ACV Auctions

We met with the co-founders, months before they started the company to hear their plans for disrupting the automobile auction industry. What they presented to us was a problem that we didn’t know existed, and a potential solution that had us intrigued.

acv auctions team
acv auctions team

The next time we met with ACV they had a rough business plan, a few paper sketches, and a company name.

We began working with the founders using our design process to start building their company. Our work would be sprint based and each week we pick from our areas of focus; business discovery, branding, user research, product design, UI design, development, and usability testing to develop their product and help build their business.

car auction

Business Discovery

It was time to dig in. We’d meet with the team to learn and document all of the processes within a car dealership. An absurd amount of questions were asked and video footage was meticulously watched so that we could understand what current car auctions looked like. Mapping these processes to a digital representation would become incredibly important. We were then able to plan out the way the application would work.

  • Franchise Car Dealer wants to sell a used car.
  • They create a condition report, take a specific set of photos, and set a price through the app.
  • The newly created auction is sent to the phones of Franchise and Used Car Dealers who can bid on the car through the app.
  • Once a dealer has won the car both parties are walked through the post sale process of signing over ownership of the car and transferring it to the new dealer.

Working with ACV’s dev team, suddenly we were moving metal.

acv brand mark


While we were learning the ins and outs of the car industry we also started to sketch and create an identity for this emerging company. When creating a brand for company we like to start by having the company stakeholders fill out a questionnaire designed to unearth the core values and audience of the company. We also do competitive analysis research to get a sense of what their competitors brand marks look like so we can differentiate the company in the marketplace. With ACV we wanted to create a bold and clean logo that also evoked speed since that is one of the value propositions of the ACV app. We ended up choosing Avenir Italic for the font family for ACV.

The logo mark for ACV was created when we redrew Avenir Heavy Italic to have longer stems on the letter’s A and V. This brought out the boldness and sense of speed we were looking for in a logo for ACV. To wrap up the logo we drew a tire tread in the elongated V to give the logo added visual interest and make it clear to users that this is a car oriented product.

User Research

We needed to understand the culture, context, and atmosphere in which users would be using the app. Our team filled up the tank and jumped into our car driving from dealership to dealership collecting information. This showed us a spectrum of cultures throughout the region. Getting a first person look at their current challenges and pain points allowed us to meet their needs in the most seamless way. Interviewing individual car dealers showed us that their willingness to engage with the app varied. We needed to know why. Our results showed that industry professionals had one core value - seeing a return. The Helm team knew showing them the value and guiding them through the transaction was priority.

acv auctions sketches

Product Design

We explored a number of features and layouts through low fidelity design techniques like sketching and wireframes. It was then paramount to prioritize and simplify in order to build version one. Exercising our minds through timed design exercises allowed us to methodically reduce and prioritize. By documenting workflows we were able to identify friction in the process and subsequently reduce frustration by giving users the proper information when they needed it. Our goal was to simplify a complex process and allow people to have a sense of clarity and confidence as they purchased cars at auction.

acv auctions app screens

User Interface Design

With a real-time bidding system there are a number of usability challenges. The team needed to design an interface that people could easily understand and that portrayed the highest quality - especially because users would be committing to paying large amounts of money. No accidental bids, no surprises when the car is delivered, and no confusion during the post-auction process. We explored ways to curtail accidental bids, and improve visibility on the true condition of the car. Ultimately concepting and creating a ‘hold-to-bid’ interaction allowed users to fully confirm what they were doing while still catering to the real-time nature of the auction. We also helped users create truthful condition reports by guiding them through what photos should be taken and promoting the benefits of an honest report.

Usability Testing

As ACV came close to launching the beta version of their app Helm put together a list of metrics to track its usage. The app was given to a group of early adopter car dealers who were eager to begin buying and selling cars. Over the first two months of usage 233 cars were through the app. Helm was able to gather information from these users through the app usinginperson interviews that allowed us to learn about desired features and current pain points. We presented this data to ACV and worked with the stakeholders to determine the next features that would be added as they continue to grow.

acv auctions


ACV is the kind of company we love to work with. They came to us with a simple idea and after a few months of worthwe had launched a website and mobile app that would power this disruptive business.

Through our design process Helm was able to produce everything ACV needed to go to market; a brand identity, marketing website, and a mobile app that was all created under a cohesive user experience.

In working with the team members at ACV we learned how important it is to communicate ideas early and often. We all often fall in love with a solution before we fully understand the problem. By implementing our process we were able to demonstrate to the company stakeholders the value of validating assumptions while working closely with the team members to quickly bring their product to market.

The future is bright for ACV Auctions and Helm is happy to continue to be a part of their journey to modernize a stagnant industry.