CASE STUDY

Smile
Identifying new opportunity areas for a digital bank through an extensive design research project

CONTEXT
Student project at Hyper Island, Manchester
MY ROLE
UX Research
Data synthesis
Inisight generation
Wireframing & Prototyping
UX / UI design
YEAR
2019
During my Masters degree at Hyper Island, I've worked on a research-focused design project for Co-op bank. The younger sibling of Co-op bank, Smile was the first full-service internet bank launched in the UK in 1999. Since then, Smile has been neglected and gradually lost customers. As a team we set about trying to uncover the user needs and what Smile needs to change in order to embrace its original cutting edge aspirations and better connecting with younger generations.

View the full report here.

CHALLENGE

How might we help Smile to better connect with younger generations?

Smile has always struggled to find new customers since its creation. Self-proclaimed "ethical bank", the team had the challenge to understand the current user needs in term of banking and digital banking, and find how Smile could compete with its main competitors.

RESEARCH PROCESS

Our research had focus on qualitative methods. To get a better understanding of the field, the team had to fully empathise with the target group. In-depth interviews were essentials and we used a variety of tools to engage with the audience. Money can be a sensitive issue. Using tools for the user interviews not only offered a fun way to engage the interviewee, but also gave us profound insights.

Other than user interviews, expert interviews with leading professionals in the field of FinTech helped give us an overview of the sectors current state and predicted future. A focus group helped to draw upon respondents' attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions in a way in which would not be feasible using other methods. We also conducted analogous and inspirational experiences which proved to be highly insightful and gave us a fresh perspective on the challenge at hand.

USER RESEARCH

User interviews

In-depth user interviews have been conducted to gain a better understanding of the audience and be able to draw insights from them. The audience was quite diverse, Smile wanted us to focus on people ranged in age between 14-31.

We tried as much as possible to conduct interviews at the participant's home because this is where he would feel the most comfortable. Hopefully, this ensured we received the most honest answers.

Tools

Timeline

This tool was used as an ‘icebreaker’  to help the interviewee feel comfortable. We asked participants to plot significant life events on the timeline, unrelatedand related to money, and was referred back and added to when other money-related eventswere brought up. By having these events plotted, we could see which were most significant tothe user and how money played a part in these events.

Card Sort

The card sort tool was used to ask the participant to identify Smile or another bank as an object or an animal. It was designed as a way to gain more in-depth and less obvious insights but relied on the participant being able to extract qualities and make connections abstractly. The card sort was particularly successful when used in the client interview.

View tool here.

Show wallet content

Asking the participant to discuss the contents of their wallet proved highly insightful. In most cases, the participant uncovered more bank cards than they remembered they had. We asked the interviewee to rank the contents based on importance to gain further insights into how they prioritised banks.

SYNTHESIS

Once the research phase done, the team was able to synthesis all the data and find emerging patterns between the participants. The synthesis stage has been challenging and is definitely one of the most important stage in a design research project. This is where the huge amount of information is distilled into strong statements. We found that our most significant insights could come under two categories: people & money and brand & strategy.

INSIGHTS

People want their bank to make their life easier

This tool was used as an ‘icebreaker’  to help the interviewee feel comfortable. We asked participants to plot significant life events on the timeline, unrelatedand related to money, and was referred back and added to when other money-related eventswere brought up. By having these events plotted, we could see which were most significant tothe user and how money played a part in these events.

People want to be independent with their finances

The card sort tool was used to ask the participant to identify Smile or another bank as an object or an animal. It was designed as a way to gain more in-depth and less obvious insights but relied on the participant being able to extract qualities and make connections abstractly. The card sort was particularly successful when used in the client interview.

People want contextual education

Asking the participant to discuss the contents of their wallet proved highly insightful. In most cases, the participant uncovered more bank cards than they remembered they had. We asked the interviewee to rank the contents based on importance to gain further insights into how they prioritised banks.

How might we help Smile to evolve over time with their user's needs?

OPORTUNITY AREAS

Based on our findings, we found a key opportunity for Smile to bridge the gap between traditional and digital banks. By combining the flexibility and convenience of digital banks used like a "wallet" and the trust and security of traditional banks used like a "vault", Smile could attempt to increase its number of users. Using the legacy Co-op built over the years would reassure new users. Smile could maintain these new users by supporting them every time they reach a milestone in their life. It could be a first bank account for a child, a mortgage, a savings.

People want to interact with their bank in the way they prefer, wether it is through a digital service or a physical store. This was also confirmed from our primary research. This insight leads to a vast opportunity for Smile to merge the traditional ‘vault’ services with the new digital ‘wallet’ services, and provide their customers with an integrated experience of convenient spending and secure savings, augmented by rich combined analytics.

PITCH

Presenting to Co-op

The group and I presented our ideas back to the UX team at Co-op  as a 10-minute pitch with 10 minutes for questions. The client was very enthusiastic about our findings. He was thrilled to discover news perspectives he never thought of before. They used our findings as a starting base for their future research.

REFLECTION

What are my key take aways?

Structuring and planning the research was definitely the highlight of this project. The team would never have been able to conduct so much research in such a small amount of time. Being structured and following the discussion guide we prior agreed upon has been beneficial to download and synthesise the data together.

The synthesis part of the research process is the most difficult part. It requires patience, active listening and humility towards its team members. During this stage, nothing should be forgotten or misunderstood. The team has to make sure that everyone is on board and agree with the generated insights.

What would I have done differently?

Because it was a 2-weeks project, I would have used less research technics to spend more time for the next steps of the project. It has been very tricky to make sure every piece of data that the team collected has been wisely used.

Also, next similar project I will make sure that more than one team member is going to an interview. Being two actually makes the jobs twice easier. When one takes notes of is being said, the other one can focus on the conversation and make sure to ask the most interesting questions while making sure the user is still comfortable.

SEE MORE PROJECTS

I'm always happy to meet up for a coffee or to share more about myself and my work.


LinkedIn

seb.malom@gmail.com+33 6 51 89 16 13