How Freetrade works

July 21, 2020

As a concept, Freetrade isn’t novel—it’s very similar to Robinhood and a number of other investment apps. Importantly, the trend is moving towards commission-free trading.

So, in a world where everything is free, how will these companies compete? The answer, at least partly, is in having the best experience.

But how good is Freetrade’s user experience?

Key takeaways


Remembering the squint test.


Tools need to be predictable.


Why you should avoid long lists.


Why history is addictive.

Case study

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4 UX takeaways

1. The squint test

You’ve probably experienced something similar to this before: you’ve completed an action on a webpage, the page refreshes, and it takes you ages to work out if it was successful or not.

This happens to me all the time with contact forms—which are notorious for having subtle confirmation messages. That’s why I have a simple rule of thumb:

If you squinted, and only looked at the page for 1/10th of a second, could you tell me what the status is?

(i.e., success, failure, error…)

And credit where it’s due, Freetrade’s status pages are brilliant.



There are 3 main reasons why this design is so effective.


1. Controlling your attention

By shading the top half of the screen, your attention is naturally drawn towards the lower half. Without this, you may be distracted by the large numbers above.

2. Visual confirmation

The striking and coloured icon is right in the middle of the screen. It’s probably what you noticed first. If you glance up again you’ll find it hard to not look at it.


3. Concise headline

The content is really concise, and there are hardly any unnecessary words.

The combination of these elements creates something which is unambiguous, and effortless to understand at a glance.

🤓 The squint test

When designing status pages, make sure that you can understand what the status is, even while squinting. It has to be that obvious.

2. Understanding how the search works

I’ll often refer to the following as features: search, sorting options and filters. But they’re not just features, they’re also tools.

And like all tools, you need to understand the relationship between input and output, and how consistent that output is. When the output isn’t predictable, the tool is seldom useful.

Imagine smashing a rock against a watermelon, and sometimes it cuts it into perfect slices, and other times, through no fault of your own, it explodes right in your face.

The example above would be easy to categorise as a failure, because you’re physically wiping watermelon sludge from your glasses. But with software it’s far harder, because it’s a sliding scale of efficiency.

Let’s use Freetrade’s live search as an example. Here, I’m searching for ‘Atlassian’.




Strange, right? If you just search for “Atl”, then there are only 2 results. But as you keep typing—which typically means being more specific—more results start appearing. 

Which in itself is counter-intuitive, but made worse because some of the results that do appear, don’t seem relevant at all.

Humans are fantastic at subconsciously noticing patterns and predicting outputs. But when something random or chaotic happens—which breaks that order—we suffer.

In this instance, the seemingly randomness of the search results, makes it difficult to efficiently and predictably use the tool every time.

🍉 Predictable tools

Ensure that all the tools on your site—i.e., search & filters—are predictable and consistent. Otherwise you're no better than an exploding watermelon.

3. Avoid long lists

What’s worse than a tool which backfires watermelon seeds into your face 10% of the time? Not having a tool, and going hungry.

Which is why it’s disappointing that Freetrade don’t have any kind of basic search, sorting or filtering inside their ‘Sector’ categories.

Discovery page:

You’ll see the ‘sectors’ section…

Long list:

With 170 items to scroll through.

I’m not sure what the maximum number of items that you could feasibly have in a list before you need a basic search functionality is, but it’s certainly fewer than 170.

People hate scrolling through lists. This feels like a feature that was built in an MVP and never revisited.

A really common example of this issue is when you’re selecting your country in a form. You have hundreds of options, and have to scroll down to find yours. It may only take a few seconds, but it’s irrationally frustrating.

I help companies all the time who have technically built some great functionality, but without the appropriate context or tools to use it, nobody does.

🗞 Avoid long lists

People hate scrolling through lists. Give them basic tools, like a search, to filter only the ones that they're interested in.

4. History is addictive

Presumably, most people are using Freetrade because they want to invest in something today, for a greater financial reward in the future.

And, because of it’s similarities to gambling, it’s very easy for Freetrade to gamify the process of investing—which undoubtably has an impact on the stickiness of their product.

An important factor in this stickiness is how enjoyable it is to look back through your historic performance.

By making this process enjoyable, you make it addictive. And this encourages the user to continue investing time (and literally money in this case) into the product.

But look what happens to your portfolio performance when you add £10 to your account.



You see that upward spike? That’s me adding money.

But when I look back in a few months time, will I even remember that I added more cash? Or instead, will I think that I just invested in Tesla shares on the right day.

Sure, my portfolio says which shares are up or down, but this graph is both enticing, and misleading.

The lack of clarity here creates doubt. Am I actually making any money, or do I just keep pouring more money in?

And, for anybody who’s noticed this issue, it’s the possibility of future misunderstanding that is so damaging. It’s hard to let yourself enjoy your historic performance when you know how easily you could be mislead.

🦕 History is addictive

If you're going to gamify performance, ensure that the user can actually monitor their success, without doubt.

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