Some people describe the digital era as fluffy, says Leda Glyptis, but they’re missing the UX revolution that’s happening right in front of them.

There has long been a largely unspoken belief among bankers that the user interface is the thing that comes last, matters the least, and although it will be significant in the grand scheme of things, it will come to pass through the magic of millennial hipster-ness rather than hard graft and skill. There has also long existed a barely concealed hierarchy, even in the coolest office, whereby engineers and developers momentarily put their own issues aside to jointly consider the guys who ‘skin’ their work as the digital equivalent of a hairdresser. They get paid less, they get listened to less, they make things pretty after the big boys have made things right. As is often the case in this disrupted world of ours, the big boys couldn’t be more wrong.

To be fair, these attitudes are rapidly changing, and there’s a good reason for this. A minor change to the user journey, a small change to the user experience and your product will go from hero to zero no matter how good its execution back-end. Maybe that was, until recently, only true of gaming and media, social networks and lifestyle businesses (which was already a lot), but it’s now true of everything. Mobile interfaces and high expectations mean that UX is king, and you should start showing your information architects and designers the love they deserve, because they’re not just designing your killer product – they are changing the world.

UX is subversive

Bankers secretly think there’s something inherently fluffy to the digital era; it’s all a bit too friendly, a bit too easy, a bit too accessible. The forbidding official language associated with legal agreements, financial transactions and interactions with authority – governmental or otherwise – is disappearing, leaving in its place accessible, understandable and nonthreatening options skinned in soft colours and clear contours. So where your bank gave you 23 pages of closely typed and threatening sounding terms and conditions for your credit card or loan, the challenger gives you an interface that looks more like Twitter than a law textbook, and options that are easier to understand than the menu of your local takeaway. This is actually radical and revolutionary.

Don’t get me wrong: the revolution isn’t in the design. It’s in the belief that there is another way that doesn’t make the customer feel small when faced with bureaucracy; a belief that the transaction doesn’t need to be about authority and power. It’s in the belief that things can be serious and important without being forbidding and scary.

And we now see the traditional lenders following suit, because what was dismissed as “fluffy” actually worked. Yet, what was dismissed as fluffy isn’t just effective – it’s also deeply subversive and rebellious: it does away with the asymmetrical relationship between the person and the institution. It takes the dynamic of power, control and importance and puts it on its head. It takes the bastions of authority and tells them “that will be all now”, evicting all the emotions of anxiety, stress and relative insignificance in front of the Machine that was normally symptomatic of such interactions. If you were ever the type of youth that wanted to stick it to authority, it doesn’t get better than this.

At the beginning was the human

Bankers sit in design-thinking workshops. And we love them – they are refreshing and interesting and allow us to show off what we know about our clients and pick up a few new tricks. But in putting the client at the start of everything we do, we don’t just follow a financial imperative, we also set in motion a deeply subversive chain of cause and effect that demands the world should shrink back down to human scale.

If the client is your starting point and their needs are your driver, your organisational foibles, requirements and preferences no longer occupy the driving seat. Move over and sit quietly at the back. The disclaimers that risk and compliance would like to front-load, the bundling that your revenue targets make appealing, the cookie-cutter delivery that makes your operational costs more manageable … All of this is shown up for what it is: it’s all about you. So if you want to be all about your customer, at the person or user level, a design-thinking workshop on top of your normal work won’t be enough, because the world has changed, and it was the UX guy you thought was fluffy that set everything alight (all with sans serif fonts in soft grey against a white backdrop).

The great equaliser

Competition is getting harder, the regulator is squeezing margins and the cost of doing business is mounting. Are we really talking about UX as the next frontier? No. We talk about it as the frontier you missed, the tree that fell in the forest when you weren’t looking, setting in motion a chain of events that transformed the world gently and quietly. For a while, we looked at mobile as a channel, as part of the distribution engine for products and services that would look a little different, but largely work the same. The challengers started introducing a new language and the rendering of almost all services on mobile pushed us further and further down the distribution conversation, because things needed to get built and there was a business to run, so creating an ‘e-channels’ department made sense. Only, at the end of a mobile interface sits a consumer who’s rapidly learning to demand more – in the language we use to address them, in the options we give them, in the way we choose to present ourselves, and in what we ask of them and how.

Our e-channels are not just another distribution arm, because their audience is rapidly transformed by the experience the UX guys (who we didn’t care enough about) gave them. At the end of each device there is a user who, digital native or not, now expects simplicity and demands respect. Good UX taught them that. The revolution happened when we weren’t watching. It’s a pity we missed it, because it had a smoking hot interface.

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Image by NicoElNino,

About the author

Leda Glyptis

Leda Glyptis is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both startups and banks over the years. She leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek. All opinions her own. You can't have them.

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