A Designer’s Job Is Never Done


Designers who work in new product development tend to think a little differently than others.  The truly innovative ones have no professional fear.  In fact, there’s a common saying in the industry that one should “fail early and often” and rapid iteration where you improve things in stages is generally prized over slowly working out the perfect product up-front.  Machines like 3D printers are some of the most indispensable tools in the industry today to help develop ideas, and for every finished product you see on a store shelf there are probably hundreds of printed prototypes sitting on an engineer’s desk somewhere.  That may sound wasteful on the surface, but every single prototype represents a new idea or a lesson learned that ultimately led to the final product you know and love.

Today is one of those days when you’ll notice that product design mindset in my own work here, as I just overhauled every single calculator on the site.  Even though I released another major update not too long ago, I learned a lot (both good and bad) from that version and was inspired to improve the experience even more.  There’s a lot going on, so let’s get down to business and talk about the changes.

The primary goal of the update is to dramatically improve the common calculator interface not only cosmetically but also functionally.  As an example, here’s what the new asset allocation tool looks like:




On the surface, I’ve ditched the old asset allocation column and switched to separate tiles for each asset type.  Not only does this look quite a bit nicer, but I think having clear categories for domestic stocks, international stocks, bonds, and real assets is also a lot more intuitive in terms of portfolio construction.  The new interface is about so much more than good looks and a nice layout, however, and that will become obvious as soon as you start tinkering with the settings.




Here’s a snapshot of the same tool in the process of entering the Coffeehouse Portfolio for the UK, one step before you apply the last 10% towards REITs.  There are several pretty sophisticated things going on here that you may not have noticed, so allow me to point out a few details.

First, check out the notes next to the home country selection box.  Every calculation is designed to model local purchasing power as accurately as possible, and the interface will always clearly call out the currency and inflation used in the calculations just so there’s no confusion.  And following the same desire for clarity, you’ll also notice similar labels switching around on things like local bond descriptions.  So whether you invest in Treasuries, Gilts, or Bunds, the assets are all properly labeled.

Second, look at the region labels on the top row of the International grouping.  If you compare that to the same image for the USA setting, you’ll notice that the World (WLD) and World ex-US (WLDx) regions are swapped.  That’s a feature, not a bug.  The term “international” means something very different to a UK investor than to a US investor, and I’m sure nobody would disagree that a UK investor would surely want their international fund to include the largest foreign market in the world — the United States.  By automatically switching the default international funds between World and World ex-US based on your home country, the calculators allow portfolio researchers to easily study the same portfolio ideas from different domestic perspectives with no extra steps required.

Next, you probably noticed that the circular asset allocation icon changed between portfolios.  That image is now dynamic and will update in real time to illustrate your asset allocation just like you’ll find in the portfolios section.  And if your portfolio is anything but 100% full, it will also tell you the total of every asset you’ve added so far so that you can easily top off your asset allocation percentages.  I personally find that little feature in combination with the portfolio visual to be surprisingly fun to play with, and hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

And finally, check out the asterisks in the Domestic tile.  I’ve always struggled with how to accurately model every portfolio outside of the US when I don’t have full data for things like small cap value in every country, but I realized that if I set aside my desire for perfect domestic data I could get pretty close.  So when the calculators are lacking any data for the domestic country, they substitute the equivalent data from the appropriate local region and indicate the substitution with an asterisk.  For reference, the UK and Germany will pull data from Europe and Canada will pull data from the United States.  Unfortunately to keep the interface consistent I had to temporarily disable Australia as an option, but I hope to bring it back in the future once I accumulate additional Pacific data.

By broadening our investing horizons beyond the immediate domestic borders to the local region, I’m able to do things like directly translate the Coffeehouse Portfolio to another country using the best data I have available with the click of a single button.  Even if it’s not a perfect translation, it’s generally not too far off and serves as an excellent launching point for further portfolio exploration.  That opens up a lot of opportunities all around the site, and you can look forward to many cool updates in the development pipeline.

All that said, I’m still a visually-oriented person at heart and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to spruce up the charts in the process.  It’s “Portfolio Charts” after all.  Everything has bigger visuals than before, and a few specific pages like the Retirement Spending calculator got a fresh new layout.  So even if you’re already familiar with the tools here, it’s worth your time to take a moment to explore anew.




As always, feel free to contact me if you spot a bug or have a suggestion for a new feature or update you’d particularly like to see.  I really like the new design, but there’s always room for improvement.  Portfolio Charts is an ongoing labor of love, and I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to follow along.  No matter your personal portfolio of choice, here’s hoping that the new calculators represent another positive step towards our mutual goals of good data, thought-provoking investing ideas, and educated financial decisions.