What makes low-income adults want to become better savers?

Evolving SaverLife's core features to help foster a savings habit among people with volatile incomes


  • My role: Sole designer
  • Timeline: 1-month MVP launch, progressive iterations post-launch
  • Platform: Responsive web
SaverLife is a nonprofit that helps low-income Americans build their financial security by making saving more rewarding.
SaverLife believed the product was not providing compelling reasons for members to come back to build their savings habits.

I was tasked to better integrate gamification techniques into the core UX to improve retention.
We revamped the core experience with a focus on new point activities which increased retention among all members in the following quarter. A year after launch, this improvement in retention was sustained as we continued to test and make enhancements sprint after sprint.

In particular, we learned these enhancements:
  • Created and/or reinforced member's savings habits
  • Improved their financial literacy
  • Provided a better reasons to visit SaverLife every week


How might we embed SaverLife into someone's daily habit to get them to care about saving?
SaverLife's member base have complicated lives that affect their relationship to money. For example, the combination of income volatility (i.e. inconsistent paychecks) and supporting their family on an extremely tight budget means they may not be able to save at all. In other cases, they may not realize the impact a savings habit can have on their lives.

In addition to already having gamification features on the site, SaverLife also had blogs, forums, and savings challenges. However, the dashboard was only populated by the saving challenges which functioned like promotions and sweepstakes. The gamification features were also tucked away in a hamburger menu and were not clear in how they tied into other features.

This resulted in a disjointed experience that did not entice members to create a savings habit. Therefore, we asked: how might we better leverage SaverLife's core features and improve their usability to help cultivate a desire to save?


When it comes to habit-forming products, test your approach to derive the most impact
I addressed this by working with our stakeholders and engineering team to:
  1. Improve the navigation and visuals of the dashboard to better highlight core features
  2. Introduce a points store and point activities that leveraged gamification to form habits
This improved usability and created more opportunities to help SaverLife members form a savings habit resulting in:
  1. Doubled retention among all members YOY (year-over-year)
  2. Increased weekly active users by 2.5x YOY
  3. Established savings habits for a larger # of members than ever before
BEFORE: Dashboard (Nov 2019 to June 2020)
AFTER: Dashboard (MVP launch - July 2020)
ENHANCED: Dashboard (2021)
BEFORE: Gamification UX (Nov 2019 to June 2020)
AFTER: Gamification UX (MVP launch - July 2020)
ENHANCED: Gamification UX (2021)

How did we get there?


Disjointed features with a bare presentation cripples the mission
When I was first brought onboard, several surveys and user anecdotes revealed these key issues:
  1. The navigation was "confusing"
  2. They "didn't know" what points were for
  3. They questioned if SaverLife was "legit"
This subverted SaverLife's mission to make savings a habit for the low-income population. It was clear these issues collided on the dashboard the most.


Meet members where they are to get them to do what you want
The dashboard was where new users were dropped off after onboarding and where SaverLife launched new saving challenges for existing members. However, all existing members saw the home page first and not the dashboard, which was problematic.

Therefore, by leveraging the dashboard as the launching pad for new/existing features, we could:
  1. Continue to rely on the dashboard to sustain our experimental and business needs
  2. Entice more members to engage our content and come back every week; creating more opportunities for SaverLife to help its members form a savings habit
  3. Better understand what motivates them to save besides offering cash
  4. Improve usability for all existing members


Testing how we nurtured savings habits among people with volatile incomes
Despite already having blogs, savings challenges, and forums, the dashboard was only populated by savings challenges that functioned like promotions and sweepstakes.

For a user base where income volatility is the norm, this was an issue because if any member opted into the challenges, there weren't clear/compelling reasons to engage with the rest of the site, or come back to SaverLife to help them reach those savings challenges.

This led to members to forget about SaverLife and we missed an opportunity to help them start saving regularly, or learn from SaverLife's content. The iterations below describe how the dashboard and gamification UX evolved over time to address this.

The drivers & methods we used to guide these iterations were:
  1. Quantitative analysis (Amplitude, Tableau, and Lucky Orange)
  2. Qualitative analysis (user interviews and quarterly surveys)
  3. Technical feasibility reviews
  4. Internal critiques
  5. Org. initiatives
BEFORE: Dashboard
The "My savings" section was not updated in real-time and the mobile navigation only showed up on two pages; not throughout the entire site. Both of which caused confusion and frustration in every survey we evaluated.

Also, the first page all returning members saw was the home page and not the dashboard despite launching all new promotions and savings challenges on the dashboard.

Promotions and savings challenges were core to SaverLife's offering and saw consistent engagement so we needed to keep those.

AFTER: MVP version
We made the dashboard the default screen all existing members would see first. We also updated the visuals, highlighted features with their own sections, and introduced new tiles to entice members to engage with points and set savings goals. A new mobile-nav was introduced a week later due to engineering bandwidth at the time of this release.

Over the next few weeks, the savings goal tile also suffered from lagging updates, the "What's new" section could not be automated, and we needed to reduce how much space each tile took up if we were to continue introducing new content in each section.

We continued to update the visuals and themed-sections to better align with SaverLife's direction and capabilities. However, the "SaverLife stats" section was not as effective in getting people to save and engage more.

We then introduced themed-point activities that were centered around monthly topics, or promotions. That change did increase the # of activities completed. During user interviews, they were cited as examples for how it got members to rethink their approach to saving.

BEFORE: Gamification UX
Members accessed points through the desktop's top-navbar and within the hamburger menu on mobile. From there, it was accessed through a widget which was powered by the 3rd party gamification service we were relying on.

It was clear from the forums and surveys that members did not understand how to earn points, when they earned them, what they were for, or may not have been aware of this feature at all. Overall, it wasn't clear how this tied into SaverLife's other features and mission.

AFTER: MVP version
We introduced daily, weekly, and one-time activities to reward saving and learning about financial topics by engaging with SaverLife content. We also added a points store and refined our notifications UX to indicate completed point activities.

As time passed, the one-time activities did not always count (despite members doing them) revealing early signs of API issues we were going to have with the 3rd party service we were using as our "gamification engine."

Lastly, although some activities - like the "Log your budget" and "Post on forums" activities - did not produce quality engagement, we saw a growing # of members reading SaverLife's articles and saving $5 every week which showed signs of retention.

We continued to try new activities and updated the navigation when we introduced multiple themed-point activities that were centered around monthly topics, or promotions. Both of which improved usability and the financial literacy among our member base.


Retained members became retained because they trusted SaverLife would reward their engagement
Almost a year after the initial launch and the iterations that followed, I evaluated our quantitative data and did several interviews with SaverLife's most engaged members to understand why they kept coming back.

The top 5 takeaways were:
  1. Their "aha moments" were whenever they won money from us, or learned something new
  2. We help them save through "all the little nudges that just comes with engaging the site"
  3. They have a stronger interest in financial literacy than most SaverLife members
  4. Although they may "already know this stuff", the gamification motivates them to come back anyways
  5. Usually spend about 10-20 minutes every time they visit, for 2-3 times a week, doing the same actions


With more modern designs that could be reused, SaverLife could better serve its members and learn from it
By leveraging improved navigation and a tile layout on the dashboard, it meant we could easily launch new features and saving challenges that fostered engagement and reinforced consistent usability. Both of which improved our analysis.

The GIF below represents the mobile design, which over 80% of SaverLife members use the site on.


As tempting as it is to redesign UX, it can be hard to manage and even harder to decipher meaning
Although we were given the greenlight to revamp the dashboard to best address our goals, I'm not sure we were ready to handle the technical and knowledge debt that came from it. In other words, our team had several product needs outside of this initiative and our bandwidth was very limited.

That meant we had to devote time in the roadmap to other important initiatives. This took time away from reviewing the research - as a team - and pursuing immediate enhancements to the dashboard and gamification UX.

However, I dealt with this in two ways. First, if a new initiative meant we could add enhancements that made sense, I advocated for it. Second, I continued to track our data and sought answers to what we didn't know like why our most engaged members kept coming back each week.

That way, whenever we talked about ways to improve the product, I was always ready to contribute in a meaningful way.