Capital One’s Design Team

Capital One Financial Corporation is an American bank holding company which specializes in credit cards, auto loans, banking, and saving products. It is headquartered at McLean, Virginia. Chris invited me to spend a few hours at their New York office on 19th street. The New York office space is dedicated to business, design and technical teams in commercial banking.

Design Team Workspace (Capital One)


My teacher, Sandra Davilla, connected me to Chris Castaneda who is the Principal UX Product Designer at Capital One. I met Chris in the lobby and he offered me to join an ongoing design meeting. This meeting was about the upcoming sprint for Capital One’s mobile application. It was conducted by the design lead. The objective was to discuss completed user stories and to analyze new authentication, logging, and user onboarding features. There were eight team members in total from design and mobile development teams. All the designs for the sprint were displayed on a screen in the meeting room. They thoroughly discussed a feature about authenticating a transaction on the mobile. Eventually, they decided to move the feature to the upcoming sprints. New stories were created for payment challenges and API issues. It was good to see people from diverse backgrounds, reaching a consensus after an intense discussion. The meeting room was arranged nicely. I was especially inspired by the productive discussion the whole team had and the way they were working together to improve the user experience. The meeting lasted for an hour.

Chris’s Work Station (Capital One)


After that, I followed Chris to his workstation. We started our discussion with research methodologies and the design process Capital One is following to improve their products. Chris is on the design team that works for commercial banking. He explained that in commercial banking, clients are large company owners and the design team does not have direct access to them. To overcome this issue, Capital One has internal research partners. They help the company in recruiting proxy clients. Proxy clients are people who have a similar profile to the actual clients of Capital One. The similarity can be based on the kind of business the proxy client owns. Once a proxy client is recruited, the design team can invite them for an interview. On the choice between quantitative and qualitative research, Chris replied that the company prefers to use qualitative research methods due to the nature of their clients. He explained that in commercial banking, the client base is narrow. Recruiting ten proxy clients or inviting important clients to the office can be more effective than quantitative research methods like a survey. According to Chris, the most significant challenge as a designer in commercial banking is to understand the intricacies of financial complications. When I asked about further about design methodologies, Chris replied that the world of user experience and human-computer interaction is advancing rapidly so it is hard to stick to one particular approach. He further added that businesses are realizing the importance of user satisfaction and are ready to invest in it, which gives designers a great opportunity to research and expand their horizons. While we were having this conversation, he got a reminder of a meeting. Before heading towards the meeting, he introduced me to Samantha Li, Design Manager at Capital One.


Samantha offered me a tour of the office space. We started with the design team’s space. She showed me the office of the head of the design department. She told me that he is hard to find in his office because he prefers sitting among the designers so that everyone has direct access to him.  The best thing about his office was a board where the goals for the design team were posted. During this tour, I got the chance to meet a lot of people but one notable conversation I had was with the lead designer at the incubator, Captial One Labs. She is part of a team of six including four developers and one researcher. The team focuses on innovative ideas which are not a part of their products. She did not describe the type of experiments they do but she was very excited about her work. She said that she likes her job because it lets her go beyond limits. In my opinion, the incubator was a great idea. I think companies can have such incubators to help employees explore and work on their innovative ideas. Another notable thing was Coders Program. It was a summer program where kids from different areas in NYC come to Capital One and learn to code from their tech team.

Kitchen Area


After the tour, we chatted in the lounge area. Samantha has been working in the industry as a designer for ten years now. We started the discussion with inclusive designs.  She said she deeply cares about inclusive design and that she was very proud of herself because, during a design release, she made sure that mockups and images for the products were inclusive. She explained that some of the mockups had hands, she transformed those male Caucasian hands into brown hands with nail polish. She acknowledges the fact that mockups or design sprints will only be shared among the team but she believes that by adding these tiny details we can at least try to include everyone in the process. In her opinion, there is still a long way to go in terms of dealing with biases in design.

Samantha has been working in the tech industry for ten years now and I got interested in her experience as a woman in the male-dominated industry. I asked her about how we can draw more women into tech, and what her experience has been. She was excited about the topic and gave me an elaborate answer. Seeing women at higher executive levels in Capital One makes her very happy and she is enjoying working as a design manager. She told me that Capital One has a good male to female ratio but it is still not where it should be. According to her, initiatives like introducing high school girls to coding can bring a positive change. She further appreciated the collaboration at the company, where different teams meet once a month to share their problems. She invited me to design meetups that she arranges every other month for designers.

I was only hoping to meet Chris, but fortunately, I got the chance to talk to Samantha too. Visiting the office and talking to designers was a great learning experience for me.

Design better products by building trust

Computers are an essential part of our lives and are now being treated as social actors in a way similar to how we perceive other humans. The feeling of trust is not limited to humans anymore. It can be said that the core of human-computer interaction is the feeling of trust. The primary question here is how knowledge of human behavior can help us design better products.

Importance of trust in human lives

Erik Erikson’s describes trust as the initial psychosocial crisis in his stages of psychosocial development. As infants, we are required to learn who to trust around us.  Later on, in our lives, trust becomes a very important element in our decisions. It is a fundamental part of all human relationships, including friendships, romantic partnerships, family life, business operations, politics, financial decision, and medical practices.

Dimensions of Trust

Humans commonly interpret the behavior of others based on two underlying universal dimensions of social cognition, that is, warmth and competence. 

Warmth is associated with perceived trustworthiness, friendliness, empathy, and kindness. It reflects perceptions of behavioral intentions. In human-computer interaction, warmth can be defined as a feeling of confidence in a product, that it will help users achieve the desired goal without deceiving them. Warmth can be a feeling that the product has your best interest at heart.

Warmth is tightly aligned with the overall user experience. It is affected by overall design quality and visual consistency. Users believe in good intentions of the product when all the information is provided before making any decisions. This includes details such as stating any additional fees or charges that may accompany a service, presenting links to the return policy and guarantees, or revealing shipping charges before asking for billing information. Making this important information easy to access on the website adds to a feeling of transparency and shows that you understand your users.

Competence is related to perceived intelligence, power, efficacy, and skill. It reflects the perception of behavioral abilities. For users, competence is achieved when the product has the ability to complete the task accurately and efficiently.

Competence is about the usability of products. The understanding of Don Norman’s principles and Nielsen’s ten heuristics can help us design products which can be trusted. Particularly Nielsen’s heuristics of ‘User freedom and control'( An ability to do and redo) and ‘Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors’ can help designer build trust among their users. A product can be seen as trustworthy if it is empowering the user, helping them in getting their tasks done by preventing errors.

Every decision users make by using our product should enable them to move forward towards their goals. When a user cannot determine what actions produce the desired result, a gulf of execution is created that prevents them from accomplishing their goal. How much work a person must do to determine if their actions have had the desired result is termed the Gulf of evaluation. In order to empower our users, designers should work to narrow these gulfs.

Competence & Levels of Trust

In our personal relationships, sometimes being honest is more important than what a person can do for us. It is different in case of Human-Computer Interaction. (Figure 1.2) Competence becomes very important at the initial stage of building trust. Establishing trust, whether with a stranger or with a website, is gradual. Human-Computer relationship progress through the five levels of commitment, starting from the bottom, where each higher level requires all lower levels to be satisfied. I have modified Katie Sherwin’s trust pyramid to accommodate more possibilities during the interaction.

According to my research, it is safe to say the user completely trust our product if they recommend it to their friends. If users are trusting you their personal information, they are more likely to trust you with their sensitive and financial information. I combined both ‘trust with personal information’ and ‘trust with sensitive information’ at one level. And added a top level of ‘ Recommend to friends.’

Figure 1.2 – Importance of competence at early stages of trust

On the first two levels of interaction, competence is the key to start a trustworthy relationship. If users are able to achieve the goal they are looking for, the initial level of trust is achieved. The second level of trust is established when the product provides a better solution than other products. On a higher level of trust, warmth plays an important role. If users believe that the product is transparent and has the best intentions at heart, they are more likely to trust you with sensitive information. Overall good user experience will help the user continue the connection. The highest level of trust is achieved when users start recommending your products to their friends.



Understanding of human behavior can help us design better products. The confidence that the product provides the best solution to the goal the users want to achieve and the feeling that the product has the best intention to serve the users are the basis of a trustworthy relationship.


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Design Critique : Medium for Writers | Website


Medium is an online publishing platform and regularly regarded as a blog host, where everyone can publish their stories from amateur writers to the professional experts. I have been a regular reader of medium and recently started to write on medium. I realized that writers can have a different experience than readers.

For this design critique, I will be focusing on the user, who is going to write for the first time on Medium. Before creating a new account on Medium, I draw my own conceptual model of the process see if the flow goes according to the expectations and it did.  Fig 1.1 is the high-level diagram of the steps that new users follow.

Fig. 1.1


I have divided the experience into two phases:

  • Registration & Onboarding
  • Publishing a story

Registration & Onboarding

Fig 1.2


On the home page, four options are available on the top left corner of the website with good discoverability: Search, Become a member, Sign in and Get started. ‘Sign’ in and ‘Get Started’ has the same green color which can help user’s subconscious to determine that both actions are grouped. It is a good use of color to signify a connection. For the first time users, ‘Get started’ has good discoverability but it lacks right mapping and users can confuse it with ‘Become a member’. Most websites/applications use “Get started ” for a tutorial or guide [Fig 1.3 ] Using their knowledge in the head, users can assume it to be a tutorial. This confusion can get serious when the user doesn’t know how Medium’s membership module works.

Fig 1.3


Fig 1.4


If the user clicks on ‘Become a member’ instead of ‘Get Started’, the only way to register there is by paying 5$. It can make the user leave the registration goal at “Execute an action” stage. If users confuse the two actions, there is no proper feedback to get them back to where they want to be. [fig 1.5]

Fig 1.5


This experience can be improved by using proper signifiers, right mapping, feedbacks and probably by adding some constraints. Users expect registration from any website/app which requires a login. Instead of having three actions, there can be only two, 1- Sign in and 2- Sign up, constraining the user just having two options. When the user clicks on signup, giving feedback about what options are available for the user will improve the understandability. [Fig 1.6]


Fig 1.6


The user experience from signing up, onboarding to the home page is effortless and guided by the useful signifiers and constraints. Signup screen uses icons of Facebook, and Google to help the user quickly identify the actions however closing the window lack discoverability. A minimalistic welcome message with a button “Dive in”, helps the user in determining their next action. 

Medium tailors users’ feeds according to their interest. There is a constraint of adding at least three interests. A signifier on the top of the screen makes this experience seamless. 

Fig 1.7


Publishing a Story

For this section, I will be referring to the screen where the user can write stories as “the editor” [Fig 1.8]. The editor is a very important part of a writer’s experience on the website. 

Fig 1.8

Fig 1.9


The editor is a significant part of the design. It is not using the top bar with actions which are commonly available in applications like google docs. Without putting pressure on the user’s memory to remember the location of tools, ‘Add button’ follows the cursor. By providing five essential elements needed for the blogs, the design is helping users to focus on the goal of writing a story. Excellent signifiers with correct mapping are used to communicate the elements.

The design follows the same pattern of providing limited options on the fonts. There is one font available with an ability to bold or italic the letters. [Fig 1.10]

Fig 1.10


Overall the editor is a good example of using constraints and signifiers to take decisions on the behalf of users and letting them focus on the actual goal. 

WordPress is a rich tool for bloggers. It gives a lot of control and configuration options to them. On the other hand, Medium provides minimal control, mostly limited to editing tools, and hence puts less pressure on the conscious cognition of the user. This makes the platform easy to understand. I believe this is the main reason why Medium is so popular among writers.