As part of our flagship Design Economy 2018 research, we present seven case studies, which bring to life how a selection of different firms use design. For an introduction to the case studies, please see here.

Monzo is a digital challenger brand in the retail banking sector which is using design to build trust and differentiate themselves to customers and investors. The company has a strong culture of design and is establishing systematised user research and design processes to enhance the understanding of design across the firm. 

Location: London      

Size: 300 people in total, 8 people on the design team

Design discipline: graphic and visual design, product design, user and design research.

Industry context

The retail banking sector has seen limited innovation in its fundamental value proposition in the last couple of decades. Legacy financial institutions still dominate market share, but a new crop of digital-only banks aimed at a new generation of customers are looking to redefine what a more modern banking experience can be. These start-ups – including Monzo, Atom (supported by Spanish bank BBVA), and Tandem – are seeking to offer the security of traditional banks while moving beyond typical banking features. This includes using design to help users more easily track their spending and monitor their finances. These new entrants have a competitive advantage of being able to innovate and iterate quickly and to deliver a more human-centred and user-friendly product and service. Operating without physical branches, these companies are using design to embed trust and build loyalty.

Company background

Monzo was started by a team of five co-founders who wanted to develop a banking service that would better fit the preferences and needs of younger consumers – removing the ‘clutter’ of the traditional banking experience and making banking and managing money as simple as posting on social media or replying to an email. The company launched a prepaid debit card – in its now instantly recognisable colour hot coral – while they went through the two year process of receiving a formal banking license. In this beta period, Monzo accumulated 20,000 users and a waitlist of 150,000.

Since then the company has acquired 200,000 loyal users and has grown from an initial team of 13 to over 300 (and growing) employees today. It has raised £109M in funding to date.

The fact that we don’t have branches, don’t have a smiling face to tell you we’ve kept your money safe – we don’t have that legacy, so design helps us do that and build that trust.

Doing design

Design has been an important part of Monzo’s DNA from the start. The company’s Head of Design Hugo Cornejo was hired in the initial team of 13, based on Co-Founder Tom Blomfield’s recognition of the importance of design early on, particularly within a business to consumer context.

Instead of looking to their competitors and legacy banks, the design team has been drawing inspiration from other successful brands and digital products – Dropbox, Netflix, Deliveroo, Gmail, Airbnb, Spotify, and Muji – which prioritise simple, universal design principles and are legible and easy for customers to navigate.

You can’t get away without having good design anymore – I think that time is gone. The companies that succeed now tend to look and work like Airbnb and Spotify.

Cornejo currently reports directly to the company CEO, but the company is in the process of hiring a Chief Product Officer as an intermediary that will be responsible for design and marketing functions within the company.

Monzo’s design team has been responsible for building an iPhone and Android app experience that incorporates all of the touch points of a traditional banking experience into a digital product.

There are so many factors that come into play when designing – you need to understand business and user needs. Does something need to vibrate, to be animated, the choice of typeface and colours, the words we use and how we treat digits and numbers.

As the design team has expanded, they’ve been working to move from a more ad hoc to a more systematised design process.

Qualitative user research tools the team regularly employ include desk research, regularly reviewing in app messaging chats and community forums and ideas boards, conducting user interviews, and having users keep physical diaries to observe how they will use certain features on a day to day basis. All of these tools allow the design team to, as stated on their blog, ‘understand how different people budget, spend, save, invest and borrow money, keeping a pulse on people’s behaviours, goals and motivations’. In the future, the design team hopes to bring on more in-depth ethnographic research processes, conducting explorative research and spending time with people in their day-to-day lives, understanding their ‘pain points’ and identifying their latent needs.

Monzo staff conduct user testing

Staff conduct user testing. Credit: Monzo; Copyright Monzo 2018

It’s important to uncover hidden pockets of research in the company. If insights aren’t captured and shared, we risk duplicating our efforts. At best, this wastes a lot of time, but at worst means we could miss important nuggets of insight altogether, and end up making decisions based on misinformed hunches.

This iterative process includes regular milestones:

  • Testing Tuesdays, implemented by Monzo’s User Research Lead Samantha Davies. These are all day user testing sessions every few weeks letting designers and product managers test hypotheses by allowing users to try out and give feedback on new functions in the app, followed up by guerrilla testing.
  • Monzo’s company-wide weekly all hands meeting, where the design team learns about overarching company feedback, which is then integrated into their design pipeline through the development of new product features and functions.
  • A ‘show and tell’ internal meeting for the design team every Thursday where each member brings in something they are developing to workshop as a group. At a recent session, areas covered spanned a redesign of the website; new designs for user interfaces and product functions; recurring insights and comments from product managers and Monzo’s online community forum; and improvements to the Android app.

These milestones create a tactical and iterative feedback loop of problem formulation, research and design, prototyping, user testing, and consistently rolling out new features. The new user testing process has allowed the design team to better understand their users – and to create new functions, products and services accordingly.

Design is a messy process – it’s trial and error, it’s getting the right people in the right room with the right ideas and vision and right skills to be able to process it and move it forward.

Each department and function within the company is assigned a direct liaison on the design team. That design member then becomes an expert in that area of the company – sitting in on team and product meetings and checking in with them regularly to anticipate design needs as part of their pipeline. The product managers are responsible for communicating the goal, motivation, context and problem formulation for every new feature and function sent to the design team to develop. The design team then works with the product managers and engineers to think of it in the context of the customer journey and map out potential solutions.

The design team is currently working to improve the understanding of the role and function of design within the wider company – particularly the two-thirds of staff in customer service roles, which is a challenge and opportunity area as the company continues to expand. This includes using all-staff meetings as an opportunity to explain the process and rationale behind design decisions for new functions and features and incorporating introductory design sessions into the company’s onboarding programme.

There’s an assumption that when the engineers build the product the designs just magically appear. So it’s about educating our colleagues across the company about design and explaining that someone has to think about the way everything looks and works.

Design capabilities

In the past three years design at Monzo has evolved from one individual to a team of eight people spanning user research and testing, product design, graphic design and bringing on newer capabilities in photography, video and audio production. All of the team members have a strong background in their respective areas of design expertise creating a flat team structure with a fair amount of autonomy.

In determining how to build the design team, Cornejo looks at current skills and capability gaps, anticipates the upcoming product and design pipeline, and also confers with his peers in similar roles at other companies including Deliveroo to observe how they’ve assembled their teams.

While each designer has a primary area of expertise, they are all interdisciplinary, with the team not making the distinction between UX and UI designers.

The design team is largely responsible for coming up with the interaction design – the way that the app looks, feels, and behaves. We work closely with our product team and engineers. Design has largely been responsible for helping that vision come to life.

Two capability and skill areas within the design team that have seen pronounced growth within the last two years have been around user research and writing.

Monzo: User research is a growing skill area.

User research is a growing skill area. Credit: Monzo; Copyright Monzo 2018

Since bringing on a dedicated User Research Lead, the company has been working to develop a more diverse user base to gather a wider pool of insights and allow them to better design for both current and future user needs, ensuring findings are more representative of the customer base as a whole. Davies has also been working to bring more consistency to the way insights are captured in the company so that they can be replicated and reproduced. These insights are then used to inform and prioritise Monzo’s product roadmaps.

Before last year user testing was kind of happening but mostly recruiting people who were already with Monzo and with a 75% male gender bias. Since then, we’ve been working to make our testing pool more representative.”

Instead of using the standard placeholder text Lorem Ipsum for technical mock ups, all members of the design team also develop their own copy, then work with a copywriter on staff to improve it.

Impact of design

Monzo’s design team indicate that design has had a significant impact at Monzo, both on the success of the company itself and in terms of how users interact with the product and what they get out of it.

Cornejo believes the company’s attention to design – both through the aesthetic quality of presentation materials developed and the look and functioning of the product itself – was a key differentiator for Monzo in pitching investors and ultimately securing its Series A (£5,000,000) and Series C (£19,500,000) rounds of funding. Monzo also set a record for the quickest crowd-funding campaign in history raising £1 million through the platform Crowdcube in 96 seconds.

The company’s now iconic bank card colour, Hot Coral, Pantone 805 – which the company is now seeking a trademark for – was selected as a ‘happy accident’, with the designers working on an expedited timeline and assuming the product would be temporary and only used for the beta period. The colour and product ended up being so successful that it stuck, earning the headline from Mashable ‘The bank that’s apparently so cool it has become a chat up line in London’s bars’.

Monzo’s iconic bank card colour Hot Coral.

Monzo’s iconic bank card colour Hot Coral. Credit: Monzo; Copyright Monzo 2018

Design was also an important factor in helping the brand launch and establish a following both through the physical card and the interaction design of the app, building trust and loyalty with its user base. According to Davies, design has been central to Monzo’s mission to help their customers better understand and make better decisions around their money, embedding learning and financial well-being into the design of the app and using design to incentivise people to save money.

When we started out almost three years ago, we began by identifying all the pain points customers encounter when dealing with their traditional banks, and designing features to eliminate them. However, as we move forward, we want to go beyond just solving the existing problems brought about by legacy banks’ archaic systems, and meet more latent needs as well.

Monzo is also now using design to address latent user needs – with the potential to actively and positively impact users’ relationship with money and finances. For example, the design team has been exploring how design can be used to respond to the role that mental health plays in financial management. As a result, the team are experimenting with creating moments of ‘design friction’ in features that all customers use, including: real-time account balances; sending a notification after each purchase; a top-up feature to aid budgeting; and a new unique feature which allows users to review late night purchases ‘checking with them the next day if they want to follow through with their purchase’ when their mind is in a different state.

Research and case study development by BOP Consulting (Rebecca Greenwald, Eleanor Jubb, Callum Lee) with input from Dr Lucy Kimbell, Professor of Contemporary Design Practices at University of the Arts London.

Header image: Credit: Monzo; Copyright Monzo 2018

List of contributors

We would like to say thank you to the following people at Monzo for their time and input into the research:

Hugo Cornejo, Head of Design

Samantha Davies, User Research Lead

Vuokko Aro, Lead Product Designer

Zander Brade, Lead Product Designer

Ben Calloway, Videographer

Richard McCartney, Web Designer

Maria Boghiu, Product Manager – Lending

Read the interview

Read our interview with Zander Brade, Lead Product Designer at Monzo, on the importance of designing good mental health into the way we bank.

Find out more

News & opinion

Watch: Transform Ageing – Discover the impact of NEDcare NEDCare is delivering a lasting solution for ageing communities and providing a better solution for people in later life. It aims to help other communities create the same level of engagement locally by meeting GP services, pharmacies, parish council and community groups like the Women’s Institute. Our award winner is delivering a lasting solution for ageing communities and providing a better solution for people in later life.

Feature — 13/11/2018

What do we mean by design? What comes to mind when you think of design? For many people, the word conjures up thoughts of creativity, products, architecture, graphics, or simply the way something looks or functions. What comes to mind when you think of design?

Feature — 09/11/2018

IKEA: Companies need to learn the skills to design for all five senses Applying multi-sensory design to all the touchpoints allows a product or service to produce a more complete, and ultimately better brand experience. Applying multi-sensory design to all the touchpoints allows a product or service to produce a more complete brand experience.

Feature — 01/11/2018

Our response to the 2018 budget If the Chancellor is to “meet the needs of a new age” investing in design, across the economy, is a key part of the solution. If the Chancellor is to “meet the needs of a new age” investing in design, across the economy, is a key part of the solution.

News — 30/10/2018

Video: Morag Myerscough – The bright and bold Royal Designer for Industry Morag’s work straddles a space that includes designers, artists and architects. Her work is characterised by colourful boldness with a strong graphic design signature, often using big type or lettering and geometric elements. In this video, we find out about Morag’s work, which straddles a space that includes designers, artists and architects.

Feature — 30/10/2018

Resources