a long period of time.
Determining Visual Direction
After refining our concept, we knew that we had to start making. We had talked a lot about what we thought our idea was, and now we had to actually visualize it. We spent a lot of afternoons on the white board trying to figure out what to virtual reality experience would look like, and we settled on creating a scene where people could interact with objects that related to certain financial decisions. Our previous idea of letting people build a scene out of their dreams seemed to encourage unrealistic goal setting, and we thought an everyday scene would be more appropriate. We also decided to illustrate the scene instead of using a real environment, because people might disassociate if they felt like they were in someone else's home. In an illustrated environment, it's less specific to an individual, an more open to the viewer's interpretation.
Creating the Virtual Environment
We decided to illustrate a kitchen. Allison took the first stab at it, and figured out how to draw the scenes first on a cube map grid, when then converts to an equirectangular image. While she experimented with roundme, Unity, and A-frame (tools for building VR experiences) I took over the 360 degree illustration, and Christie helped define the user flow.
Christie worked on the modals that would pop up when you selected an object in the kitchen scene. For example, a college pennant would be pinned to the wall. When you highlight it, the modal would pop up and ask you to make a decision of where to send your kid to college. After selecting your option, your saving goal bar would increase by that amount. After you go through all the questions, you are presented with a summary of how much money you need to save to achieve all of your goals.
Mocking up the Web Tool
We also spent time figuring out what the web tool would look like. We didn't have time to prototype a multi-screen experience, so we created a dashboard that encapsulates what this tool could do. We wanted to take people's monthly income and allocate left-over funds towards their savings goals based on the timeline they wanted to achieve it in.
At the end of the semester, we presented at the bank to our contacts and their coworkers. They got to interact with the headsets and seemed to really enjoy it. One man said that he had no idea that healthcare was so expensive, and we were glad to have achieved our goal of teaching people about the long term cost of things they often overlook. They also said that a web tool similar to ours could integrate well with their existing products. Overall, our team learned a lot and had a lot of fun together, as you can see by our silly antics below :)