Fun fact: The filming of this video took place in the campus I studied my Master's degree, Brunel University.


Digital advancements of the last decade has shaped almost every industry, but still there are some industries that are more complex and traditionally slower to change and innovation, such as banking and financial sectors. Nevertheless, many habits that were difficult to change over time, nowadays are questioned. Whether the current ways of doing things are the most efficient and helpful, for example paying for something or tracking your finance.

It could be argued that this is the result of two megatrends: 

  • The rapid increase of early adopters. Meaning that people now can embrace new technologies easier and at earlier stages of their lives. Therefore expectation around technology and service are naturally high.
  • The general global economical crisis has damaged the relationship and trust between people and banks, especially bankers. People would expect to get the best possible advice when it comes to their finance. Transparency is also vital for them.

Banking is at the stage of a big digital transition. A transition that should add value and build around human needs and technological abilities. A combination that can only lead into real innovation. Currently the advancements in digital banking are very incremental following a "paper to screen" approach. Meaning that banks are still trying to deliver the same services but in a different medium, for example the paper bank statement has now become a similar list of bank statement but digital.

The opportunity

Early adopters can fall in love and trust a service easier, if this service takes the most out of technology. Of course, with the same ease they can discard something that can be identified as difficult to understand, use or looks and feels outdated. The opportunity of the bank in this case lies in how it could engage the user at an early stage in order to build a long term relationship of trust and understanding. This is even more relevant in the case of Santander as a bank, where is one of the most used bank by students.

Discover & Define

User research

The solution we aimed for had to target young adults and more specifically students. Throughout the initial stages of this project we worked close with Santander in order to understand their business needs but also get a good understanding of their current customers. Concepts and ideas generated from us, were then tested with students by Santander through university campuses visits and user surveys.

Together, we then concluded in few initial insights around the specific target group:

  • Students feel that their banks are very distant from their needs and perceived as unhelpful
  • Students find it difficult to manage their finance and going overdraft is a constant fear
  • Students would like to be as much as in control instead of being parented
  • They find finance confusing and hard to understand

Brand workshops

We designed and ran workshops for Santander in order to discover and define the new digital product's brand assets. The findings consisted of the brand positioning, brand values, brand identity, culture and personality, tone of voice, copywriting and brand naming.

Concept Development

Upon completion of the main discovery stage, convergent thinking have been applied to further develop a single solid concept.

The decision was to create a more intelligent layer on top of the existing application, that would take advantage of the platform advantages but more importantly would surface valuable insights around your finance in a different and smarter way.

"The Lens" metaphor

The core concept created for the needs of this project was titled as "a lens to your finance". The lens metaphor was core to the experience we wanted to create. It represents the different ways of looking at your finance. The lens could take different forms, based on the data available and user's needs at each stage of the journey. The 4 different lenses are the following:

  1. The "Now" - Covering the activity of the past seven days, including today. A weekly view found to be really important for students, as they review their money in daily and weekly basis.

  2. How am I doing this month? - The start of the month would be the point of reference. This view can apply in a broader range of users who think of their finance as a "month to month race"
  3. How am I doing now compared to last month? -  This provides a comparative view of your progress based on the last completed month. Also would show an aggregated view of your most interesting expenditures.
  4. The Future - Looking back could better prepare you for the future. This view would show repeated expenditure patterns and planned payments.



Creative moodboard

The values that we were looking into for design inspiration were clean, easy to digest, informative and inspirational. Being able to tell a story in a simple way was another important element. Design should be done in a way that would assist the user to understand complex information. A creative moodboard is always helpful to start a conversation on these values and quickly make some initial design discussions. Lastly it is important to understand the current trends in design and decide if any of these can add value to yours.

Sketching and conceptual cards

Numerous sketches and conceptual designs have been created to test initial decisions on different aspects of design such as content hierarchy, transitions and layout.

More than forty different unique cards have been designed to explore all the different possibilities we could surface to the user with valuable insights by combining data and info-graphical design.

Sketching workshops

Conceptual cards

App Map

An app map was created to give a full view of the app's navigation and information architecture. An app map could be considered a stripped out version of a userflow. It consists of all the main sections and the basic content for each section while showing their connection at a glance. It is a great a way to communicate a proposed architecture to every stakeholder, while providing flexibility to early changes and agreements. Lastly, it was an extremely useful point of reference for the software engineers during the development stage.

App Map

Wireframes and functional specification

Having decided the main architecture of the app, the wireframes come to give life to our concept. Wireframes were done in a way that helped visual designers and developers to kick off their part. Visual designers could now create various mockups on the proposed wireframes, whilst developers could understand the technical requirements through the provided functional specifications. Functional specifications is a detailed guide to various technical aspects of the app such as behaviours, gestures, linking, transitions and API requests just to name a few.

Animations prototyping

Animations and transitions is a core asset in creating a delightful experience. Moreover, they can add real value in understanding the content. In Smartbank, visual cues were used to indicate significant events in user's activity and enhance a more natural flow of navigation. Simple animations added to the storytelling principle we wanted to convey.

These prototypes were created with the help of Adobe After Effects and prototyping tools such as Flinto.  

UX audit and visual design direction

It was important to make sure that the experience was not breaking at any stage of the visual design and development cycle. The visual design needed to create a consistent look and feel throughout the app enhancing the experience design principles set at an earlier stage. 

The simplicity of the graphs added to this project significantly. The aim was to create a visual language that would be easy to digest and enhance the understanding of the important events in someone's account.

Lastly, a colour theory was created to better explain to the user the different types of expenditures in their everyday activity. An important finding in this project was the significancy of the small amounts spent daily e.g coffees and small lunches. These when added up, can occupy a big part of the total expenditure.

The Result

Smartbank is available for both major platforms, iOS and Android. There was a hard deadline for this release, which was the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, in September. The app was created from start to finish in less than six months and arguably this was considered a big success considering the complexity of the industry and the round of reviews in an financial institution.

User's tweet. Change of behaviour?

Change of behaviour? Hopefully yes!

In my opinion the most important result is the behavioural change we managed to influence in some of our users, and this was our key driver while developing this concepts. First and foremost, we tested this to ourselves while working long hours and drinking a bit too much coffee... Then we wondered:

"Do we even know how much coffee we had the last week, also how much really have we spent on it?"

The answer was "no idea!". But we had the power to change this, and we wanted to do this in a non intrusive way. Not by parenting the user in terms of "You shouldn't drink too much" but instead, by being transparent to them and help them understand this through their app.

One satisfactory example of this result can be shown in the tweet shown below. The user name @KATIEAITKEN realised that in a small period of time have visited McDonalds already seven times. This insight influenced her to tweet "I need genuine help"...

Find it for:

 iOS | Android