Great Design Sparks Emotion: Kaaren Hanson, Chief Design Officer at Chase

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The introduction of Apple’s trash can and paint can icons may feel like a lifetime ago, but it laid the groundwork for seismic changes in user experience design. And that’s where Kaaren Hanson, an award-winning veteran design leader, gets her inspiration: Susan Kare was an early pioneer in graphic design who pushed for intentional design and inspired creativity. She led the shift from text to graphical interfaces and designed the first 32x32 pixel icons and desktop metaphors for Apple.

“Creating the trash and paint icons in a friendly, familiar and approachable manner,” Kaaren said, “helped millions of people to make a transformative shift.”

Kaaren took that inspiration throughout her 20-plus-year journey, which led her to executive roles at Facebook, Medallia, Intuit and Wells Fargo. Today, as Chief Design Officer for Chase, Kaaren focuses on creating world-class experiences for millions of Chase customers while driving impactful business results.

She has spearheaded incredibly successful design teams throughout her career whose work has been highlighted in various prestigious media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg Businessweek, LA Times and Inc. Kaaren is a Board Advisor and Founding Member at the Design Executive Council and a former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Design Fellow.  

Talent that makes a real difference

In addition to inspiration from early innovators in the design and CX space, Kaaren relishes surrounding herself with incredible talent. She takes pride in her team and their commitment to helping Chase customers achieve their dreams and reach their goals.

That’s in addition to their engagement in activities outside of work that help to make their own communities stronger. For example, one designer creates meaningful 3D art paper sculpture installations in her community; others help people who have less access to or experience with banking or are underbanked; and some dedicate themselves to advancing accessibility.

Kaaren Hanson, Design Executive Council Headshot

How this CDO measures success (hint: it includes emotion)

As a design leader “obsessed” with emotion, Kaaren deeply entrenches herself in the process of establishing and guiding customer-centric company cultures.

“The true value of design goes beyond making something look and feel pleasing. It’s about solving customer problems in an elegant manner,” Hanson said. “I measure our success by three factors: the customer value, the ease of use and the emotions we evoke. There is no question that the product teams of the future are heavy on design,” she added.

She noted that design at Chase starts with putting customers first and solving problems exceptionally well in a way that works for the business. “When we design products, services and experiences, we test our assumptions and make decisions informed by data, stay humble, and focus on prioritizing and doing a few things really well,” she said. She places a strong emphasis on creating minimum valuable products – not minimum viable products.

Moving design leadership forward with a focus on the customer and business results

How does Kaaren see design leadership moving forward? Careers that create experiences that fulfill human needs will always be in demand.

At Chase, Kaaren is walking that walk by developing and deepening her team’s skills so they can identify critical pathways and grow their careers. Areas of skill development include interaction design, inclusive design, service design, visual and UI design; UX writing and editing; information architecture; experience research and strategy; prototyping; technical, brand and marketing literacy; and much more. “If we do right by our employees and keep them engaged and focused on our customers, we’ll have tremendous business impact,” she said.

Kaaren leads her team to collaborate with experts across data, technology and product; the more designers know about how these disciplines interact in service of the customer and the business, the better prepared they are to make an impact in any organization. Balancing facilitative leadership and design rationale is critical – designers must have strong craft while also being able to drive and influence teams.

“Design is central to everything we do. We must share beyond the design community and familiarize our partners with customer-centric ways of working. In many cases, we also need to evolve the environment and operating mechanisms,” she said. She added that a significant part of her job is educating partners about what her team does and how together they can work differently to produce better results. Design leaders need to build for the longevity of a business and get into the company culture and operations.

Looking forward through DXC

“I’m proud to be a part of a community that deeply values the power of design. I get immense joy in seeing design leadership become more impactful across the broader business landscape. I love being part of a team of such strong, smart colleagues,” she said. “I look forward to the day that CDOs are as common as CTOs and CFOs,” she added.

About

Kaaren Hanson

Kaaren Hanson is the Chief Design Officer for Consumer and Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase. She is an award-winning design leader with over two decades of industry experience and previously held executive roles at Facebook, Medallia, Intuit, and Wells Fargo. Kaaren is dedicated to delivering world-class experiences that drive business results and is obsessed with emotion and how to change company cultures to be more customer-centric. Kaaren is a graduate of Stanford University and occasionally speaks at her alma mater and the California College of the Arts. She is a Board Advisor and Founding Member at the Design Executive Council, and a former KPCB Design Fellow. Her team's successes have been highlighted in Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg Business Week, LA Times, and Inc. Magazine. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and makes a point of eating dark chocolate.