Product Design Retainers & Long-Term Success

How a UX retainer positioned a major financial institution for future success.

"I don't have enough UX hands to make the progress needed to meet my goals."

There are times when bringing in a partner to support a single project doesn't make sense at a high level. After all, there is so much to do. Striking one thing from the never-ending to-do list feels great, but what was sacrificed long-term? If completed in a silo, does it still tie into the bigger picture seamlessly? Was it done without a solid foundation in place, leading to inconsistencies and a fractured experience once scaled?

We've found product design retainers often bring the most value long-term for organizations. You don’t have to have it all figured out; you can work alongside a partner to define priority initiatives that can be taken off your plate and tackled strategically, efficiently, and expertly.

At ZoCo, we don't simply provide staff augmentation–we become strategic partners working right alongside your product team. It's our favorite way to work and we've found it to be the most effective. When a major financial institution in Columbus, Ohio approached us seeking a Product Support Retainer, we knew our collaboration would extend far beyond design alone.

Combining our industry expertise in research, UX architecture, visual design, and more, we set out to offer a comprehensive series of recommendations to enhance their digital products and set the entire organization up for success.

Here’s what went down:

Discovery

Our partnership began with an exciting discovery phase. We dove headfirst into understanding everything about their services, offerings, company operations, and the role of their product team within the organization. It was a chance to identify their most significant challenges and lay the groundwork for a successful partnership.

Today, most of our workshops are run virtually (though, if we’re lucky, we’ll get to host you in our studio), where we make use of a fantastic whiteboard tool called Miro. This nifty platform allows us to engage in vibrant discussions with various cross-functional stakeholders, ensuring we capture valuable insights from all corners.

Is the discovery process a must-have to get started? It's not always mandatory, but believe it or not, it can work wonders for accelerating the entire project. With the knowledge we gain during discovery, we're able to run as an independent team alongside you and it gives us enough insight to work autonomously, taking a lot off your team's shoulders.

two people collaborating in front of a computer

Though we came into this work as an extra set of hands, our discovery process uncovered multiple opportunities to simplify our client's team's workflows and make their lives better. Here are some of the big ones:

  • The need for a design system that maintains UX consistency across deliverables, products, and internal/external teams.
  • Support in making fast, informed decisions in critical product areas.
  • A method to incorporate new product categories into their portfolio that's scalable beyond our work together.

By uncovering these opportunities, we laid the foundation for a strategic partnership that goes beyond design execution, enabling us to drive impactful results together.

Design System Development 

While our discovery revealed some key opportunities, we also recognized the needs our client initially sought us out for. So, while working on the original product needs, we also collaborated with our client on a plan to address the new opportunities, including the implementation of a design system.

The lack of consistency across our client's products, compounded by the work done by various external partners and contractors, presented a significant challenge. Without one consistent library to pull from, design decisions were being made in silos. Each UX team across the organization developed its own semi-unique flavor and representation of UX patterns and styles. Recognizing the importance of efficiency, confident decision-making, and brand continuity, we knew that establishing a cohesive design system that could act as the single source of truth was the key.

We kicked off by conducting a thorough audit of their products and then began to establish base components and styles–covering essential elements such as color, typography, buttons, inputs, and drop-downs. This allowed us to create guidelines on how to effectively use these assets together.

Next, we worked with our client to define a singular system that encouraged contributions and edits from their design team while maintaining proper documentation for any changes made.

The result was a new, single source of truth for all their future designs.

What we delivered:

  • Design system development & updates
  • Development annotations – Detailed annotations are so crucial because they serve as guidelines for implementation, bridging the gap between design and development.

Design System Dev. Example

UX Strategy Support

With the new design system strategy underway, we were able to collaborate with the client on an important and ambitious revamp initiative. This initiative involved defining, designing, and building new features within their existing products with the goal of creating new, improved user experiences.

We began with a comprehensive competitive analysis to better understand the landscape surrounding specific feature sets. This allowed us to identify key opportunities for improvement and create actionable recommendations.

With a holistic strategy taking shape and priorities defined, we began working through action items. We created priority guides (a process where we establish content hierarchy within an experience), defined the UX architecture, crafted intuitive designs, and developed interactive prototypes. When teams start getting into the intricacies of a project like this, it can be easy to lose sight of the end users. We make sure to keep user-centric thinking at the forefront of all that we do, never losing sight of the user's needs and our client's needs.

While we were heads-down on all these support items, we continued to build out the new design system with additional UX patterns and visual language decisions, ensuring a consistent and rich design system for all of their products moving forward.

Since we were working with our client through an ongoing retainer model, we were able to collaborate with them in real time and adapt as needs changed and opportunities presented themselves. This is how we were able to effectively find, address, and execute key improvements to help position our client for long-term success.

Website Design & Support

Another area of focus for our team was helping our client better utilize their content to inform, educate, and engage their customers. This called for a new section on their website that was more intuitive, better connected to their customers, and positioned them as thought leaders within their industry.

We helped define the UX architecture for this new section, ensuring users could seamlessly navigate the content and find the information they needed effortlessly. The visuals for this new section were thoughtfully designed to align with the newly established design system and the overall brand identity of the company. The result was a visually consistent and cohesive experience that resonated with users.

But that's not all. In addition to our work on the main website, our client also wanted to integrate a new product into their current site architecture. To make this integration seamless, we first conducted a comprehensive site audit, gaining a deep understanding of customer needs and potential roadblocks. We then used these insights to provide an improved information architecture and a visual redesign that united the two experiences, improving user flows and unifying the brand presence.

Our website design and support helped our client elevate their online presence, providing customers with enriched experiences and valuable content.

“Now we’re set up for long-term success!”

With a Product Support Retainer, you don’t have to have it all figured out; part of our goals together will be to define priority initiatives we can take off your plate and tackle strategically, efficiently, and expertly. If you need a partner to seamlessly fit alongside your product team to make things happen, reach out to us, and let’s talk about your challenges.

At ZoCo, we pride ourselves on being more than just an extra set of hands–we're your team's go-to strategic partner for decision-making and outcomes. Sure, having someone assist with short-term initiatives is great, but our focus is on making significant contributions that lead to long-term success and growth. We'll be right there with you, working side by side, collaborating, and making the right decisions together.

Our approach ensures that our work together is both impactful and scalable. We take your company's unique needs into account, making thoughtful recommendations that set you up for ongoing success.

Need a partner who fits seamlessly alongside your product team and helps drive innovation and creates magic? Reach out to us, and let's have a chat about your challenges. We're all ears and ready to roll up our sleeves to help you crush your goals.

What's next?

  • Have a project you’re working on and need some support? Reach out to us.
  • Do you just want to chat about product, UX, research, process, and methodologies? We’re down for that too. Let's chat.
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