Fueling Financial Innovation at Verge NYC



Last month, Control Group had the honor of hosting the Verge NYC Conference. Verge NYC is a design conference founded with the goal of sparking discussion and critical thought around embracing uncertainty to “push the limits of where design can take us”. Unlike most conferences that center around high-profile speakers, Verge puts the main focus on its participants. This year, the conference had individual “conversations” or workshops led by a facilitator from one of the various design firms, and consisted of a field expert, a student from the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons and various conference attendees.

We hosted the workshop “21st Century Banking: Uncertainty in Financial Services”. And we were honored to be joined by not just one, but three field experts from all aspects of the financial services industry; from behavioral economics (Ideas 42), to low-income solutions (Grameen Foundation, D2D Fund). Our focus was to design financial services for low-income consumers.

At Control Group, we believe in the power of prototyping, and that power extends to not just into products but experiences as well. In order to better steep ourselves in the challenges and experience of low-income Americans, we gave Verge participants the experience of SNAP recipients, at least for an hour.


When the conference commenced at 1pm, we handed out $2 to each participant explaining that was their lunch money for the day. Leaving their wallets behind, they had to use their allowance to fend for themselves in the Financial District. Interestingly, every single person pooled their money to make a meal. We reunited back in the office with our hard earned (but paltry) lunches. For a brief moment, we were able to immerse in the SNAP experience and understand at least a fraction of the challenge SNAP recipients face when eating on just $4.15 per day. We simultaneously realized that our daily habits and considerations were far from the people we often design for, low-income consumers.

The tremendous value brought by having three experts involved in our conversation might not be what you would initially expect. Yes, three experts equal three times as much knowledge in the room. However, their value proved much more nuanced. Each expert brought expertise from different geographic regions both domestically and internationally. We learned about how challenges had more overlap across regions than we anticipated (it turns out that the willingness for poor folks to take financial risk is no easier in Kentucky than it is in Kampala).

In real time, we were able to apply a framework by D2D originally developed for low-income Americans called the “financial stability pathway,” and adapt it into a scenario with low-income Kenyan farmers. Instead of seeing huge difference across geographic populations, differences were more evident when looking at the available financial product offerings in different countries.


We ended the conference with three distinct maps that charted a potential pathway to financial stability for three different Kenyan farmer personas. We were lucky enough to use the amazing ethnographic research of the Grameen Foundation to deeply understand the lives, aspirations, expenditures and cash flows of Kenyan farmers. We considered the unique tools and networks available to our personas, and combined financial products from across the globe to create a customized end result.

Workshops are at their most successful when a diversity of opinions, backgrounds and reference points all stew in the same space. This is something we intrinsically know at Control Group; we are a collection of interdisciplinary polymaths with designers, developers, sales and marketers all mixing. It is something we strive to do with our clients and partners and something we were so grateful to do with Verge NYC.

Culture Click: Technology’s Immersion into Cultural Institutions


While some cultural institutions have been slow to embrace trends in guests behaviors and the increased competition for attention, many are using technology to better understand, attract, educate, and retain visitors. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art is turning to digital technology to connect to and offer audiences a more engaging experience.

When Sree Sreenivasan was named the Met’s first-ever Chief Digital Officer in 2013, he made it a goal to increase the museum’s online presence through social media and build a greater platform via mobile technology. While traditionalists may consider these developments contradictory to the museum’s mission, the Met is simply embracing the logical progression in a communication battle that’s been raging for decades.

A question being raised and debated is the overall role of museums: cultural beacon vs. form of entertainment. When Sreenivasan said the museum’s biggest competition in 2015 isn’t other museums but Netflix and Candy Crush, this is just an updated view on a very old way of thinking for the museum industry. The Guggenheim Museum was criticized in the early 2000’s for claiming to be in the “entertainment business”. More recently, former critics have planned similar exhibitions to attract visitors.

It’s important to remember that museums are not public institutions but private businesses that need to remain profitable. If too elitist or exclusionary, they’ll struggle to attract a wider audience. For years, museums have been experimenting with events and exhibits that appeal to the masses and bring in new audiences. This digital wave is just an extension of this position.

The Met has taken preliminary steps to capture people’s attention through their YouTubeInstagram and Twitter channels. Once that connection’s been established, people may dive deeper into that discovery to experience the long-term cultural and educational benefits of being a part of that community. More importantly, these channels are where younger generations are getting their information, where they’re interacting, and where they spending the majority of their time. If a museum is not connecting with this generation in this manner, it may prove difficult to reach them at all.

Let’s assume that some of the attraction methods listed above help to attract a new type of guests. Now what? Well, the same digital technologies that connected the museum to the guest also provide a great medium to engage with people. Regardless of the decade we’re in, it’s a museum’s primary duty to present collection works, tell its story in a unique way, and use art to express a relevant correlation into today’s society. Our increasingly connected world has a current dependence on screens, so museums must adapt in order to stay true to their mission.

On a positive note, as Professor Andreas Huyseen points out in Whose Muse?: Art Museums and the Public Trust, “Museums are one of the few places left in our hyper-mediated world that still offer authentic experiences based on real objects”.

Where the museum experience has historically been a one-way conversation (curators telling visitors what’s important and why), embracing new technology creates a more impactful experience for guests. This is a trend that I expect to see grow across the industry landscape. Similarly, our work with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute takes a relatively dense topic of political processes and legislation procedures to engage younger visitors with a totally interactive exhibit, including gaming elements, fun role assignments and challenges.

There is a critical balance between two-way human interactions and technical solutions that traditionalists have often resisted in the museum space. The Met’s embrace of new technologies and social platforms is a great step in widening the museum’s reach and helps continue the story of its collection to new audiences who use new channels. Others should follow suit.

Is The Best Interface Really No Interface?



I’m a User Interface Designer here at Control Group. I have a master’s in graphic design from School of Visual Arts here in New York. I’ve loved designing interfaces for projects like the MTA Wayfinding Kiosk and the EMKI Interactive Museum, as well as for our clients and their audience.

So why would I read a book called “The Best Interface Is No Interface”?

Because, like the rest of modern society, I am inundated with glowing rectangular screens day in and day out. And as much as the hyper detailed floating interfaces in Iron Man (among other blockbuster movies) seem nifty, I prefer the future of Her, where the way we communicate with computers is a bit more subdued. Like Don Norman, famous user-centered design advocate and author of “The Design of Everyday Things”, I appreciate any argument for simplifying how we interact with the world.

The author of “The Best Interface Is No Interface”, Twitter-renown Golden Krishna, makes an excellent case for what we all probably feel already: not every problem can be solved with an app. He condemns the overused phrase “there’s an app for that”, with hilarious examples of unnecessary screen-based products. In addition, he doesn’t mince words with how he really feels about some of the standard UI elements that we’ve been using since the start of the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) days. His expletive-fueled rant about dropdown menus alone is worth the price of the book.

The UI Design profession takes some bashing in “No Interface” especially. Krishna paints a picture where it’s “cooler” to be a UX Designer because they’re the ones who think about “people, happiness, and solving problems” where UI is more concerned with “navigation, buttons, and rounded corners”. While that’s true, all the visual elements that UI Designers think about contribute to “happiness and solving problems” through the manifestation of well-thought out UX approaches.

As it is, the main argument Krishna makes is that UI and UX have fused into one role, which in turn, promotes a user interface as the “correct” solution to larger user experience-based problems. True, the two roles are related, and in certain cases one person can wear both hats. However, if a user interface designer is assigned a non-user interface problem, this can create a conflict of interest. How can a visual designer remain an objective problem-solver if they just want to make cool parallax scrolling animations?

Great user interface designers come from varied creative backgrounds: illustration, graphic design, industrial design and so on. As such, they are already familiar with exploring “No UI” solutions along with UX designers. It should go without saying, but what separates a good UI designer from a great one is knowing the right solution to the problem, even if that solution is not a UI design. All designers, whether they are UI, UX or otherwise, should keep the needs of the audience first and foremost, or else they do the whole project a disservice.

So what are those needs of the audience when it comes to a user experience? Jakob Nielsen, grandfather of usability and human-computer interaction, put it succinctly with these “Five Quality Components of Usability Goals”:

  1. Learnability
  2. Efficiency
  3. Memorability
  4. Errors (keeping error rates low)
  5. Satisfaction

Note that none of those explicitly mention a screen. Nielsen has been criticized for not mentioning typography, color and other design elements, but those are just methods for achieving the goals listed above.

Lastly, Krishna smartly addresses some of the challenges to the “No Interface” concept. If he hadn’t, I would’ve been sorely disappointed. This is a book that’s designed to ruffle some tail feathers, so best for him to address the nay sayers head-on. As he mentions, privacy is a huge concern in a future world where the computer automatically anticipates your every move and whim.

Just like a personal assistant, a level of trust has to be established between the system and the user of that system. Sadly, the “opt out” solution is usually not as clearly defined as Krishna would want it to be, mainly because it’s not in the best interest of the system. For instance, Facebook doesn’t want to “forget” that you like cupcakes or any of your other interests. Or, Amazon might let you set the option to ignore certain purchases when generating suggestions, but it doesn’t stop them from pushing ads to you on partner sites based on your browsing history. Krishna maybe assumes too much that the systems we will use in the future will have our best interests in mind over their own.

In conclusion, is the best interface no interface? It depends. Certain user interactions like email and calendars require an interface. Other interactions may require an interface to serve up advertising – the necessary evil for free services – such as public kiosks and alike. In the world of advertising, some interface designs are fun, engaging, beautiful and memorable, but many more are irritating, repetitive, offensive or irrelevant. UX and UI designers should most certainly question whether an interface is the right solution, and if it is, those same designers should strive to make it the best damn interface they can.


How to Host an Amazing Field Trip


Control Group prides itself on being an active and positive member of our greater community. Welcoming the occasional field trip is just one of the many ways we try to contribute. This past winter, Control Group was thrilled to bring a group of middle school students from Brooklyn School of Law and Technology into our offices and discuss our experiences of life in the industry.

The field trip was a great success and I wanted to take a moment to share some of the ingredients of that success with the wider community.

Clearing the Visit

ScriptEd, a volunteer group that teaches coding fundamentals in under-resourced schools, had approached its volunteers to host a field trip and I felt that Control Group would be a great candidate for such a trip. I had an idea of the sort of people they should meet and what technologies we could share with them. Our facilities coordinator along with leadership welcomed the idea and approved the demos I had in mind. I sent out a tentative calendar invite to the fellow employees I felt our students should meet.


A week before the scheduled trip, we prepared our ScriptEd students for their trip by running through a quick slide show presentation at their school. This allowed the students to become more familiar with who we are as a company before we embarked on the trip together.


To kick off the presentation, we briefly reviewed what Control Group is and what we do.


We covered the logistics of their arrival, where our offices were, and what the best what the best travel routes were. While these details are often left to school staff and chaperones, in an urban community such as ours it can be particularly helpful to prepare students to navigate public transportation.

Conduct Guidelines

Be sure to let the students know what behaviour is expected of them as they tour your facilities. Field trips shouldn’t be disruptive to the work environment, but they shouldn’t be quiet marches through hallowed halls either.


Ask your students to take a moment to consider some questions that they may want to ask. Have them write those questions down and bring them to the trip. They may never use these questions, but it is a great chance to cover etiquette. In our preparation, one student wanted to ask “How much money do you make?”. While it’s great to let students know the earning potential of a particular career, it’s best to keep that kind of information as impersonal as possible.


Hosting the Trip

Leadership Buy In

Part of demonstrating that your organization is heavily invested in the community is seeing participation by leadership. Scott Anderson, one of our Founding Partners, was kind enough to kick off our field trip by welcoming the students and giving a brief overview of the history of the company and what we do at Control Group.



It’s not enough to tell visiting students what you do, it’s imperative to show them as well. If you have a product that you’re working on and can share, students will get much more out looking at living technology rather than a powerpoint covering your past successes. Due to non-disclosure agreements, this may not always be possible, but at least show your visitors something that’s in the field.

We lined up three technology demos. While our students really loved seeing the technology we developed for the UGG Australia Store, they were probably most impressed by getting to see inside the MTA Kiosks. This gave them a new perspective on an object that they already encounter daily.

We also gave the students a chance to interact with an exhibit we’d been building for The Edward Kennedy Senate Museum. This actually ended up acting as an impromptu user testing as some of our demos didn’t work perfectly. These hiccups can provide teachable moments. It drives home the point that things don’t always work, and it’s part of the job to find out why and fix them.



As a company is more than just its products, it’s very important to let your guests interact with the folks who design, code, and test your products. Q&A sessions showcase the human side of the industry. No one at Control Group just appeared here. Allowing students to hear about the various paths individuals take toward their place in their career reinforces the idea that they too can arrive at a great career.


Never underestimate the power of pizza. The promise of food definitely takes the edge off any hunger your guests may be feeling. We combined our Q&A session with pizza so that students (and speakers) could nosh while learning. Your colleagues are also more likely to show up if you reward them with food.


While totally optional (we didn’t have any on hand), it’s a nice token to send your visitors home with a souvenir. After the students have left the office, a lapel pin, t-shirt, or some other company momento can spark a conversation around your brand. It will also serve as a reminder of a great field trip.

Overall, with a little prep and the participation of your leadership and colleagues a great field trip isn’t hard to pull off.



We <3 our neighborhood


The Alliance for Downtown New York today unveiled a series of videos highlighting Lower Manhattan’s powerful draw to businesses across a host of sectors, and how choosing to locate in the district has been a significant force in helping companies thrive. The videos feature top executives from best in class companies discussing why Lower Manhattan has proven to be the best location for their business.

The video series features Control Group founding partner Scott Anderson, who leads our community engagement initiatives and is a prolific proponent and supporter of our neighborhood. From his perspective, “the business and creative value of being in proximity to companies that are forging the future is priceless. The support shown to the community and emerging businesses is unique to Lower Manhattan, and could be a model for fostering growth in the creative and tech economy in other parts of the City.”

Check out more videos, featuring Goldman Sachs, Droga5 and SHoP Architects here: http://downtownny.com/why-lower-manhattan