Janus Savings Platform

The Janus Savings platform is a financial platform in which low-income people who make below $35,000 a year can crowdsource their savings goals. Donations are made by wealthier members of the platform via credit card points and an optional “Save the Change” program, whereby individual purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar, with the difference donated to a savings goal. Direct contributions to savings goals are also possible through the Janus Savings platform. Wealthier members of Janus Savings are incentivized to donate to savings goals of the lower-income cohort through the active tracking of tax incentives in the platform's online user interface. They can choose up to three savings goals to donate to by searching on the platform's online database for projects worth funding.

Year: 2015


Team project with Souvik Paul, Jonathan Lung.

My responsibilities included conducting user interviews, generating insights and "how might we" questions to seed the design process, conceptualizing the platform, branding physical collateral, and designing the ads.

Janus Savings Platform

Janus Savings was designed so that people making below a threshold amount could start savings campaigns in the form of savings accounts that were earmarked towards specific goals - whether short-term or long-term. These goals could be private, and something that the user would work towards on their own, or shared with the rest of the platform. If users elected to share them with the platform, they become fundable on a tiered and matched basis. The platform would require each user to save a certain amount on their own, before being entitled to receive funding from other people on the platform. For example, if a user saves $25 on their own, they can be entitled to receive up to $100 of additional funding. Raising another $25, bringing the user's personal contribution up to $50, allows them to receive an additional $150 towards their savings goal. These campaigns could be divided into sub-goals, and users could also share updates on their progress with their backers via public profiles that could connect with and be shared through social media.

From the backers' perspective, up to three campaigns could be funded at a given time. These campaigns could be funded via points, via direct contribution, or via a "Save the Change" Program. This optional program borrows from the idea of Bank of America's Keep the Change program; purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference is donated to a savings campaign. Backers can see how much they've donated and to whom at a glance on their homepage. Connecting the high-income cohort to the low-income cohort via the homepage user interface was an important element of connecting the cohorts to one another, of sharing stories, and of humanizing aid. They can also see their accumulated tax savings as a result of the donations that they've made through the platform - incentivizing people to stay in the program and donate more.

The system is physically represented through the white credit/debit card. Each and every member of the platform would receive this highly designed card, regardless of which user cohort they fall into. The card therefore becomes a point of pride for both cohorts, aesthetically and philosophically. To the low-income cohort, the card becomes a physical signifier of the proactive steps that they have taken to improve their situation with the resources available to them; to the high-income cohort, it is a physical signifier of their commitment to help people who are less fortunate than them. The card comes to represent an ideal that is embodied by the Janus Savings platform.

We crafted several advertising campaigns for the project, the most extreme of which was the supermarket takeover. We envisioned a pop-up event in partnership with socially conscious groceries where prices would be expressed in terms of hours worked on minimum wage. Though Whole Foods is known for having expensive organic produce, the conversation is shifted altogether when those prices are expressed in hours. It makes income differences stark and unforgettable. To capitalize on this increased awareness, cashiers would be asked to distribute marketing collateral for the Janus Savings platform. We imagined how this advertising campaign might look in other contexts as well. It wasn't difficult to imagine users being shocked into action when they saw that a Starbucks coffee was worth almost half an hour of a minimum wage person's working time, and that common household foods such as ice cream could be worth more than an hour of working time. We wanted to compel users to "do better" by converting their daily spending into charitable contributions that could materially benefit the lives of others.

Problem Statement

How design could be used to improve the lives of people on minimum wage?

Janus Savings began as an inquiry into how design could be used to improve the lives of people on minimum wage, in the context of a national spotlight on the minimum wage. After conducting several user interviews of people that make close to minimum wage in New York City, Jonathan, Souvik and Long came up with three insights around which to design for the minimum wage. 

We learned that the minimum wage is not a saving wage - that it is extremely difficult to make ends meet on the minimum wage, let alone save up for the future. Our interviewees indicated to us that making minimum wage forces you to take life one step at a time, and prevents you from being able to effectively plan ahead, financially or otherwise. After surveying existing products and services for people making minimum wage and living in, or close to, poverty, we found that there is no pride in aid. Existing collateral such as welfare benefits cards and food stamps don't imbue their users with a sense of pride; instead, the physical goods associated with welfare and the minimum wage heightened a sense of 'otherness' among recipients, were the source of a feeling of shame for them, and further isolated them from the rest of society.

From these sobering insights, we crafted "How Might We's" - a series of generative questions that were meant to aid us in forming design ideas around the problem of minimum wage. In order to give our selves additional structure around designing for the minimum wage, we created three design principles. We also took our How Might We's and Insights, and distilled them into one motivating statement: the minimum wage is an almost insurmountable barrier to saving and planning for the future without external help.

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