The Missing Link: didi’s Role and
Deliverables in Optimizing Business Workflow

Few financial systems are as satisfying or easy to use as an iPhone or even Quicken. This is simply because there is an entire discipline missing from most technology development processes on Wall Street: a rigorous, thorough, fine-grained analysis of the cognitive steps business people go though as they accomplish their most important tasks. This iterative analysis/testing process tightly links business workflow and functional specifications—making sure the business flows as easily as the data does.

We augment your existing team with the missing skills.1 Then we deliver results in a directly usable form: completely worked out screen designs, ready to be included in the specifications that are handed to developers. During your implementation2 we help redesign where necessary and mentor sophisticated graphics techniques if needed. We also help with fine-tuning after initial deployment.

We can do this because a quarter century on Wall Street has taught us how to integrate several fundamental skill sets that are rarely unified in any one team or person—all of which are critical to proper interface design:

  1. Financial fluency: an understanding of the business
  2. Cognitive science: an understanding of how the mind integrates information to make decisions and act on them
  3. Typography: an understanding of how to structure screens so they are readable, recognizable, comfortable, and obvious
  4. Illustration and graphic arts: the ability to make different kinds of data look different and instantly be recognized; respecting branding guidelines
  5. Information visualization: the ability to design graphical representations of data to condense, contextualize, and highlight important information
  6. Economics: the ability to explicitly and rationally do a cost/benefit analysis that drives prioritization of which features to develop and when; or even when not to spend time and money on design
  7. Computer Science: the ability to recognize programming-, communications- or compute-intensive features, to avoid or help optimize them
  8. Software engineering: the ability to train developers how to implement sophisticated custom graphics, behaviors, or widgets
  9. Testing: understanding of how to create & use fully-engineered “paper prototypes” to completely test a system before coding starts

These skill sets enable several complimentary processes in didi’s own rigorous and carefully worked out design methodology.3 Each process addresses the interface from a different perspective; all are necessary for an optimal system:

  1. Business workflow analysis
  2. Business process re-engineering
  3. Audit of all tasks related to a specific business role
  4. Low-level cognitive deconstruction of steps needed to accomplish each task
  5. Identification of all input and actions needed for each mental step
  6. Layout of screens optimal for each task
  7. Illustration of every business concept so that they are easy to distinguish
  8. Iterative testing and tuning of the design with real business experts using paper prototypes
  9. Support of a firm’s creation of development specifications
  10. Mapping of an “ideal interface” design back to programming and budgetary realities by changing scope and level of design detail, or identifying phases for staged development and deployment

Many of these processes are partially or fully addressed by existing project development teams, but two perspectives are rarely included: numbers 4 through 7, and number 8. 

Step  number 8, testing with paper prototypes, is a technique that has recently been developed and is taught incompletely in very few places. But it can save calendar months and large fractions of development budgets because it catches problems before they make it into code—allowing hundred-fold4 reductions in the effort and cost spent on missed or misinterpreted system functions.

And the steps relating to cognitive process mapping and screen-based illustration of the results, 4-7, are rarely included because they require a significantly different background than most development teams possess. Rigorous design is a distinct discipline. You can put your best business analyst, trader, graphic artist, and developer in a room and still come up short because those disciplines never prepare people to dig for and codify task-related thought processes. But it’s those thought processes that keep the firm afloat.

Addressing this missing link captures significant value.  We at didi are happy to walk through specific projects with you to detail how we can reduce costs and increase productivity by becoming part of the team.

1 Given enough organizational commitment (typically a full-time mid-level to senior person with both business and technical experience) we can even teach the process to your team, completing the technology transfer.

2 We can also source best-of-breed graphics and code production with our strategic partners. Often it makes sense for a firm’s internal team to remain focused on business logic and outsource look-and-feel, skin, widget or graphics development.

3 Columbia University’s Department of Computer Science found this methodology valuable enough to install didi principal W. Bradford Paley as an Associate Adjunct Professor expressly to teach it in graduate-level seminars.

4 The (real!) hundred-fold savings described: it’s approximately ten times faster to fix a problem in a paper prototype than in a specification, and ten times less effort to fix a specification than to fix the system after it’s been coded.