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   Design    Why finance (as a career path in UX)

Why finance (as a career path in UX)

Many designers asked me about my experience working in Finance, thought it might worth sharing with a broader audience.

The Myth

When I was working in ad agencies, people warned me about the two behemoth industries to work as a designer: Finance & Pharmaceutical. Yet, I worked on both, and I choose to stay doing UX for Finance for more than 7 years. You might ask, what is Roger thinking?

To give a better explanation, it’d probably make sense to first explore why designers dread these two industries. I asked around to see why they dread them so much, and I soon learned why. They seem to think that: 1) both of them are highly regulated, which implies that there are potentially many undesired rules to follow; 2) the content in general is very hard to comprehend, therefore it takes a lot of effort just to wrap your head around it; 3) the products are usually not so as excited; 4) the product or services could be very specific to certain types users, therefore it’s hard to relate to.

These opinions make sense to me. In short, it’s hard. It takes quite an amount of effort and it might not yield anything that you can easily explain to your friends and family. It takes huge amount of dedication just to learn about the product, the industry, the workflow, before you can contribute any meaningful work. You somehow need to learn the language, jargon, being able to talk to the users while they are either unreachable, or unwilling/incapable to cooperate (I’ll explain below). Often time, the complexity of the job also scares away people.

Greater Ability

So why would any designer want to work in finance? To me, it’s simple: harder challenges yield better reward. If you’ve master a 300 piece puzzle, it might make sense that you’d want to challenge yourself to harder task. For me, designing in finance is the case where I’m finding more and more joy every time I take on a new and harder challenge. The great complexity in institutional finance could be overwhelming for new joiner (see figure below), but that’s also the interesting challenge that gain you as a valuable asset as your competitive edge.

(Image of FIX protocol)

Greater Responsibility

The significance of each individual touch points that potentially gives you the power help users earn or lose millions of dollars, literally. For example, in foreign exchange trading field, major players often trade million to billion dollars in a single trade, in order to profit from a small percentage of spread (price difference). That being said, a mistake like accidentally clicking on something unwanted, a billion dollar just went gone from the user’s bank account. A UX designer therefore can help users prevent from that kind of mistakes by carefully crafting the workflow and UI design.

Who Is a Good Fit

Obviously, it’s not for anyone. I know some talented designers who hate reading documentation. I know designers who are only interested in designing products and services that they can use. I know some great visual designers that can create beautiful screens, but get confused when the workflow starts to branch out to more than five paths. And not to my surprise, they are not interested in doing design for finance. To me, it’s a meaningfully complex industry for certain types of people, but not all of us.

Some argued it’s related to the theory of different types of brain development. Some of us have our right half of the brain more developed for creative or visual tasks, and some of us have our left half of the brain more developed which makes us more analytical for solving complexity. If we were to apply to this theory to this phenomena, being a designer in finance requires almost equal weight of brain activities on both sides.



Famous scientist Nikola Tesla once said: “…Knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him (Thomas Edison, his mentor and his rival) 90 percent of the labor.” This is a very good tip for doing design in finance. Spending some time to understand the product and business logic, knowing what users care about (sometimes it’s speed, sometime it’s large amount of data) in general helps. The more time I invested in upfront learning, the better the result I produced and more trust I gained from clients and stakeholders. It’s a tough job, and that’s what makes it fun.


Photo Credit to Matthew Guay