AIGA, the design industry’s oldest and largest professional membership association, recently honored Bloomberg with its 2017 Corporate Leadership Award. This award was established to recognize a perceptive and forward-thinking organization that has been instrumental in the advancement of design by applying the highest standards, as a matter of policy, as well as its role in exemplifying the highest design standards within its respective industry. In announcing this honor, AIGA cited Bloomberg’s history of design innovation and advancement of design on multiple fronts:
Bloomberg L.P. advances design on multiple fronts through its industry leading products and unique company culture. Starting with the groundbreaking design of the original flagship product, the Bloomberg Terminal, the design of media products such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg.com, and its innovative work spaces and sophisticated branding programs, design is integral to how the company operates and provides value to customers.
In conjunction with this milestone recognizing our commitment to great design across all aspects of our company, we discussed the importance of our design ethos with three experts who are heavily involved in the design of our core Financial Products: Fahd Arshad, head of User Experience (UX) design for financial products, Ali Jeffery, Visual Design Lead for the Bloomberg Professional service, and Mike Mallon, Engineering Manager in Bloomberg’s application toolkits group.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe Bloomberg’s design philosophy?
ALI JEFFERY: Bloomberg’s design philosophy is to lead, not to follow. We definitely have a very strong opinion and express it in all of the facets of design across Bloomberg.
FAHD ARSHAD: Our design ethos is to make sure we are being useful to our customers. Every time we sit down and design something, we start with questions like, “How is this going to help our customers do their jobs?” “Is it going to make them more efficient?” Then, everything else comes from that. It’s a classic case of function over form. And that starts all of our design conversations.
When we express a piece of information, it is going to be in your face. We utilize high contrast colors to enable our customers to pick out information from a lot of noise. I would probably argue that this is the hallmark of our design, especially when it comes to the visual aspect of it.
MIKE MALLON: We’re aiming for efficiency, trying to make everything fast for the users, but also make it fast and easy to learn new things. Both of those pieces are important. We need to support both our power users and people who are just getting started and aren’t familiar with things yet.
Does Bloomberg have a design hallmark or style?
ALI: Definitely, especially with our software. Our black and amber color scheme is our strongest hallmark. You can see it across the trading floor. You know which application is Bloomberg from very far away.
Amber is our base font color. A lot of systems you see today will use much more neutral tones. But the amber and black has really become who we are. And it’s something we protect as part of our brand.
Our keyboard’s yellow keys are also a part of our design presence and our recognizability across a trading floor. They became a unique feature for Bloomberg and something that we chose to highlight and see as part of our identity.
FAHD: The color scheme just became iconic. You’d walk onto the floor and you’d see a row of amber and black screens and you knew you were in a Bloomberg shop. It’s interesting how we’ve seen that evolve and some of our competitors have started picking it up. It became sort of the hallmark of being a financial superpower that you had a dark background. But we stayed with it, because that is our hallmark. That is our brand. And our customers love it.
How does design apply to your area of focus?
ALI: I think one of the things I’m the most proud of working on is the framework of our system. We are creating the building blocks for the rest of the company to design their software. We’re working on making the underlying toolkit that the applications rely on more user-friendly.
MIKE: My role is to implement the designs that the UX team comes up within our applications. A big piece of that is figuring out how we can be reactive to new designs. One of the most interesting things we do is bring users into our User Experience Lab and try new things out with them and then react to their feedback. Then, the thing that we actually release will be something that is really useful to actual clients who have tested it out.
FAHD: That extreme focus on customer needs is what drives our design language or design process. For that matter, we start each conversation with our business managers, for example, who are often subject matter experts. So each conversation about a design problem starts with, “What is it that we’re trying to solve?”
How is Bloomberg design different from how some other companies might view or articulate design?
FAHD: At Bloomberg, we don’t spend a lot of time looking at what other people do. We know what our goal is. We have customers that we need to satisfy. The one big difference I hear from other people is how much we cultivate our relationship with our clients and how willing our clients are to come in and help us improve our products. It’s non-trivial for a portfolio manager or trader who has different time commitments to give us an hour-and-a-half or two hours of their day and to come to our office and sit in the lab. We’re lucky that, as an organization, we have cultivated that amount of loyalty among our customers and that sense of shared mission.
MIKE: With our focus on efficiency, it’s not just what looks pretty on the screen, which is what a lot of companies use to define good design. That is, they open it up and ask “Is it aesthetically pleasing?” or “Is it pretty?”
Our whole philosophy is about showing all the functionality to the user – that is, making it very accessible, very easy for them to use. This may sometimes lead to screens that look complicated at first glance, and someone might say, “Wow, there’s a lot here.” But what we’re actually doing is putting all of that at the user’s fingertips right away.
How do Bloomberg’s customers influence design?
MIKE: Well, they’re part of the process. We try new things on a bunch of employees first, but then we always bring customers in to try it out before we actually build something and turn it into a product. This way, we actually know that what we’re building is valuable to them.
FAHD: We take whatever our hypothesis is, we talk to the subject matter experts and we express our findings as early designs. But we try and validate them with our customers, because our end goal is being purposeful in our designs and providing value to our customers.
A big part of the design process is all working towards a single understanding – talking to our customers, understanding their needs and then designing to them. Since our sales force is constantly in touch with them, we get a lot of feedback. This has caused us to really evolve our product. We have an underlying technology infrastructure that allows us to push new software out to our clients very quickly, so we’re able to react to any of their needs. It’s actually really beneficial for our clients.
Bloomberg was founded on bringing transparency to financial markets, how is that principle reflected in Bloomberg’s design?
ALI: We really never design for design’s sake. It’s always meant to address our customer’s needs. We’re trying to create a clear hierarchy. We’re trying to make sure that they can find and parse information as quickly as possible.
MIKE: I think transparency is very important in how we do design. One way we show transparency is by showing clients ahead of time what it is we’re going to build.
Another way that we’re very transparent is we try to release our designs across the whole Terminal. So, all customers get access to the same designs. They all get access to the same types of things. And we’re very transparent in that we’re releasing these different features to all our clients at the same time. Everyone gets the same benefit. And we keep them in the loop on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
FAHD: Today, there is such a wealth of data that people are drowning in it. The important part is not having access to data, necessarily, but paying attention to the right amount of data or the right kind of data. And that’s what I personally see as the definition of transparency today: surfacing what you need to know, when you need to know it, and why this is relevant to you.
The goal of our design process has to be to make our customers more efficient and more productive. If we keep doing that, we will continue to bring value to them and be useful to them. And that’s where we will continue to be successful.