Alex Pines

Alex Pines

Head of design

Who are you?

My name is Alex, I’m a graphic designer living in Los Angeles. I’ve been with Vanilla since before the beginning, prior to Vanilla I co-founded a graphic design studio that specialized in digital product design and interactive experiences. I’m also an assistant professor where I teach undergraduate and graduate graphic design classes.

What do you do at Vanilla?

I lead design here at Vanilla where I’m helping to shape our product and build a culture of design throughout the company.

What is your daily life like at Vanilla?

My day is typically spent working closely with engineers, operations, financial advisors, and other stakeholders in shaping the experience customers have using our platform and helping to demystify estate planning through design. My team also works with marketing and sales in developing our brand, designing sales and marketing tools, and educational resources around estate planning.

We’ve been remote since day one which has always been a core part of our company. A lot of us at Vanilla are fans of Cal Newport, and his book Deep Work, so we’re always trying to be intentional about what meetings we have and are always conscious of people’s time. Our work is set up so that we can collaborate, while allowing people to dedicate time and space to do really meaningful work.

What is the role of product and brand design at Vanilla?

I’d like to think that we’re a design-first company. The founding members, including myself, all have backgrounds in graphic design. So we care deeply about the user experience of our product and use design to take complex subjects like estate planning and tax strategies and make them easier to understand.

What role do you see design playing in estate planning?

Estate planning is a subject that a lot of people don’t want to spend time thinking about but it’s something that affects all of us. Design can really help make this an easier topic to deal with in a compassionate way. When it comes to estate planning, tax strategies, and legal documents, effective design can make them a lot less intimidating for someone to interact with. There hasn’t yet been a lot of attention focused on the ways that design and technology can contribute to these industries.

“One of our north stars is how can we help financial advisors do their job better. A big part of that is helping them build stronger relationships with their clients…”

One of our north stars is how can we help financial advisors do their job better. A big part of that is helping them build stronger relationships with their clients by making them look good.

How did you end up in estate planning?

Sam Trapkin and I are co-founders at a design studio called Studio Rubric. The founder of Vanilla, Steve Lockshin, was a client of ours through his financial advising firm AdvicePeriod. We worked with AdvicePeriod in designing marketing materials and client presentation decks of which estate planning was a major subject. Steve always had an idea for what this could be, so we brought on our friend Kei to help realize a prototype of what would later become Vanilla.

“What we’re doing is helping people be prepared… so they can focus on the things that actually matter, like family and being there…”

I don’t think anyone really expects to get into estate planning, you know? At its heart, estate planning is just dealing with death, taxes, and legacy, which is something everyone has to deal with at some point. I think that alone makes it interesting.

It’s a subject that people are reluctant to talk about, even on a personal level. Estate planning is something that we don’t really think about until we need it. It’s stressful to have a loved one in the hospital and not know how to manage it. What we’re doing is helping people be prepared for these types of situations, so they can focus on the things that actually matter, like being there for family, versus having to worry about the legal and logistical aspects during times of crisis.

What do you see in the future of estate planning?

Everything about estate planning is outdated and ready to be reassessed. In the immediate future, we want to help financial advisors serve their clients better through a modernized estate planning process. Longer term, there’s an opportunity to change how people view and engage with estate planning holistically. I’m excited to start thinking about how Web3 technologies like crypto, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can be applied to what we’re doing.

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