NetSpend Mobile App Redesign

Project Background

Who is NetSpend

According to the FDIC, one in twelve households in America are "unbanked," meaning they don't have any type of deposit account such as a checking or savings account. One in five is "underbanked," meaning they have a deposit account but rely heavily on cash or on alternative financial services like prepaid debit cards, money orders, check cashing, and payday loans.

Prepaid debit card provider NetSpend positions itself as a bank account alternative for the unbanked and underbanked that's more convenient, faster, and less expensive than a traditional checking account with fewer barriers to entry.

What triggered the project

The first NetSpend mobile app was developed as a skunk works proof-of-concept for the iPhone that was shipped to the public in Quarter 4 of 2010.  It was nearly a year before the first Android app was released; the first Android app an identical port of the iPhone app, despite the overwhelming percentage of customers using Android devices. (It would still be several years before any prepaid phone carriers supported the iPhone.)

The apps for both platforms then languished with minimal support or new features for almost three years. After struggling with poor app store reviews, unequal feature support between platforms, and a code base that was difficult to white label, NetSpend decided to make the commitment to its mobile products and re-design the app from the ground up.

The Challenge

Create UX Requirements For A New Mobile Platform In 60 Days

Our newly-hired Mobile Product Manager had the unenviable task of defining the product requirements and kicking off development in just two months in order to launch the new apps before the end of the fiscal year. Our Director of Creative Services had the equally challenging task of either recruiting and hiring an entire in-house mobile development staff within that two month window, or find and contract a agency to develop the app.

Collaboration With...TBD

How did this situation affect the UX team's work? The question of whether development was in-house or outsourced would shape how far in advance of development UI and interactivity decisions needed to be made and how we documented them.

With an in-house team we could use dual-track Agile to collaborate with the software engineers. After setting a high-level design direction we could deliver the design assets, UI copy, and interaction specifications in the sprint zero ahead of implementation. We would also have more flexibility to make changes as we discovered challenges and opportunities during development or usability testing.

Outsourcing the development to an agency meant we would need a monolithic, detailed requirements document up front for the agency to accurately scope and price the project. Changes to the design, interaction, or any other specifications after the kick-off would incur expensive change orders.

The Technology...Also TBD

We also didn't know whether the new apps would a hybrid or native app; this was something we wouldn't know for sure until we knew who would be building it. Without knowing the technology, we didn't have a clear answer what technical limitations the design would have to work within.

The Solution

Hedging Our Bets Through "Agile-fall"

The clock was ticking. The UX team rolled up our sleeves and we dug in.

To minimize our risk we took an Agile approach with build-measure-learn loops to create a waterfall-style requirements document. We could explore one to two flows at a time, test prototypes with current customers, make tweaks as necessary based on our findings, then move on to the next portion.

Our recent work on the NetSpend servicing site meant that we had a lot of findings from user research and key platform decisions that we could leverage, including putting balance and recent transaction history on the first post-login screen and organizing all money movement options into a single screen. 

 
UI designs started as sketches on paper that we could snap photos of and turn into quick and dirty prototypes to test on a mobile device. I would then walk through the sketches and flows with our content strategist to determine where we needed to add labels, instructions, and other messaging.  

UI designs started as sketches on paper that we could snap photos of and turn into quick and dirty prototypes to test on a mobile device. I would then walk through the sketches and flows with our content strategist to determine where we needed to add labels, instructions, and other messaging.  

 

We could iterate quickly through paper sketches, prototypes, and content spreadsheets quickly and later turn them into medium fidelity, annotated wireframes.

 
 

NetSpend, remarkably, was able to hire an entire mobile team—from manager through engineers and QA—by the start date. Once the team started, we were able to transition into a dual-track Agile approach.

The Project Outcome

The new apps were shipped on time and were very well received by industry analysts (which is nice) and more importantly, by NetSpend customers.

 
I promise that only one of these app store reviews was written by a NetSpend employee. 😉

I promise that only one of these app store reviews was written by a NetSpend employee. 😉

 
 

App store photos of the redesigned app.