At their core, Bloomberg is an information and technology company, but there is no algorithm to their approach to design. Rather, everything Bloomberg does stems from an insatiable desire to meet their users’ needs by constantly pushing the boundaries of business, technology, and design. In doing so, Bloomberg has brought transparency and clarity to the financial markets, and has helped transform how global financial professionals operate.
In the early 1980s, technology in the financial world was mostly comprised of big IBM mainframes operated by specialists. Employees at financial firms such as Merrill Lynch wrote down their trades on paper and placed them on a conveyer belt to send to their colleagues. So a mechanical breakdown in the belt would cause the entire trade floor’s activities to literally grind to a halt.
Cofounders Mike Bloomberg and Tom Secunda knew that a digital system would be a huge improvement, but also understood that traders wouldn’t look too kindly on having a standard keyboard on their desks—word processors were for secretaries. So Bloomberg and Secunda designed their first keyboard with keys that were dedicated to specific tasks in the trading workflow. They replaced techno-language with human-centric labels to help their audience intuit which keys to hit, tailoring their product to their users. It was their attention to detail that made Bloomberg an iconoclast in the financial industry, and this approach remains the backbone of Bloomberg’s DNA today.
Later iterations of this original product came to be known as the Bloomberg Terminal, or the “Terminal” for short. Today it is a service with more than 300,000 subscribers, and distributing news in 40 languages.
Over the last 35 years, Bloomberg has spearheaded technological development, offering email and instant messaging, biometric authentication, trading platforms, and sophisticated analytics. Whenever existing hardware and software didn’t meet their users’ needs, Bloomberg pioneered their own. Before there was an Internet and TCP/IP, the company created their own networking protocols and laid down optical fiber to ensure that their users received the best possible experience.
Today the company stays maniacally focused on designing for the user by constantly prototyping and iterating on user feedback. A proprietary user-interface technology stack allows Bloomberg to get feedback from their clients early in the development cycle and release changes instantaneously. To get even more in-depth feedback, the company has built multimillion-dollar user research labs in their New York and London offices. Clients are invited to these labs to test-drive prototypes, and their reactions are carefully observed through multiple cameras and even eye-tracking. This potent combination of talking to clients in the field, getting feedback from multiple channels, and constantly testing and improving on their products has been key to Bloomberg’s continued success.
As the Terminal grew in subscribers and sophistication, so did the company overall. Timely news is hypercritical to Terminal subscribers, so in addition to redistributing wires and focused news sources, Bloomberg invested in an in-house news bureau. Eventually the news coverage expanded into the broader media space, with Markets Magazine, Bloomberg Radio, Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg.com, and accompanying mobile apps to serve the broader business and financial community. These products stem from the same ethos of user-centric design, but deliver product in a completely different way from the Terminal. Powerful narratives, striking typography, and cutting-edge data visualization are just some of the hallmarks of their media products. And, as other media companies were retrenching, the company acquired the storied publication BusinessWeek, renamed it Bloomberg Businessweek, and undertook a dramatic redesign that evoked the brand’s fiercely independent spirit.
Bloomberg recognizes the value of a bold and consistent brand, an open and innovative culture, and the role design plays in curating them. Bloomberg's visual brand system mirrors that of the Terminal by breaking ranks with traditional financial services companies; by being smart, bold, dynamic, and unapologetic; and by making even the simplest of client communications a clear and engaging experience.
Bloomberg’s LEED-certified headquarters building in New York City broke all norms and revolutionized paradigms of workplace design. Their gleaming mothership is a manifestation of the core values of the company: transparent, open, egalitarian, and democratic. The space features glass walls and wall-to-wall news feeds, has no enclosed offices, and every employee—regardless of rank—sits at the same size desk.
What ties all this together is that customers rely on Bloomberg to monitor the world, navigate reams of information, and provide a framework for making decisions and acting on them. Design at Bloomberg is truly principles-led. Their design tenets are clarity, transparency, economy, intelligence, and judgment. It is a deadline-driven culture that prizes experimentation, design thinking, and storytelling. Designers and engineers at Bloomberg continually process a volume of information, data, transactions, media, and stories that would likely swamp any other organization. Moreover they get it back to customers simplified, prioritized, contextualized, and consumable in split seconds.
Unique to designing at Bloomberg is the tension between the creative aspirations of the design teams and a business-minded audience that doesn’t typically prioritize breakthrough design. The response of the Bloomberg design teams has been to reject the tropes and norms of the financial services world and stake out original, often surprising design territory.
Driving the teams of graphics, UX, information, interface, architecture, and product designers is a fierce passion to lead, not follow. They embrace the challenge of clarifying abstract concepts, numbers, and data to keep customers smart. They listen to their customers, iterate, and consistently focus on presenting the proper information in the most user-friendly way possible. And when something is good, the mantra inside Bloomberg’s halls is “Keep making more.”