Philosophy around building mobile-first fintech apps


UI Design

Building user interfaces is a non-trivial exercise. There are several considerations, yet identifying your audience, and how and what information they need or want to digest, remain critical. It drives the narrative for the UI design. Moreover, it establishes the mobile tipping point. It’s not always an all or nothing situation. While some applications are ideal for smart devices, others are too workflow or data intensive that mobile deployment makes little sense.

To take a mobile first approach, consider the following framework:

  1.  Review your business processes: before embarking on the UI design make sure you understand critical business functions and perform and analyze your backend systems. This will enable the UX designer to visualize the business functions, what navigation it takes to complete these so s/he can simplify this process and reduce the time to complete a task. In addition, it will help the designer determine if in streamlining these processes, if backend systems can be altered or extended. The latter is typically a major challenge as many financial institutions have acquired many systems over time that are siloed, and extracting the data is difficult or clumsy.

  2. Legitimize business case for going mobile: with an ever increasingly mobile workforce, getting information to those that need it is increasingly difficult. Traditional approaches like email provide a clumsy solution. Moreover executives are always on the move, meeting to meeting, so the only way to get information that they can understand and take action on is through the mobile device in a way that they can understand and if necessary take action on. Ensure you address workforce and C-level requirements that resonate with the respective target audiences.

  3. Define mobile tipping point: a mobile application is not a quick fix to every challenge. If you think it is, you may be jumping to conclusions. Complex information with multi-step interaction doesn’t lend itself to mobile. Simpler interactions such as high level monitoring applications will work best. However, some functions aren’t simple so unless you can rethink how to simplify them, going mobile isn’t the answer. 

    Clearly identify clearly the target. Understand the business goal and architect the necessary interaction points. Some of this will lead you to conclude this isn’t mobile. To me the mobile first is where there is a tipping point: it isn’t mobile today, but the function could be, and redesigned interaction points can make it that. Let’s think about this: if you purely did it on a desktop you wouldn’t rethink the interaction points probably as you have tons of space and accurate interaction devices.

    Taking a mobile-first approach to design is crucial as this will drive not just the look but also business process: what information needs to be displayed and at what level of abstraction. As a developer, you have limited screen real estate which challenges the design to be as optimal as possible with what is displayed. With that mind set, UX designers must make sense of the appropriate business rationale and the overall goal. It’s about getting inside users’ heads to extract the essence of the process and then visualize this flow so that a larger audience can make sense of the data. User interfaces need to be intuitive and understandable so it’s easy for users and customers to make sense of the new UI, all with little or no tutorials, and to become more effective in their jobs.

  4. Design with the future in mind: design thinking implies a good user experience that can be supported by backend systems. 

    When designing interfaces, it is important to ensure that the design improves efficiency and be effective. Otherwise what’s the point? While this holds true for the both desktop and mobile, mobile does add some additional constraints based on dimensions. With a good responsive design approach this can be handled well. The additional, and major, challenge stems from the backend systems who most likely will need to be extended to support this front-end change. If they are unable then creative ways of handling those interactions need to be considered, i.e. dropping in a Nodejs proxy server to handle the complexities of the backend, while simplifying the interactions for the UX.

    And perhaps the obvious, but analyze your current workflow and audience. This analysis will help you make a better decision about how you service that specific audience. What are their work habits? Where are there inefficiencies about how they do their job. Once this has been established, only then look at gaps that can be filled by different systems or by offering missing information on a different screen. Only then, one can take process efficiencies into account and next steps established.

  5. Challenge the status quo: define the purpose of the information to be displayed. Data grids are the main stay of desktop application. However, this makes little to no sense on smaller devices. First, consider the amount of data that can be displayed in a meaningful way. If it is miniscule, grids are useless on all but the largest screens. The alternative? The answer to this should be driven by an understanding of the purpose of the information being displayed.  Challenge the business. Avoid the quick solution or more grids as it leads to poor user interface and experiences which do not serve the business. Challenge the status quo and by doing so empower the business user.

Pushing desktop applications to smart devices results in unusable interfaces or one-dimensional applications that do not improve efficiency and effectiveness. Let’s think about what the user interaction is going to achieve as a business function, what information and responses are needed, and then to see how this information can be organized into some sort of logical flow.

This approach is a pre-requisite for modern applications wherever they are used, but in mobile it’s far more critical. Ultimately, mobile focuses on the essential, larger format devices which allow provision of supportive information, or connects other support tools together. Only when this has been done can one move to the level of determining the human ergonomics, interaction flow logistics, and attractive intuitive UX.

Ready to take a mobile first approach? How to best get started? See our design thinking roadmap for financial services.

 Check it out


Topics: Digital Transformation, Design Thinking, Tech Leadership