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.
Members who are trying to crowdsource their goals maintain public campaigns in the style of Kickstarter in order to introduce themselves and their goals to potential donors. By building a connection with donors by sharing photos, stories, and updates with them, Janus members who are looking for financial support are adding another compelling incentive for donors to give. Goals that can be funded on the platform include anything from the short-term goal of raising money to buy a birthday cake for a son or daughter's birthday, to the longer-term goal of raising money for college. The relative duration and size of savings goals will be managed by the Janus Savings platform. Disbursement of smaller goals and crowd sourced funds occurs directly onto the user's debit card, while larger goals, such as saving for college, would be disbursed via purpose-structured financial vehicles, such as a high interest college savings accounts with limited withdrawals.
All members of the platform, whether high or low income, receive a brandedwhite credit or debit card. The card is branded white, in direct contrast and opposition to the ultra-premium black card on the market. The card os crafted out of aluminum, to imbue it with a sense of value beyond a regular credit card. The card is also branded with a depiction of the Roman god Janus - who is the god of beginnings and transitions. We felt that was appropriate for a platform that we hoped would help workers eventually lift themselves out of poverty. The double face imagery was also symbolic of our belief that people need help in order to escape the minimum wage - and that it is extremely difficult to do so alone. Low-income users with low credit scores will initially only be able to use the card as a debit card, but will benefit from regular increases to their credit limit and their overall credit score as they continue to participate in the Janus Savings platform.
Janus SavingsThis image shows the Janus credit/debit card in use.
Janus Savings with CollateralThis image shows the Janus Savings card with all of the collateral that accompanies it in direct-to-home mail brochures.
Janus Savings Landing PageThis image shows a user interacting with the Janus Savings landing page.
Janus Savings Landing PageThis is a sample Janus Savings Landing Page, which advertises the platform by sharing members' inspiration stories.
Janus Savings Home ScreenThis image shows the home screen of the Janus Savings website. Users can see their financial information at a glance, as well as who they have supported through the Janus Savings platform.
Janus Savings PosterThis image shows a poster that provocatively asks users to do better by signing up for Janus Savings.
Janus Savings Starbucks CampaignThis image shows a Janus Savings poster that illustrates how difficult life on minimum wage is.
Janus Savings Card ProcessThis image shows the process of fabricating the debit/credit cards out of aluminum sheets coated with white spray paint.
Janus Savings Card Fabrication ProcessThis image shows the process of fabricating the Janus Savings card. Here, Jonathan applies vinyl detailing to the back of the card.
Janus Savings Card Fabrication ProcessThis image shows Jonathan flattening out the vinyl applied to the card.
Design Research Learnings BoardThis image shows the learnings board created from two user interviews conducted with minimum wage earners in New York City.
Design Research ProcessThis image shows Jonathan, Long and Souvik in a group brainstorm/insight generation session following three interviews with minimum wage earners.
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, Team JLS 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 thatmaking 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 isno 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' amongst 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. Our How Might We's were: how might we illustrate that the minimum wage is not enough to improve one's lot in life; how might we help minimum wage workers look into the future; and how might we change the negative perception around asking for help. In orderto give ourselves additional structure around designing for the minimum wage, we created three design principles. Through our designs, we hoped to show discrepancy - how much more difficult peoples' lives with minimum were - with transparency,and confront people with uncomfortable truths regarding the minimum wage through our designs.We wanted to empower users and enable them to improve their lives; and we wanted to tell real life stories in a way that is impactful and motivational. 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.
We generated several ideas around each How Might We, and ended up combining several disparate ideas into one cohesive platform as a result of our iterative design process. Our final design proposal was for Janus Savings, a financial platform that unites people making below a threshold value [~$35,000 a year, based on design research work done by our classmates] and people making above that value. Our belief was that people can be motivated to help others through the use of real life stories and greater awareness of disparity, but that there is a powerful psychological barrier against giving away one's money on a consistent basis. Instead of using cash as the main donated good, we focused on using credit card points. We believed that points accumulated through credit card programs were intangible enough that people could part with them freely. Points do have a cash value, however, meaning that they could be used to make a real difference in someone's life, especially if that person is strapped for cash.
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 subgoals, and users could also share updates on their progress withtheir 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.
We liked Janus because we viewed it as community supporting community; the idea that there's a group of people who have opted into something together because of the mutual benefit.
The finance industry and credit cards seem so static, and this is a new way of approaching how people think about credit and finance.