In a recent blog in response to the excellent 2010 book entitled “Service Design Thinking” (Stickdorn/Schneider 2010) I noted that this was the first qualifier of design thinking, as least as I had witnessed at the time, that spoke to how design thinking might be applied to a specific design practice. I also noted that the sky was the limit as to how design practitioners could take design thinking tools and methods and apply them to their own area of practice. “Service Design Thinking” does an excellent job of just this mash-up. The key elements of an integrated service design and design thinking approach to the creation of new business service/product interactions can be outlined as follows:

  • Empathy with customers
  • Ideation / Co-creation
  • Service Journey over time and space/place
  • Service/Experience mapping
  • Prototyping
  • Concept validation / Co-creation
  • Objective requirements
  • Prioritization and road-mapping

There is a growing recognition amongst financial institutions around the world that differentiating the banking experience is a way to attract new and retain current customers. Many of these initiatives are the product of partnerships with leading design innovation agencies such as Ideo, Continuum, and others. Because of this, the new initiatives are benefitting from design thinking approaches that practice the best practices outlined above.

The following are a small collection of examples of various financial institutions across the globe engaging with design firms to help them take fresh looks at old habits. I do not have proof that all of these endeavors followed the best practices described above, but warrant that many if not all did do so!

In 2007, Denmark’s Jyske Bank had also taken the initiative to change how it engaged customers by allowing them to put together their own banking solution via a product experience ( that could be delivered virtually or in the bank branch. This quote from bank stakeholders is very indicative of this customer-centric approach to design and innovation of products and services:

 “Many consumers see banks and bank products as uniform – and a little boring. At the same time, we see that customers are changing behavior. They want more influence; they are more self-reliant while demanding personal service. The creative consumer, who wishes to create his or her own solution, is the coming thing. Consumers want to tailor their own charter vacations, car, and bank product. With the new initiative, the bank can better meet the modern consumer types of the present.”

Designit’s Denmark branch took a very customer- and brand-focused approach ( to creating a banking app for Jyske Bank in Denmark.

Ideo helped Spanish bank BBVA to “re-think their self-service channel from scratch” ( Though the focus was on the ATM of the future…starting with the words “self-service channel” opens up the possibility of thinking beyond the ATM. Ideo also worked with Bank of America to realize the “Keep the Change” ( card which rounded up customers credit card purchases and placed the difference in their savings account. The idea was the result of primary research and engagement with the target audience of boomer-aged women with kids.

Nordkapp, A Finnish experience design firm ( helped create a new service experience for Säästöpankki, The Finnish Savings Bank Group “where customers and bank personnel could jointly map the financial status and promote optimal financial products for the customer”.

Another interesting development is of course pure internet-based banks keep on evolving and growing. One that has come to my attention recently is the invitation-only “financial experience” offered by Their name is very much symbolic of their approach and they utilize current mobile technologies and clean interface design to make a difference.

Umpqua Bank have been the darling of design case studies ( for years because of the manner in which they reinvented their business by “conceptualizing financial services as products” and realizing that products sell well by service-driven retailers. Starting in 1995, and therefore trendsetters in their field, they were one of the first to really reconsider the meaning and use of the physical branch. As imitators copied their initial retail designs, Umpqua pushed the envelope even further, working with firms such as Ziba Design, and saw amazing growth in the Portland, Oregon branches. The bank freely admits that the design-driven approach is what has powered their success.

On the physical space side, banks such as Umpqua are not alone in redefining the physical branch. CheBanca! In Milan have created a banking experience (–A-Bank-/) that reflects he brand’s simplicity, transparency and innovation”.

Another exciting new space, with a strong focus on the customer of the future, is that being rolled out by central-European start-up Air Bank ( The space is very open and designed for transparency and personal customer space.

One final example of innovative new physical space is the ING DIRECT Café, the flagship version of which opened in Toronto in May 2011. Apart from being an attractive, relaxing café, ING staff is at hand to answer questions about ING products and services. Staff doesn’t have access to customer data but will provide customers with iPads in order to review functionality and account information.

Though it is clear that many banking institutions around the world are experimenting with new models for delivering service and value, it is also clear that this is the tip of the iceberg. There is a notable lack of obvious investment by our larger institutions. In the face of current financial upheaval and recession I would suggest that now is a good time for banks to invest in an alternative customer-centered future. The principles and practices of service/experience design and design thinking and indeed other design thinking mash-ups such as strategy/planning design thinking, technology design thinking, organization design thinking, and you-name-it design thinking offer much to financial services in their search for innovation.

1 comment

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