Northwestern Mutual

Enterprise Experience Design

Supporting end to end product strategy and promoting user understanding.


Northwestern Mutual Enterprise Experience Design

My Role

Principal Designer

During the later part of my tenure at Northwestern Mutual, I became a founding member of a new team called Enterprise Experience Design (EXD). That team’s charter was to partner with senior executives to help define and communicate their product vision and to educate areas of the company who had never worked with Design before.

Navigating towards Northwestern Mutual’s north star

As part of a major digital transformation at NM, internally dubbed “North Star”, a lot of emphasis was being directed at the early stages of customer engagement. We referred to this as the Enroll phase. This encompassed the period from a prospective customer deciding to purchase an insurance policy, through underwriting, and into the first 60 days of being a paying customer. Our aims were to not only address customer pain points during this phase, but also friction when interacting with their financial advisor or employees from the home office such as policy underwriters.

I partnered with Myles Clemones, who came from a service design background, to facilitate workshops to help the relevant stakeholders articulate their product strategy and plan for their team’s midterm roadmap. The workshops typically consisted of senior executives in charge of large portions of the customer experience, marketing directors, engineering leads, product managers, and design managers.

High level overview of NM’s “North Star”

During these cross-functional workshops we framed the problem space by reviewing executive’s business goals, the current experience landscape, and target user characteristics. We collaboratively built a journey map noting the individual actions, channels, pain points, and major sentiment establishing moments. Upon completing and reviewing the journey map, we had the group vote on their top customer pain points. After ranking these pain points we reframed them as “How might we...” prompts and held a rapid ideation session followed by more structured solution sketching. Out of the ideas and sketches a number of solution themes coalesced from which Myles and I built user stories and mapped out future state scenarios. After presenting back these scenarios to the stakeholder group, we collectively mapped them out, rating their estimated importance to our customers against the effort to implement them. The chosen future state scenarios were later developed into concepts by us and evaluated with clients with the help of our UX Research team.

A design driven digital ecosystem vision

Early into his tenure, the new head of design at NM asked EXD to help craft a vision for an interconnected digital ecosystem that would finally bring all facets of the organization into the 21st century. This vision would be design driven but developed in partnership with executive stakeholders representing the customer experience, the field (our advisors), enterprise data, and technical architecture. This vision was to be a vehicle for Design at NM to stake their claim as serious business partners and increase our influence throughout the organization.

I again partnered with Myles to lead this effort. We engaged all of the senior design directors, working to understand their own design portfolio objectives, experience pain points, and how they were working toward the company-wide “North Star” digital transformation initiative. By workshopping with this group, we had a good approximation of the current landscape and potential future direction for every business vertical or organization in the company directly supporting our core growth drivers.

Scenario with user actions mapped to high level journey and strategic themes
More detailed storyboarding for the vision deck including gestural experience UI

I developed key scenarios that interwove the needs of our customers, advisors, and home office employees through the lens of our established “North Star” experience journeys. These scenarios described how a future digital ecosystem could address their needs and also benefit our business. I managed designers from across our experience portfolios to assist with asset creation to portray concepts from our vision scenarios. As we fleshed out our case for the vision, we worked with Liz DeLuca, a UX researcher on our team to organize elements into various frameworks appealing to different stakeholder groups. This meant that depending on who the head of design was presenting to, he could tailor the story to be directly relevant to their role in the organization.


The final output artifact was a slide deck which described the underlying business need, the value of a comprehensive digital ecosystem, how it might manifest in the customer experience, and how we’ll build toward it. The digital ecosystem vision was a significant undertaking, with the intent of being presented to the CEO and board. Unfortunately, those sorts of meetings are difficult to arrange, so I’m unsure if the concepts within were ever seen at the highest levels of the company.

Developing a shared understanding of our customers (and advisors)

During my time on the EXD team, I spent a lot of time working on broad end to end experience strategy initiatives where the artifacts were mainly oriented toward storytelling and alignment generation. I also had the opportunity to lead the development of an enterprise personas tool for our design and product teams. With a team of nearly 80 designers, writers, and researchers supporting a broad array of products and tools for our customers, advisors, and home office employees, it was important to provide a foundational set of personas to support their work. I partnered with the head of UX Research as well as members of myriad research and user insights teams to develop a set of customer and advisor personas. My small working team included a visual designer and content strategist as well.

Leveraging existing marketing segmentation data and ongoing survey and polling data provided from groups outside of design, we synthesized that information into key demographic and physiographic characteristics for each persona. For customer personas we provided both direct and derived insights through the lens of their financial goals, their affinity for our product offerings, and how to influence their decision making process and purchasing outlook. Building our advisor personas was more difficult due to the many specializations they fall into based on their clientele, expertise, and philosophy on financial planning. Ultimately we were able to build a common advisor persona framework centered on their attitudes toward different products, needs in terms of digital tools, and how to help them succeed in their own practice (advisors are independent entities from our home office).

These enterprise personas manifested as both a pdf packet (the favored distribution channel for many home office employees) and an internal reference site for those who prefer viewing in a browser or on the go, and want the most up to date versions of the personas.

“Anxious Striver” customer persona
Enterprise persona landing page
“Integrated Planner” advisor persona
Related Work
Discovery Work and Prototypes

Transforming the customer experience through exploration and concept evaluation.

Assorted CX Feature Work

Assorted projects from the product work streams that I led with my design portfolio partner.

Design Team Identity

A collection of team identity digital artifacts, collateral, and swag.

© 2023 Will Gabrenya