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Basketball Updated: 07 Nov 2018

"User experience means being able to communicate with all kinds of individuals"

Ced Funches, former art director for the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team, argues that digital strategy is "imperative" at companies and is a supporter of financial literacy.

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Last week, Ced Funches from the USA visited the BBVA Innovation Center in Madrid to take part in GEWOTUP2015: Engaging customers through amazing UX.

Who is Ced Funches?

I was born in Minnesota, where I grew up. I come from a family of five brothers. We all grew up trying to survive, since my family was not well-off. This has definitely shaped everything I've done in life. And I essentially do things to try help people in my same situation. I also come from the design sector, which landed me one of the most notable jobs in my career as Art Director for the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team. I guess you could say I'm an entrepreneur. I set up my first company at the age of 19, Sodalicious Skateboards. If you do it once you already know how to do it, so I always wanted to do something I could own or control.

Is it important these days to have a consistent digital strategy for your brand?

It's imperative. Because people today go from their TV sets to their phones... and you're going to lose their attention if your message isn't consistent. Essentially, you're conveying a message to society in general through their devices: computers, tablets, smartphones... even smartwatches. The message therefore needs to be consistent and detachable so it can be adapted to the device chosen by the user. This is an area where many brands fail. Your message doesn't convey your corporate identity because it can't be detached without being mutilated.  What I try to do in my job is make people understand that. You need to build corporate identities that make sense when some elements are removed (and sliced up) for the sake of conveying the message.

Can user experience help build strong digital brands?

In my opinion, any well-designed experience denotes the investment of time and the tools needed to build it. If the user experience (UX) is conceptualized sloppily, it lacks the necessary consistency to transcend. Brands are interested in projecting a message akin to a flow of conscience. A smooth and simple path where everything matches up and leaves a good feeling. And if it doesn't, there must be a will to persevere in improving it, and you can always say that you've been open enough to try to fix it. The key issue is to give up the idea of the corporate identities of the 90s.

How important is user experience for entrepreneurs and startups when starting out on a project?

The UX helps to shape what you want to offer. Products and services are often conceptualized in an opaque box in the hope that they cater to user requirements. And that doesn't make things easy for users. I try to keep things simple, and figuratively speaking I try to ask users whether, for example, they might need a stair to reach things kept on top of the fridge. If they don't need it, why give it to them? You want to eliminate anything that complicates life for users. Make it simple and easy. Sometimes startups find this difficult to understand because they don't have enough experience in the different aspects of communication with clients. User experience means being able to communicate with all kinds of individuals.

The best approach in these instances is to look at successful examples of good UX to help identify good ideas. If you run an inclusive process in-house, and then go out on the street and ask the first 10 people you meet about your idea, at least nine of them will answer something like "what are you talking about?". That kind of shock would help a lot of startups to think about how to fine tune their products and services bearing in mind the full spectrum of potential clients. You have to go back to the beginning and fix what's not working. That is what defines good user experience; the ability to fix problems that emerge along the way.

What can you tell us about your Schooold project?

In 2012 I wrote a children's book and somehow I ended up being invited onto a panel to discuss what the coming generations should learn. What I told representatives from the United States educational system was that if I had been taught the basics about money at high school I'm sure I would have made fewer mistakes along the way. But they didn't, so that's how Schooold got started. I did some study and investigation together with hedge fund specialists and I noticed a worrying trend. People don't save, they don't manage money effectively and they lose money due to financial illiteracy. This trend could be reversed by teaching the basics to 13 to 17 year olds.

That's where I saw an opportunity. I thought that instead of starting a lucrative business, I wanted to create something that teaches people. And that's what Schooold comes down to. It teaches basic financial literacy skills to high school students and their parents too. It works on a social level by sharing what you learn, for which you get fake money that you then have to manage. The aim is not to test anybody, but instead to explain what a bank is likely to explain just five years later about compound interest and other financial tools.

Is financial literacy important? 

What I ended up thinking when I launched the project was that financial advisors only exist for those with strong purchasing power. This injustice, I thought, should also be a problem for big institutions. So I took my project to Wall Street. I showed them the figures from my investigation and explained that in 2022 lots of kids would not be investing in investment banks for the simple reason that they have no idea what they do, or that they even exist. The investment banks agreed and added that people not investing is bad news for the very system that created the inequality. So Schooold is like a financial advisor for young people of 14 years of age who really need it. Because financial literacy is imperative now. If Schooold succeeds in its aim of teaching financial literacy to an entire generation, which has never been done before, then when this generation turns 20 it will have the wisdom it needs to avoid repeating the mistakes of those who were not lucky enough to have the support of a financial advisor.