Netspend Mobile App Redesign
The story of a complete redesign of a mobile app platform, with a twist.
2014 Internet Advertising Competition Award for Best Financial Services Mobile Application, The Web Marketing Association
The first Netspend mobile app was developed as a proof of concept for the iPhone and shipped in late 2010. The first Android app shipped nearly a year later—an identical port of the iPhone app—despite the overwhelming percentage of customers using Android devices. After struggling with poor app store reviews, unequal feature support between platforms, and a code base that was difficult to customize for white label partners, Netspend decided to make the commitment to its mobile products and re-design the app from the ground up.
The new mobile apps provided an excellent framework for launch and beyond. Despite the unconventional project approach, the apps were shipped on time and were very well received by industry analysts (which is nice), private label partners (which is better), and most importantly by Netspend customers.
About The Organization
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. 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.
Challenges and Opportunities
- Reorganize the app to focus on the primary goals of users: check account balance, see recent transaction history, and move money
- Identify and eliminate possible feature that don't resonate with customers (like showing account balance on the logout screen)
- Improve the quality of the visual aesthetic throughout the app, and increase the customization options available to white label partners
- Identify areas where the experience of the Android and iOS apps needed to differ from one another
- UX Designers & Researchers (me)
- Content Strategist & UX Copywriter
- UI Designer
- Product Manager
Key UX Tools
POP, Axure, PhoneGap, InDesign, Illustrator
- User Research
- Usability Testing
- Lean Product Validation
- Information Architecture
- Interaction Design
- Fast Iteration Management
- Design-To-Development Documentation
Execution and Process
The user experience design process is best tailored to meet the unique needs of your project and the team you’ll be collaborating with. But what happens when you’re not sure who you’ll be working with?
At the beginning of the project the design team wasn't sure who would be developing the app. Netspend was actively recruiting but had not yet hired a team to build and deliver a new mobile architecture from the ground up. A combination of external and internal pressures set the app’s delivery date, so we needed to be flexible in how we approached and prepared our design concepts.
The question of an in-house versus outsourced development team would shape not only how far in advance of development design decisions needed to be made, but also how we documented them.
If the company was able to hire an entire team—from developers to QA to the manager of the group—with highly specialized skills, in a competitive market, in fewer than six weeks, then we would be able to create less formal deliverables and make design decisions closer to the time the designs would be developed.
Should we not be able to build a six person team in as many weeks (a tall order in any market), we would have to outsource the project to a development agency. Outsourcing to an agency meant we would need a monolithic, detailed requirements document up front for the agency to accurately scope and price the project. Any changes after the kick-off would incur expensive change orders.
To add to the complexity, we also didn't know whether the new apps would a hybrid HTML-based app or native mobile OS 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.
Hedging Our Bets
Our work on a complete redesign of the Netspend servicing site a few months earlier meant that we had a lot of findings from user research and key platform decisions that we could leverage in the mobile app. To minimize our risk and still hit our project target dates, we took an agile approach with build-measure-learn loops to create a waterfall-style requirements document.
We explored one to two flows at a time, tested prototypes with current customers, made tweaks as necessary based on our findings, then turn our focus to building on another area of the app. My UI designs started as sketches on paper that I could snap photos of with my mobile phone and turn into quick and dirty prototypes to test. 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.
Remarkably, Netspend was able to hire the entire in-house mobile team by the project start date. Once the new mobile team was hired, we were able to transition into a more agile approach where we could create detailed specs and vet them with engineering before adding them to user stories.