Sustainability Report

Morningstar Publishing System (MPS) is Morningstar’s document management service that is used by financial professionals to centralize and deliver factsheets, regulatory documents, and marketing communications to clients.

ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) is a set of criteria used to identify investments that have a positive social impact and are increasingly popular with socially-conscious investors.
Product Designer
User Research, Visual Design, Information Architecture, Content Strategy, Marketing
June 2021 - July 2021
Understanding the problem

Socially conscious investing is increasingly becoming expected practice by clients of many financial professionals. This has upped the demand for clear and comprehensible sustainability reports for client presentations. Morningstar offers a service (MPS) to investors that helps centralize and automate this process. Without a marketing tool to display what is possible to build in MPS, many investors aren’t aware of Morningstar’s offerings.

MPS needed a visually compelling and informative two-page template to show users what is possible to build in their software in order to draw in socially conscious investors. Once complete, the template would be utilized in sales presentations and highlighted on the MPS marketing website to increase awareness of their ESG offerings.

In short, my task was to compile a laundry list of data points and visualizations into two pages used to market Morningstar’s ESG offerings to users.

Initial explorations and research

Along with the Head of User Research, I conducted UserZoom interview sessions with users who regularly interacted with Morningstar’s ESG offerings.

We identified the following insights from the research process:

  • Data commentary helps. Much of the data requires explanation. Without it, users have a hard time understanding the visuals that Morningstar offers.

  • Less is more. Rather than cram as much as possible into an academic-style report, users preferred reports that included only the most important information.

  • Returns are still king. It’s easy for the pile of ESG data in most reports to bury basic fund information, like return data. Sustainability doesn’t matter if the fund isn’t performing well.

To many investors, the explosion of ESG into the finance world has proven to be overwhelming, with a massive amount of data and no clear guide on which data points are the most important-- or how they tied into return over time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t fix everything for investors in the ESG space. But I could try to create a report that provided clarity around the ESG information that was burying investors, while drawing them into MPS.


Maximum data, minimum space.
My understanding of what ESG investors are looking for shifted after the research and review of Morningstar’s current reports. It became clear that explainer text and clear data hierarchy would take precedence over quantity of information.

This was good information to have, but it posed a challenge because of the amount of data expected to be included in the report.

Stakeholder expectations
Throughout the project I worked to balance unrealistic stakeholder expectations around including extensive amount of data. There were issues with fluctuating opinions across stakeholders and miscommunication.

In response, I emphasized proactive communication, consistent email updates and meetings. I learned to defend design decisions and ground my arguments in user feedback we’d received in testing.

Designing the solution

My initial thought was that to display the breadth of Morningstar’s ESG offerings and give users the maximum data, I should focus on arranging the report to fit as much into two pages as possible.

Morningstar is known for reports that look something like this:

The report includes a ton of good information, but how easy is it to read or understand?

The user research helped me flip my perspective on the goal of the template. Quality over quantity. I developed a clear communication objective and information hierarchy that helped define how information was laid out and prioritized on the page.

First, a right-hand rail would contain metadata that doesn’t require large visualizations. This choice allowed maximum space for the ‘big’ data points that I knew users were interested in, like performance growth and ESG statistics.

I reserved a top portion of the page for portfolio growth to help investors clearly see the correlation between sustainability results and return over time.


For the visual piece, I wanted a clean and refreshing look that conveyed trustworthiness for socially conscious investors. I started with a color exploration.

I first tested it in green, a color widely associated with sustainability. I added it to my wireframe with text and datapoints.

Green fit with the theme, but I wanted our report to stand out against a sea of similar reports. I wanted to try something different. Blue is sleek, modern, and associated with dependency and trustworthiness.

Readability and proper space was important to me as well, especially given the feedback from users looking for clear and coherent reports.

I removed the backgrounds and borders used in my green version and went for a simpler design. Some data points were pushed to the second page to allow for adequate white space on the first page.

Final version

Results and takeaways

Since the completion of this project, we have received positive feedback from customers and the template contributed to an 11% growth in usage of MPS’s ESG templates.

A couple key takeaways from this project:

Use past reports as a guide on what worked and what didn’t. Exploring old Morningstar reports to understand the feedback they’d received helped prevent repetition of the same mistakes.

Communication is key. I worked with a group of stakeholders who had a particular vision on this project, one that didn’t always align with user feedback. I learned to defend my design decisions through consistent and proactive communication.

Don’t forget to make it pretty! Mountains of ESG data is great, but the template won’t work as a marketing tool if it doesn’t draw the user in visually.  

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