A Remote Design Sprint Breakthrough

Recently, Moneythink Product Designer Jeanmarie Levy spearheaded a virtual design sprint – a feat which included organizing colleagues in three different time zones and several countries. The goal of the sprint was to improve the DecidED Advisor Dashboard and promote a more collaborative creative design space. 

Design sprints help make DecidED more user-friendly. Traditionally, these events take place in person; however, to increase accessibility, Jeanmarie organized this virtual version to ensure everyone had a seat at the table.

We are excited to share Jeanmarie’s story and process with you, and highlight how we’re already improving DecidED. As a nimble fintech non-profit, we believe in empowering our team to explore cutting-edge approaches to improve the lives of everyone who uses DecidED. 

(Jeanmarie was interviewed by our Communications and Marketing Consultant, Melissa Ramos. Our interview has been edited for clarity.)

Our Q&A With Jeanmarie

Melissa Ramos: Thanks for meeting to talk about your most recent design sprint! Tell us about your background and how you found yourself at Moneythink.

Jeanmarie Levy: My name is Jeanmarie and I serve as the Product Designer here at Moneythink. I am most excited about this work because the organization’s mission directly aligns with my core values of promoting access, retention and advocacy for first generation students. I myself identify as first-gen. Also, I am a former educator. I saw oftentimes where students would fall through the cracks of the college application process. Moneythink’s overall goal of reducing student debt is truly exciting for me. I have always been passionate about service and nonprofit organizations and how technology can improve people’s lives.

Melissa: It seems like your career and life experiences have helped you create a better informed product with DecidED, because you have a holistic understanding of the type of person this product serves.

Jeanmarie: Absolutely.

Melissa: Switching gears, can you explain the idea behind a design sprint? 

Jeanmarie: The idea for design sprints is a forward-thinking concept, where essentially, a team has a certain number of days to meet specific goals. These days are fully devoted to improving a product or design. Sprints bring teams together for cross collaboration, since it is beneficial for organizations to collectively come up with ideas together, instead of putting all the pressure on individuals to make big decisions. Design sprints allow us to do deep creative work around a specific problem, using our brains fully for this purpose.

Moneythink: How do you feel design sprints help Moneythink improve DecidED?

Jeanmarie: Design sprints help inform our product because we make time to take a step back and view the problems we are tackling more holistically. Design sprints give us the opportunity to empathize with users. We pride ourselves on being an equity centered organization, and we are constantly thinking about our users as a result. In this recent design sprint, we wanted to take things to the next level, so we brought in all of our teams – engineers, the development team, the partnership team, everyone. Design sprints help our product, our organization and employees better understand why we do what we do.

Melissa: Can you talk about human centered design factors into design sprints at Moneythink?

Jeanmarie: We strive to do human centered design and more so, equity centered design. Human centered design means the user is at the center of all decisions, but equity centered design invites users directly into the conversation. Equity centered design gives users the agency to make these bigger decisions with our product improvements. This is how we ended up on this particular design sprint topic: trying to improve our Advisor Dashboard. We made improvements based on real time advisor feedback.

Melissa: How did this fully remote design sprint differ from a traditional design sprint? 

Jeanmarie: Improving the Advisor Dashboard was a big challenge. We knew we needed a diverse team in order to make this happen – and I want to shout out Ben May (our API Product Manager) for helping me think outside of the box with this design sprint.

We involved our engineers because they are our product experts. They help to build this product every day. They’re all located in different countries. Our engineers are contractors, and we as an organization strive for them to have full ownership of this product. We are cognizant of the fact that we are an American organization working with contractors outside of the US. My biggest goal was to make sure our engineers felt included and that their expertise was highlighted. It was very impactful to have all of our engineers there, some of whom have been working on DecidED from the beginning.

Our goals going into the design sprint were composed of two parts. We wanted a solution for Advisor Dashboard improvement, but we also wanted to build this inspiring and collaborative team where everyone felt they had a voice. As a result of this design sprint, we have seen an increase in morale and trust, and overall positivity among all of us. The feedback was that it was awesome to have all teams cross collaborate and learn more about what our users go through.

Melissa: As the architect of this design sprint, what do you feel were the key takeaways?

Jeanmarie: Our advisors and educators have such a challenging and overwhelming role since they are trying to advocate against so much bureaucracy. Currently, our tool does a lot but not in a simple way. With new improvements, we are scaling everything back to make our advisors’ lives easier. 

Another big takeaway is the idea that cross collaboration among diverse thinkers and people is truly the way to solve big problems. When we work in silos, it’s an echo chamber. When you hear from another person, in another country, or with a different experience, it brings up a lot that hasn’t come up before. Giving people ownership helped reinvigorate a sense that there is a lot of power and capacity in the human brain – especially when we provide safe spaces. Now I have a solution for this design, but that’s because of our collaboration. I wouldn’t have been able to do this alone. It’s a big reminder that community always needs to be at the center of our work. 

Communal work is of critical importance to so many things. I think that we hit the biggest goal which was to make sure that the design sprint team felt heard, empowered, and seen. I wanted the team to feel this was a good use of their time. Some feedback I got from folks was that this space equalized all of us and our voices.

Melissa: What improvements will come to DecidED now that you have completed this particular sprint?

Jeanmarie: Lots! We already built a prototype and tested it with a long-time DecidED user. This particular educator commented that the improvements are lightyears ahead of our current dashboard. As a former educator, I keep in mind that when we design products we also need to teach users how to use this new product. I was happy to hear that this educator felt the improvements aligned seamlessly into his current work flow; it didn’t create extra steps, and it improved his work experience.

Our improvements will lead to clear, actionable steps that educators can take with students. We know the new way the tool will look will make this seamless and will help advisors in the long run.

Melissa: Very exciting that the improvements are already well received. We look forward to launching the new and improved dashboard soon! 

Interested in learning more about design sprints? Check out our resources below.

What’s a design sprint and why is it important?

The Design Sprint

And learn more about Jeanmarie and the rest of our team by visiting our Team & Board page. 

Statement on SCOTUS Decision Overturning Roe

Moneythink is dismayed and deeply saddened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. This June 24th decision drastically strips away constitutional rights to basic healthcare, including reproductive care,  which has been a center point of US citizenship, economic power, and security for nearly fifty years. Since the Court’s ruling we have already seen a number of states enacting triggers banning abortions altogether. Sadly, we expect to see many more states taking similar actions. In the longer term, this ruling has severe, far-reaching consequences for a number of other communities, including LGBTQIA+.      

We are forced, once again, to recognize and name that gender, generational poverty, access to quality education, access to quality healthcare, access to affordable housing, and intergenerational wealth are inextricably linked. Historically marginalized individuals and low-wealth communities shoulder the heaviest burdens in our country. Overall, these communities will experience the most disastrous impacts of this Court’s decision. While the myth of the unlikely connection between student debt and reproductive justice may exist, make no mistake that both student debt and abortion restrictions obstruct current and future generations’ chance at a financially secure future. For example, student loan debt and reproductive healthcare restrictions disproportionately harm young individuals of color, especially Black women. It’s well known that the national student debt crisis burdens Black women more than their white peers, limiting their ability to build generational wealth. Furthermore, the racialized gender wage gap forces Black women to carry student loan debt for longer periods of time, and the gap increases throughout their careers, making it harder to pay off student loans. Student loan debt continues to mount as individuals progress through their adulthood. As a consequence, those who are denied abortion care and forced to carry the pregnancy to term have greater odds of living below the Federal Poverty Level. The real burden of student debt and abortion restrictions can easily compound on each other – and facing the financial consequences of each is devastating. Individuals should have the basic freedom to make decisions about their futures, the freedom to decide if and when to parent, and the freedom to control their economic well-being. While it might be easier for us to see reproductive choice as separate from our mission, the reality is that basic healthcare is a social justice issue. We cannot have one without the other. 

There’s nothing that we can say that eases the sting, nor is there a magic wand that we can wave to rewind several days. However, remaining silent or doing nothing are not options. SCOTUS’s ruling will have immediate and devastating implications for members of our team, our partner organizations, and our communities. As an organization committed to social justice for all, it’s our moral obligation and societal responsibility to stand firm in our position that all people have the right to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom. 

I am encouraging our team to take the time and space needed to process this profound shift. Likewise, in the coming weeks and months, we will assess what we can tangibly do to ensure that our team members have access to essential medical services, which is critical to ensuring the well-being of our organization.

Our vision is focused on financial freedom, social capital, and an inclusive economy for all. This is not exclusive to students. Rather, we aim for a world that affords all people the resources and dignity to live their healthiest, fullest lives. 

In community,

Josh Lachs

The DecidED API: Learn About the Newest Way to Bring DecidED into Your Work

DecidED, the free college cost comparison tool developed by Moneythink, empowers students, advisors, and college access partners. We designed DecidED as a resource to translate complex financial aid award letters, provide guidance with comparing college costs and other fit factors, and much more. 

With our tool, students make sense of financial aid award results, and compare their college options based on personalized fit factors such as graduation rates and campus diversity. Advisors use DecidED in multiple ways to elevate their work; for instance, they can access the DecidED dashboard with real time student updates, students’ financial aid results and help students compare options for the best enrollment decision. Our partners gain crucial insights into student progress on the path to college, as well as financial aid data to inform their impactful programs and services. 

With DecidED, we are leveling the playing field for students, advisors and college access partners. That’s why we are excited to announce the crucial upgrade in our offerings. In addition to our free student and advisor-facing web tools, Moneythink is expanding DecidED’s reach and impact to strategic partners through our DecidED API.

What’s an API?

APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, are a software middle ground that helps two different programs talk to each other. Think of APIs like a messenger: delivering your request to a provider and then bringing a response back. 

The DecidED API leverages our unique financial aid award letter scanning technology to ease the caseload burden of advising organizations. Our API provides more holistic, engaging student support in real time along with customized data, all integrated into any organization’s applications and services. 

The DecidED API has been an invaluable resource for us. Jin Choi, Director of Scholarships Programs at 10,000 Degrees

Who is the DecidED API for?

Two African American students with backpacks standing next to each other talking outside of a college campus building.

Our API is designed with two users in mind:

  1. College access organizations and scholarship providers that need to interpret and/or analyze a collection of student financial aid results, and
  2. Organizations that want to view, track and compare award results across schools, cities or states and against other key student profile identifiers.

Our partner organizations put an overwhelming amount of work into supporting as many students as possible. We created our API to automate the complex but easily repeatable task of financial aid award letter translation and unlock more high-touch support from student-facing organizations. Our API takes in complex award letters and sends data back in ways that can be used to benefit students and organizations the most.

How does the API work?

Two men. One is seated and wears white rimmed glasses. The other is standing next to him. He is wearing a blue shirt. Both are looking at a laptop.

Understanding the actual costs of attendance for each institution no longer requires an advisor to review and analyze every individual letter. The DecidED API seamlessly translates award information so an organization’s staff can avoid manually inputting data and performing other time-consuming tasks. Our API takes financial aid award letters and other data and quickly extracts important information that organizations need to do their work. Then, our API relays that data into an organization’s existing programs and systems.

Our API can also:

  • Receive an award letter and respond with instantaneous clean and structured data
  • Easily share data with students and/or integrate data into proprietary applications and services
  • Provide more holistic, engaging student support in real time with customized data at hand
  • Clarify college finances by receiving personalized cost estimates before students enroll in a school to help inform their decisions. 

For more information on how we’ve architected the DecidED API backend, read our article on helping students find affordable colleges on the AWS Public Sector blog.

The DecidED API in Action

A group of people talking around a table, with a woman with short curly hair and black glasses highlighted on the righthand side. She faces the camera with arms crossed and smiles.

We’ve already piloted our API with scholarship providers and college access organizations looking to save time on administrative tasks so they can better support students.

Jin Choi, the Director of Scholarships Programs at 10,000 Degrees says, “The DecidED API has been an invaluable resource for us in the collection and analysis of over 1,700 financial aid award letters. The API took what used to be a very manual process and changed it into an automated system that has saved us hundreds of hours.”

With our API, 10,000 Degrees saved an estimated 3.5 minutes per award letter. This meant their advisors saved over 100 hours of manual input time, freeing up precious hours to focus on their students. 61% of award letters were translated in less than half an hour. These translated results allowed 10,000 Degrees to better hone in financial aid gaps of direct college costs and scholarships, create lists of students to follow up with on the financial aid process, and review data to identify different types of award letters, all within one tool.

Organizations save time on administrative tasks, like manually reviewing financial aid award data. They can make data-driven decisions and most importantly, can scale impact across current programs and systems. 

How can you bring the DecidED API to your organization? 

Connect with us to learn how the DecidED API could help your organization. Are you interested in trying our API for yourself? Send us an inquiry at info@moneythink.org and we’ll get back to you within two business days. 

And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to sign up for a free DecidED account today.

Our Next Phase of Growth

Moneythink announced today that Joshua Lachs has been named the new Chief Executive Officer of the organization.

Josh brings extensive experience in the nonprofit, social enterprise, and higher education sectors to Moneythink. His history of leading comprehensive strategic development as well as revenue, program, and external relations growth will be instrumental in guiding Moneythink through its next phase of development and scale.

“Since our founding in 2008, Moneythink has pioneered award-winning technology solutions to bring financial guidance to its students, and today the organization is perfectly poised to scale its impact,” said Board Chairman, Greg Nance. “Josh’s catalytic leadership as CEO will enable millions of young people to overcome financial barriers to college success. We are confident Josh has the creative insight, operational acumen, executive experience, and core values to lead our pioneering, mission-driven organization into a defining new era.”

About Josh

Josh comes to Moneythink from the internationally-reaching organization, Net Impact, where he served as Chief Business Development Officer. Previous to that, he was the CEO at Breakthrough Collaborative, an award-winning, national college access organization with the country’s largest pre-residency program for aspiring educators. While at Breakthrough, his team lead the development of a new organization-wide strategy and brand refresh, secured the organization’s largest multi-year grant, and increased its service outreach by 60%. Josh also previously served as Chief Officer of Workforce Development & Community Engagement for Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin, a nationally reputed $42M regional job training enterprise. At Goodwill, he led a robust portfolio of publicly and privately funded teen- and adult-centered job-readiness programs, including San Francisco City’s One Stop Center. Prior to that, Josh enjoyed a lengthy career as a university dean and executive director scaling programs, diversifying revenue streams, and growing partnerships for globally-facing campuses.

Among Josh’s proudest accomplishments was the creation of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership at JFKU, which has since helped establish hundreds of enterprises generate more than $1B in total revenue while creating more than 4,000 jobs.

“I am absolutely humbled, honored, and energized to join Moneythink and to build on the organization’s bold vision.” said Josh. “The entire organization is so impressive — the Board and the team — underscored by their shared values, commitment to Moneythink’s mission and its students, and entrepreneurial zeal. As a first-generation college student, myself, Moneythink deeply resonates with me. With this team in place, we are well positioned to dramatically increase the number of students it serves and the communities it empowers, along with being a trusted partner in the broader college success ecosystem. It’s a privilege to be chosen to succeed Ted and lead Moneythink into its second decade. We are excited to build on our track record and create even greater reach and impact!”

A Career of Service

Josh has been active in his community throughout his entire career. 

He has served on a multitude of nonprofit boards and institutional committees, as well as frequently consulted for social impact organizations in the areas of strategic planning, resource development, program scale, and operations. Josh earned his B.A. from UC Berkeley and holds two masters degrees from Columbia University. He and his wife, Samantha, live in Berkeley, CA raising their two young sons, both of whom attend the local public schools.

Josh succeeds founding CEO, Ted Gonder, who led the organization from its establishment in 2008 at the University of Chicago as a student volunteer initiative to its growth as a nationally recognized college access nonprofit organization.

Under Ted’s leadership, Moneythink was awarded the White House Champions of Change award by President Obama, and since its founding has brought free financial education to over 15,000 young people in 30 cities across the country. Along the way, Moneythink has been recognized as a pioneer in the development of technology solutions, and today, the organization is primed to scale its impact.

Of the transition, Ted said, “It has been an honor and privilege to serve as Moneythink’s founding CEO for the last 10 years. I have been able to watch it change and develop into something so much more than we ever imagined when we dreamt up this vision in our college dorm. We’ve reached a stage of development that is well-suited for a seasoned nonprofit executive, and I couldn’t think of anyone better suited for this task than our new CEO, Josh Lachs. I’m excited to use my role on the board of directors to support Josh’s leadership and continue guiding the organization toward its vision of an equitable future for all students.”

Josh’s appointment is a reflection of Moneythink’s incredible growth over the last two years and its current state of innovation. Moneythink is extremely grateful for Ted’s leadership and are excited for him to continue to serve as an advisor on the Board of Directors.

Read Ted’s farewell letter on his personal Medium page here. And read and share our Newswire press release here.

Be a part of the solution by making a donation, referring a partner, or becoming a corporate contributor.

Employee Voices Series: Liz Pattermann on Equitable Education

By Liz Pattermann

When I was a teenager, I learned that equitable education access was one of the hallmarks of living in a just world.

In the years since then, I’ve realized that I really do want to live in a just world; and, as some of the veils of my naivety have fallen away, I’ve decided I’ll settle for as close to a just world as we can intentionally create. So while I’m not sure that we’ll ever achieve world peace, or climate stability, or completely equitable access to education, I do believe that these are goals worth actionably moving toward. Luckily, right now I have the immense privilege of working at Moneythink in the space of creating more equitable access to postsecondary education for young Americans as they come of age.

Making Equitable Education Access a Reality

A decade ago, as the threshold of my own high school graduation was approaching, I didn’t know a thing about how you decide what to do with the rest of your life.

Although I don’t believe there is a single, ultimate way to approach this question, I had the fortune of having my values, aptitudes, and interests analyzed by professionals who guided me into a major of Computer Science, which wound up fitting me very well. These experts told me that a C.S. career might not be able to fulfill all the values I held, however; and so I may need to seek out volunteer opportunities to satisfy those cravings.

Before Moneythink, that was true: I’d had to go out of my way to find places and spaces to volunteer, and to try and create a workplace culture where the setting aside of concerns for self-interest was a normal, if irregular, act.

Nowadays, at Moneythink, even though a lot of my daily Engineering tasks may sound quite far removed from the work of creating a more just world, I am able to get that internal yearning to “help others” fed continuously.

Liz

I’m still able to exercise my aptitudes and explore my interests; and, with this wonderful team, these desiderata happen within the context of our shared, common values.

Moneythink’s Work

The work that we at Moneythink do is in service of our mission: the projects we pour resources into are for our students, and so we find no value in clinging to any ego-laden detritus which our students find no value in. We believe in high standards, all-encompassing diversity, positivity, creativity, and an evidence-based approach to transformation. Only in this way can we promote equitable education access for all.

Our work, along with our approach to it, is premised on the notion that transformation is possible: that we can engage in acts that alter the composition and the norms of our shared, common world; that together, we can create the more just world we want to live in.

I am still quite young, and perhaps that is why I am hopeful yet. I see us all as brimming with irrepressible human potential. I see all the ways in which we can pour our time, energy, and attention into “better”, rather than merely allowing our life force to trickle towards a self-interested “more”. I see how, through a shared, common devotion to the greater good of this next generation, we can swell the rising tide to lift more ships. And so for now, I am glad to be working with the people that I am, in the way that I am, in the space that I am, working to create a world more just than it was the day before.

Be a part of the solution by making a donation, referring a partner, or becoming a corporate contributor.

Employee Voice Series: Elizabeth’s Success Story

By Elizabeth

As a first-generation college graduate, I feel a deep connection to the work we do at Moneythink. The students we help are smart, hard-working, responsible, and strongly committed to getting a solid education despite their odds. I love that our work helps to address the problem of unequal access to education in our country by providing personal support to students. I believe in using my experiences to help guide students’ success stories.

My Beginning

I grew up in a small town in Oregon with limited educational opportunities. I was raised by an incredibly resourceful single mother who worked and saved to provide for her four children.

With the support of my older brother, I moved to a bigger city where I attended community college while working two part-time jobs. When I see our students managing work and school — as well as family responsibilities — I empathize with the everyday stress they experience and the strain this can have on their academic success stories.

I understand first-hand the challenges that face our students, many of whom don’t have the same financial and social advantages as their well-resourced peers.

Elizabeth

My College Experiences

With support and encouragement from my community college professors, I transferred to Amherst College in Massachusetts in just a few years. I was very lucky that Amherst has numerous resources for first-generation and transfer students.

However, I was far from home. It was my job to make financial and academic decisions largely on my own. When I see the confusion my students have about how to talk to their professors or how to make sense of their financial aid awards, I understand all too well. By providing guidance when they experience similar confusion, Moneythink is filling a huge gap in our students’ lives and guiding them on the path to success.

Working with Moneythink

Before becoming a part of this amazing team, I had worked for several years in different areas of education. Throughout my professional life, I’ve always been excited about supporting youth and improving education.

What drew me specifically to Moneythink is the opportunity to work in a small but powerful organization that is focused on well-developed, creative solutions to removing barriers to higher education.

I carry such a strong connection to our mission, and I love our approach. We work with students who already have the will to go to college, but who just need that extra help with designing the way.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no good reason why students should ever drop out of college due to a lack of access to sufficient information or support networks.

Elizabeth

Moneythink is addressing this issue by providing exactly the kind of timely, highly-focused support that students need when navigating their journeys to and through college.

Be a part of the solution by making a donation, referring a partner, or becoming a corporate contributor.

Designing Conversations that Lead to Action

A series of text messages.

At Moneythink, we empower under-resourced students by supporting financial decision-making through coaching and technology. Our coaches message students over text — giving rapid access to quality support. We have spent years working with students and we have learned about the art of designing conversations with them that lead to positive, empowered action on their college journey.

Why Designing Conversations is Important

These are the kinds of text messages we get daily.

Only 9% of low-income students receive their college degree within four to six years. The main barrier to a degree is money. Low-income students are left on their own to navigate complex financial aid systems and make some of the biggest financial decisions of their lives.

Because of warm-fuzzy texts like this (and the results of qualitative and quantitative data analysis), we are gaining confidence in our hypotheses about the best ways to give students more confidence, more financial security, and less stress. Over the past year of texting, we have honed in on a set of principles that guide the experience and voice of our coaching.

Our Guiding Principles

In this share-out, you will find just a few of some of our most powerful and, sometimes, non-obvious principles for designing conversations. You might find these particularly interesting if your team is designing…

  • For a chatbot, human-powered messaging service, or a hybrid,
  • A coaching service (especially in health or finances),
  • For under-resourced populations that face scarcity,
  • Interventions for behaviors that have low desirability (getting people to do something they don’t want to do).

Under-resourced students already experience scarcity of time, money, calories, sleep, and sometimes even shelter. Their cognitive bandwidth is spent mentally managing these resources.

We identify the most critical financial barriers on the pathway to college and do everything we can to minimize those barriers for the student.

The problem is not in cultivating an intention to be financially responsible, it is in the intention-action gap. Designing interactions that de-bias the student’s context (rather than focusing on persuading the student to push through the barriers) recognizes and respects the real scarcity that the student faces and meets them where they are at.

Don’t wait for a student to guide the interaction, share goals, or suggest deadlines.

Recommend to the student the goal they should be working on next and default them into a deadline.

Thinking about what to ask a coach or when to get something done requires a lot of cognitive load that can quickly exhaust an over-burdened student. By using defaults, we minimize the friction to setting goals.

Make it just as easy for a student to communicate wins.

Never ask a student to answer a question where their answer makes them reflect negatively on their self-identity.

Making responses like “trying to find time to do it” as equally valid as “completed it,” recognizes the real struggle of navigating and completing these complex financial processes. Just allocating time and attention is progress.

Nudge the student to complete a reasonable, small task and provide the support and information they need to complete the task.

Providing information alone (even if well-organized) is often intimidating and only empowers the students with the bandwidth resources to self-navigate the information.

Use behavioral science levers to instill a sense of urgency. For example:

  • Defaulting students into deadlines that are three to five days away as opposed to weeks away (limited attention)
  • Suggesting that recommended behaviors are a norm of their peers (social proof)
  • Making long-term negative consequences tangible in the immediate to trigger FOMO (loss aversion).
With preventative interventions, students are not facing painful consequences in the immediate and may not feel urgency to engage. Leaning on subtle behavioral levers spurs students to take the desired action early and leaves them feeling more confident about their financial health.

Designing Conversations: Principles

Good principles are ones that the team uses actively.

  • Principles feel the most helpful when they are specific and speak to how to handle trade-offs. Jared M. Spool wrote a great article on “Creating Great Design Principles.”
  • Leverage behavioral science — especially if you are designing for behavior change. Check out ideas42’s list of behavioral principles to get started.
  • Just start! Let your principles mature as you regularly use them and iterate. The list of principles we have now are non-obvious — they have come from tons of exposure hours texting and talking with our students.
  • Remember that the goal of developing principles is not to have a perfect, finished artifact.
  • The goal is to enable the team to have a common language for weighing design possibilities in a way that stays grounded in our user’s reality.
  • Good design principles enable healthy discourse and are owned and contributed to by everyone who has a hand in building the user experience.

Working on something similar? Reach out and tell us about it. We love to learn with others.

Learn more about Moneythink’s approach to design and reach out to say hello! Transformative progress requires leaders in technology, data, and design to work together. We work out of San Francisco & Oakland and we love making friends with other humans who believe in the power of design and are obsessed with building a more equitable future.

Employee Voice Series: Juan Cortes

Juan in a halloween costume.

By Juan Cortes

Growing up, my parents always told me that I had to go to college, but they never said how I was going to pay for it. By the time I reached my senior year of high school, my sister was already in college, so I was lucky to have her to guide me through the FAFSA process. But grants and federal aid could only cover so much; in order to avoid taking on any debt, I had to take the community college route instead.

Even though I did not have to take out loans, my community college’s remedial courses were always overfilled and hard to get into due to the limited spots available.

Juan

The limited space in classes prolonged my time in college, and I had to go through junior college for three and a half years, instead of the two years people expect you to do before you transfer to a four-year university. During this time, I worked as a busser and a waiter, saving my money for when I transferred to a four-year school. Since I didn’t know how to find scholarships, I paid my tuition and school costs out of my own pocket with the money I earned from working.

However, whenever my friends and I got together during school breaks, their incredible stories and experiences about college life made me feel like a disappointment who was left behind.

As they were working towards their future careers, I was cleaning dishes and taking remedial courses. These feelings of insecurity pushed me to work hard on transferring to my dream school that nobody thought I could get into: UC Berkeley.

The Next Step

When I transferred to Cal in the Spring of 2013, I felt so out of place. Everyone in the dorm was significantly younger than me, and I had to take out loans for the first time. While other students knew how to find grants and scholarships to fund their study-abroad programs and unpaid internships, I continued working in restaurants and focused on studying. I budgeted my earnings and saved as much as I could so I didn’t have to worry about dropping out.

My hard work paid off, and I got to walk in the Winter graduation of 2014: I was a college graduate!

Juan

However, due to one of my credits not transferring from junior college — a fact that my counselor failed to point out to me until three days before the Spring semester began — I had to come back for another semester I had never planned for. For just this one credit, I ended up having to take out the most debt I had ever had.

This left me crestfallen, but — like I have done my entire life — I persevered and pushed myself to work harder.

This experience made me realize that colleges and universities, despite providing numerous resources and support systems, do not effectively advertise to students the resources that are available. This is especially problematic when it comes to students who are first-generation and have no example in their life of someone who has gone through college and can explain how to navigate its bureaucracies.

Moneythink and Me

A few years later, when I found Moneythink, I saw how their coaching team reaches out to students who went through the same experiences that I had. 

Moneythink connects students to resources on their campuses, helps create financial plans so students can manage their finances in college, and provides a support system to check in on students who may be too afraid to ask for help for fear of being chastised for not knowing something they would have no experience of. Moneythink’s mission to help first-generation, low-income students obtain an education is why I decided to join their coaching team and dedicate myself to helping students achieve their dreams and make an equitable future for America through education.

An Open Letter to Platforms that Use Emojis

To those who provision emojis,

Thank you for the work you are doing. You have provided many people with a fun and convenient way to express themselves in digital conversation. With so many users flocking to your platform at an ever-increasing rate, you’ve made it easy for individuals and brands to convey ideas to their family and friends, clients and colleagues.

To provide such a simple yet powerful means for people to express themselves is quite a privilege.

And because you provide for so many people — a delightfully heterogeneous medley of humankind — you have taken on a responsibility to furnish emojis representative of all the identities and experiences of such a gloriously vast array of humanity.

Are you doing enough with using emojis responsibly?

Here’s our assessment: You’re pretty well-established at this point, at least in terms of brand recognition and daily active users. Your business is doing quite well, fending off competitors while maintaining a solid foothold in your realm of the marketplace. And thus, with such a magnitude of power and influence, you have this tremendous opportunity to improve the inclusivity of your emoji selection.

In your current emoji selection, there is a patent lack of representation for so many folks: for the people of color whose hair colors and skin tones are not yellow-white, for those who cannot conform to the gender binaries of cis-male and cis-female, for those whose partners and families are not mono-ethnicities or do not look like hetero-norms.

For this exquisite assortment of users, your current emoji selection can feel quite exclusionary.

And so you have before you this magnificent opportunity to improve it.

Now, it’s possible that you don’t yet have a design team dedicated to the care-taking of your emojis.

Let’s talk about that.

When it comes to the question of whether to outsource emoji creation or to manage your emojis in-house, you of course must take business concerns into account. And although your initial thought might be “Emojis are not our business,” let’s challenge that reaction by expanding on a conviction you hold most dear: is it not your business to change the world?

As a corporation, is it not your mission — your business — to change the world? As an individual, is it not your ambition — your business — to change the world?

So if your business is indeed to change the world, then begin here: wield your influence in the realm of emojis. Change the world by changing the emoji selection that you provision.

You have an enormous power to impact the lives of so many people in such profound ways, as this impact is compounded and magnified by your platform’s daily use. So it would be revolutionary for you to manage your own emoji offerings, to make small, deliberate changes to your emoji selection, and to see that change resonate, like ripples of influence ever-expanding across our globalized world.

So here is our invitation to you, the people who provision emojis.

Take responsibility for the emoji selection that you provision: acknowledge your power and seek to make your selection more inclusive.

Seize this opportunity to change the world. Make decisions and prioritize work that you can be proud of. Embrace critique and leverage it to become better. Set aside perfection in favor of effective, intentional action.

Move with courage, even if — and especially when — you’re the first to move in that direction.

Let’s take radical ownership of our power, and co-create the world in which we want to live.

Onward!

The Moneythink Team

Today’s DACA Decision is Unconscionable

As college-planning and financial experts, we at Moneythink have worked with students from all backgrounds and of all citizenships statuses. We believe that children who grow up in America, who are educated in America, are fully and irrevocably Americans. A student’s immigration status or lack thereof should in no way affect their admission into institutions of higher education or their access to the resources needed to achieve college success.

Moneythink’s Public Statement

As college-planning and financial experts, we at Moneythink have worked with students from all backgrounds and of all citizenships statuses. We believe that children who grow up in America, who are educated in America, are fully and irrevocably Americans. A student’s immigration status or lack thereof should in no way affect their admission into institutions of higher education or their access to the resources needed to achieve college success.

We urge every member of Congress who values the future of American children, who values hard work and education, to act immediately in bipartisan support of preserving DACA (the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program) and to pass legislation providing a pathway for these children to secure citizenship.

Rescinding DACA does not make America safe — instead, it punishes American children who were born somewhere else, children who dare to aspire to the dreams of education and prosperity that we have raised them to believe in.

Defending DACA, moreover, rewards the hard work of young Americans who are pursuing an education to become self-sufficient, who are persisting in spite of their circumstances in the only country they know as home.

We encourage all American institutions of higher education to join the University of California in providing their undocumented students with services such as:

  • Continuing to allow California residents who are Dreamers to pay in-state tuition;
  • Maintaining the DREAM loan program for financial aid;
  • Offering legal services to our undocumented students;
  • Supporting campus-based student service centers; and
  • Directing campus police not to contact, detain, question or arrest individuals based on suspected undocumented status, or to enter agreements to undertake joint efforts to make arrests for federal immigration law violations.

We at Moneythink will continue to provide unwavering support to all our American students, who are learning, working, and serving in their communities today, who will ultimately make great contributions to the prosperity and advancement of their country.

This article originally was published on September 7th, 2017 on Moneythink’s previous blog site. Read more here.