Designing experiences

One of our product designers, Steven, talks through what it's like designing a whole new banking experience.

26th October 2017
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Of all the projects and products I’ve been a part of as a designer over the years, my role at Starling has so far been the most compelling. Designing a banking app for a startup mobile-only bank, from scratch, was always going to be a challenge – but it’s one that I think any designer obsessed with user experience would welcome.

Why? For a start, designing this kind of product means that you’re crafting an interface experience for something which is intimate, emotional, potentially contentious and complicated to your customers. It doesn’t get much more personal than our relationship with our own money, and if your ambition is to create something truly remarkable and push the limits of possibility.

On top of that, you’re trying to create something that’s not just another app. Something with a visceral impact, that’s powerful and memorable. At Starling, our technology is purpose-built and in many cases, only months old, and everyone’s hungry to create and build. The three designers sit as part of the product team, where the hierarchy is relatively flat – and whilst the requirements are owned by the product managers, I have the opportunity as a designer to challenge and influence it through design.

Our most recent addition to the app, Goals, represents this responsibility perfectly. I wanted to take the opportunity here to explain some of the decisions we’ve made throughout the design process for this feature and the journey we’ve been on to get it to its current iteration.

Goals on iPhone

Why design Goals?

Because we want to change the way people save. Banking apps of the past (and their features) are little more than purely functional interfaces. That savings account you hold is probably called ‘Savings’ and there’s an eight digit number next to it, right? That end of year holiday, camera, house deposit and rainy day fund are all contained in one large lump behind a single number. We felt strongly that this old-fashioned approach might be the thing preventing people from saving in a productive and effective way.

Because visualisation works. Our hypothesis was that you’re far more likely to achieve your personal goal if it’s both visual and personal, and the early signs are positive – we’ve seen a great reaction from customers on social media and in our community. Visually representing the things you’re saving for helps you to achieve them, and with Starling’s underlying technology (that allows the customer to partition their account) we had the opportunity to create something that tapped into this potential.

Like creating a playlist or a photo album, we wanted users to be able to create visual representations of the things they’re saving for. That new Condor road bike no longer simply exists as a picture in your head – it’s now a picture on a tile occupying a space in your phone! For the first time, all the things you’re saving are represented in a visceral way.

Goals on Android

The end game

We always knew we wanted to design the right thing (and design the thing right). To achieve this, we had a few non-negotiables in mind when we were creating Goals. We knew we wanted a goal to be quick to create — as easy, say, as starting a new photo album, Spotify playlist or Whatsapp chat.

We also knew we wanted it to be playful, intuitive, motivating and memorable. It’s not just about efficiency but also the experience – so we wanted the design to be distinctive and bold, but never gratuitously so.

Great design is a journey into the soul. Some digital products have their personality derived primarily from their branding – you peel away the icons, illustrations, colours and what’s left are native platform components and design patterns. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re a smart designer, you devour those Material Design and iOS design guidelines and use them to your advantage – in the process maintaining a great relationship with your developers (and making your deadlines, too).

Logical principles

We’ve always aimed for fluidity and a dynamic overall experience. On Goals, tapping the ‘Pay’ button transitions into an input, you type out the amount and it sends it over the line — and the model works in reverse. Tapping the savings balance expands it into an input, then you just type out the amount and pull the money back into your everyday spending. It’s simple by design.

What this delivers is a distinctive Starling interaction and behaviour, which reinforces the action the user is performing. This was also the first time we’d designed a complex set of events rendered in a single screen instead of a multiscreen flow. We loved it so much we even rolled it out to payments.

Goals motion sequence

The result

So here we are – our very first version of Goals! We hope that our users respond to it the way we imagine they will – when you spend so much time in development and design on a product you can sometimes lose a sense of how good or new it may be, but early indications is that we have designed something genuinely game-changing.

We will have some feature updates and will be listening to our users to see what we can do to make improvements. Ultimately our vision for Goals is in order of magnitude way bigger than what we currently have released so keep watching this space – and expect the unexpected.

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