Archetypes and user-centric journeys

Pete Matthews of frog in London discusses why user archetypes were essential in the enhancement of EquatePlus
Maze illustration

Archetypes and user-centric journeys

Words: Pete Matthews, frog
Illustrations: Makers Company

When it comes to any online platform, it is essential to have an open dialogue with the end user; drawing from actual human experiences can lead to a great User Experience (UX). Last year, Equatex embarked on a journey to enhance the UX of EquatePlus, its platform for equity-based compensation plans. Equatex collaborated with world-leading design and strategy partner, frog, to transform the employee experience of share plan participation. frog led the concept and design development phases of the project and here, Pete Matthews, Creative Director of frog in London, discusses why user archetypes are critical to the design process and what the characters can reveal about employees and their compensation plans.

User archetypes add colour and give focus to the process of design, helping to inform and inspire it. They can be regarded as amalgamated abstractions of common user characteristics. The end user of an online platform can often seem intangible but user archetypes give projects a ‘real’ dimension, and the more you can add verbatim experience and context, the better the end result will be. At frog, we bring our interpretation of user-centricity to the platforms we design. We strive to create experiences that make sense, not only for clients and their business objectives but also for end users, whether they are employees or client customer stakeholders. When designing a platform, it’s vital to bring everybody along on the journey and engage with them.

For Equatex, we needed to understand the various guises of those employees using the platform and the true perception they had of their plans; we wanted to make this experience worthwhile for them so they could ultimately see the value in their employment benefits. In this case, it wasn’t enough to simply pinpoint people by their role in an organisation; we needed to look at the platform’s design in terms of employees’ requirements. It became apparent that whether you are a high-flying executive with many years of experience or an entry-level employee, you have common needs.

Through a series of focus groups, engagement sessions and interviews, we collaborated with customers and employees to gain insight into their requirements, challenges and pain points. After some hands-on activities and workshops, we refined archetypes. Three polarised archetypes emerged that encapsulated primary needs. There was a core group of employees who lacked general understanding of share plans, equity and the world of finance. The second group was savvier; they appreciated the notion of compensation and were keen to achieve the maximum earning potential from their plans. The final group understood their plans but needed more transparency and guidance.

Building characters

Archetypes were built upon each of three tenets: learn, earn and guide. We embellished characters around these, which then also allowed for different levels of experience, job titles and types of compensation to be incorporated. The first character, Lynn, is focused on learning; she is a less financially savvy user on a broad-based plan. The second character, Ellie, is focused on her earnings; she is astute and actively trades across various plans. Lastly, Greg requires guidance; he is an executive leader with multiple, overwhelming performance-related plans.

Archetypes are useful in ensuring that you have a broad front to design towards. For Ellie, the design centres around earning and how she can trade and understand the latest share prices; for Greg, it is about transparency; and for Lynn, she is experiencing Equatex for the first time. The archetypes enabled us to sketch key features, map user flows and identify the most pressing needs for the employees using the platform. By creating these characters, we foreground a sense of simplicity. When you bring the three strands together and layer them, you have a rich, total experience that satisfies the earner as well as those requiring guidance and education. We have created characters that employees can identify with and going forward, we can use the archetypes as evidence of whether the end solution is satisfying end users. What would Lynn do in this situation? Or is this solution helping Ellie? Rather than constructing overly complex characters, you need to give people a hook, something they can latch onto. It’s important to keep things simple, relevant and pragmatic. It would be easy to create a cast of thousands and address everything but nothing at the same time.

The broad issues of learnability, onboarding, guidance, transparency and familiarisation are common user needs whatever the industry. Many pain points are diagnostic of the domain, such as ambiguity, too much text and unclear information. Software development and service design is an on-going process. You need to satisfy the big picture in the first instance and then tweak, adjust and move forward as new requirements and opportunities arise. It is an iterative process, meaning you must have an open channel with end users, so you can incrementally change the design along the way and capture insights about people’s evolving behaviour. It is always refreshing to bring that voice into the decision-making process.


Worker at desk

Name: Lynn
Occupation: Bookkeeper
Device: Desktop
Main challenge by employer:
Engage and incentivise
Lynn is a low-risk person, who only owns stock in her company. She is passive and does not fully understand the potential value of her share plan benefits. She regards them as long-term savings.
Pain points: Lacks financial knowledge. Intimidated by complexity and jargon. Confused by passwords and access.
Goals and needs: Reward for being a loyal employee. Reassurance, trust, clarity and simplicity. Hand-holding.


Name: Greg
Occupation: Director of Sales
Device: Laptop
Main challenge by employer:
Focus and efficiency
Greg is a company leader. He wants to focus on his job without distraction. He has a short attention span and finds technical details tedious and time wasting. He relies on others to sort it out for him.
Pain points: Unclear critical to-dos and deadlines. Confusion sorting multiple plans. Transparency of performance. Frustrated by usability and helpdesk.

Goals and needs: To appear confident and competent. Clear instructions and self-sufficiency. Avoid missed opportunities.

Greg illustration


Ellie illustration

Name: Ellie
Occupation: IT Technician
Device: Tablet and smartphone
Main challenge by employer:
Ellie is opportunistic. She wants to maximise her own profit and wealth – even if that means job-hopping. She is tech driven and looks for the most functional tools on the market. She actively manages her portfolio.
Pain points: Dispersed information. Ambiguous transactions. Deciphering too much text.
Goals and needs: Current and future net worth. Accurate information and confirmation. Quick check-ins, fluid actions

About the author

Pete Matthews is Creative Director at frog in London. Frog is a global design and strategy firm, which transforms businesses at scale by creating systems of brand, product and service that deliver a distinctly better experience. Pete heads strategic and tactical innovation programmes that satisfy user needs and deliver business value. He has over 20 years of hands-on experience, focusing on insight generation and creating user experiences for digitally convergent products and services. He loves the mix of medium and message, form and function, and left- and right- brain thinking. Pete has partnered with diverse clients that represent household names in the financial services, consumer electronics, telecom, travel and retail sectors. These include innovation, e-commerce and UX design programs for brands such as Reed Elsevier, eBay, IKEA, Vodafone and Thomas Cook.