TD Ameritrade is one of the most well-known brokerage firms for individual investors around the world. Since 1975, TDA and its subsidiaries have helped people manage and trade their stocks, investments, and other financial assets through online trading platforms and software.
From 2010 to 2019, Big Human served as TD Ameritrade’s agency of record — refining its brand, reinventing its products, and even developing new ones. As one of our largest (and longest) client relationships, our nine years with TDA brought a new level of innovation to the company as a whole. While it’s been three years since Charles Schwab formally acquired the firm, we’re proud to say we can still see the Big Human stamp across the TDA brand.
Research, Strategy, Invention
Big Human’s initial task was a straightforward refresh of TD Ameritrade’s brand identity, but it quickly evolved into a handful of others. As the account matured, we developed relationships with other departments within the firm. Curious about our industry expertise and intrigued by our knack for identifying creative opportunities, TDA’s teams began inviting us into grander projects, elevating Big Human as the company’s innovation studio. We were always on hand to find inventive solutions to head-scratching problems or push the boundaries of what TDA thought was possible.
While our resourcefulness and adaptability put us on sure footing, TD Ameritrade’s asks came with their fair share of challenges. The first was TDA’s range of user types (expert traders, intermediate traders, and novice traders); we had to provide solutions for each of their different needs and goals. The second was financial data; often dense and number-heavy, there’s also a multitude of business requirements and strategies to account for. We had to ensure all information was presented in a way that was simple and easy to understand.
In the years before remote work became the new normal, our projects with TD Ameritrade juggled multiple time zones. Big Human is headquartered in New York, but we worked with TDA’s business analysts in Chicago and its developers in Russia. While our design team handled the bulk of TDA’s design requests, we still collaborated with its in-house UX designers; they had a better understanding of the business and we wanted to make sure we were solving the right problems. They helped inform our design decisions, handling the user testing and sharing insights we used to make adjustments.
When Big Human started TD Ameritrade’s brand refresh in 2010, we harked back to its 35 years in the business. The goal was to blend TDA’s illustrious history with a modern-day presence, using its brand guidelines to thoughtfully define who TDA is and who TDA is not.
The design system we produced for TD Ameritrade is still one of our most thorough to date. For TDA’s marketing website, the Big Human team developed a new design language and created illustrative iconography with a single-pixel outline treatment that predates the popular icon styles seen today. TDA’s official brand guidelines were shared as a digital file as well as a physical printed book. Both were updated periodically, showcasing TD Ameritrade’s product evolution and its move to a systematic visual design language.
Since TD Ameritrade operates in several overseas countries, we modified the company’s branding and designs to accommodate cultural differences. For example, in the West, we used the color green to indicate buy and sell options. For East Asian countries, we replaced green with red, a color that signifies good luck. We also tweaked designs to adapt to languages that are read from right to left.
As a global company, TD Ameritrade often collaborates with other large organizations, and Big Human would be called in to provide updated brand guidelines. The company sponsored athletes during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, prompting our design team to develop guidelines that aligned with the Olympics’ branding. When TDA was named an official sponsor for the National Football League in 2014, we created updated branding for that, too.
TD Ameritrade Mobile / Mobile Trader
An ample size of our work with TD Ameritrade was translating its desktop experience into mobile — an identifiable sign of the smartphone boom in the 2010s. We began with TD Ameritrade Mobile, a complex app that helped the average investor manage their assets and monitor the market. We refreshed the app with TDA’s official branding, but our biggest hurdle was mirroring full desktop functionality on a smaller screen. To properly recalibrate desktop designs in a mobile context, we emphasized the user experience; we took a clear and straightforward approach to ensure all data was concise and legible.
For over two years, Big Human’s main focus was on iPhone and iPad designs for Mobile Trader, an app we sometimes referred to as “Advanced Trading 201.” It served seasoned users with more familiarity and expertise in the financial trading landscape. On both the iPhone and iPad versions of Mobile Trader, we redesigned the UX of the dashboard to support chatrooms and other advanced capabilities. Within these two years, we increased TDA’s average mobile monthly and daily users to 21% and 41%, respectively. In 2015, when the Apple Watch was first released, Big Human designers also established Mobile Trader’s entire watch interface and functionalities.
When we noticed Android device usage was gaining traction in the market, sharing 50% of its space with iPhones, our Apple device design work trickled into Android. This was partly fueled by Google’s decision to become more design-led, sharing its Android-specific style guide called “Android Lollipop” (or “Android L” for short) around 2015. The Big Human team translated designs for TDA’s iOS apps into Android phones and tablets, generating a fresh style guide specifically for TDA’s Android apps. In 2019, we helped TDA introduce Dark Mode on Mobile Trader for both Apple and Android devices. Mobile Trader, which has since been merged into TD Ameritrade Mobile, helped TDA secure a spot on Barron’s list of Best Online Brokers of 2017.
Every few years, smart device updates called for a rework of TDA’s brand and design guidelines to ensure its mobile apps maintained a cohesive look and feel. Apple’s 2013 iOS7 update was a particularly big deal. The invention of flat design, which Big Human pioneered, introduced a brand new style to every device — from icons to buttons and input forms.
One of our first mobile app projects with TD Ameritrade was thinkorswim. The platform is a place where traders can access TD Ameritrade's wide range of services. Users can view and trade assets, monitor and analyze account balances, and practice their trading strategies with real-time market data. The app also offers educational videos, programming from the TD Ameritrade Network, and in-depth charts of past, present, and future economic activity.
thinkorswim is mainly a desktop app, and Big Human was tasked with redesigning the platform, its corresponding marketing website, and its mobile version. Since both the desktop and mobile apps held a vast amount of knowledge, our design team took a strategic approach to data visualization to make sure every piece of information was easy to digest and understand.
Big Human’s ingenuity was most apparent in two areas: sequential trading and live chats. We built thinkorswim’s user experience in a way that felt intuitive and knowledgeable; if the market hit a certain point, the platform would populate a list of actions users could take as immediate responses to financial events. We also expanded TDA’s customer support capabilities with live screen sharing, allowing users to hold real-time conversations with trading specialists while simultaneously sharing their screens for added context.
A few years ago, the market saw an uptick in robo-advisors — digital platforms with low-cost financial services that build and manage people’s investment portfolios. Removing the need for human intervention, robo-advisors use computer algorithms to quickly and efficiently build, manage, and rebalance portfolios.
With TD Ameritrade’s robo-advisor Amerivest, we offered tools to meet the needs of different user types: the expert trader who’s active every day, the intermediate trader who needs help turning a profit, and the novice trader who’s just learning the ropes. TDA’s business analysts shared regular reports on the app’s performance in the market, and the Big Human team would use those insights to make updates and finetune the user experience.
TDA University may have been one of the last projects we worked on for TD Ameritrade, but it was the first of its kind. TDA partnered with universities nationwide to create an online educational platform that helped college students learn about investing. The platform gave students access to financial resources and connected them to industry insiders through interviews with notable angel investors, venture capitalists, tax attorneys, compliance specialists, and more.
To make it more fun, Big Human gamified the experience. Students could create an account and try their hand at investing pretend money, with top earners receiving a spot on their class’s leaderboard. We also helped create TDA University’s brand identity, marketing site, custom badges on the platform, and some creative assets that could be shared on social media.
Laying the foundation for modern innovation
Big Human served as TD Ameritrade’s agency of record for almost a decade, and it’s still one of the longest client relationships in our history. Along with reinventing the user experience across smartwatches and tablet devices, our constant iterations of the brokerage firm’s iOS and Android apps helped shepherd TD Ameritrade into an era of 21st-century innovation.