UI: US Bank Tackles New Mobile Navigation Conventions

usbank_mobile_screens

As I was taking a tour of US Bank’s gorgeous new mobile app (above), I was reminded of an ongoing problem in mobile UI, lack of navigational consistency. For anyone over 30, you’ve seen this play out before. It took nearly a decade (1995 to early 2000’s) for websites, especially in financial services, to conform to pretty straightforward navigation conventions (tabs on top, login in upper right, etc).

usbank_previousWhile responsive design (one website for desktop and mobile) has made things a little less standardized, desktop browser navigation is still pretty easy to figure out. And there’s always the back button to get you out of a jam.

Not so on smartphones. First-generation mobile banking UIs generally used the bottom of the screen to showcase 3 or 4 navigational choices, often with a More button to expand the choices. This worked OK since early apps usually had limited functions.

But as banks redesign their apps to a more modern esthetic, the bottom nav bar is disappearing. That looks great, but how do users find key functions?

That brings me back to US Bank’s new app. When I finished admiring its new, sleek design, I was momentarily thrown for a loop on how to get out of the main page. The familiar buttons at the bottom were gone (see older screenshot right). And initially I didn’t see the “hamburger menu” in the upper corner, which has recently become a fairly common design convention.

usbank_nav_closeupusbank_mobile_nav_optionsIt turns out that US Bank has located navigation options in two spots, neither particularly easy to see on a phone.

(1) The hamburger menu is there in the upper left, but it’s small and looks like it’s part of the logo (see screenshot at left and closeup at right)
(2) Even smaller context-sensitive menus directly to the right of each account. Deposit accounts have three navigation choices (Pay/Send, Transfer Money, Deposit)

Bottom line: U.S. Bank has delivered what may well be the best looking big-bank mobile app yet, at least in the United States.  It is also packed with new features such as no-login balance inquiry and customizations. So kudos to the team at US Bank, which also led the pack on desktop UI more than a decade ago!

That said, the almost-hidden primary navigation is a case of the design getting slightly ahead of its users. While users will soon get used to the new nav links, in the meantime I recommend a few adjustments:

  1. Add navigation instructions to the “feature tour” when users open the app for the first time.
  2. Make the hamburger menu stand on its own by increasing its size and placing it away from the US Bank logo (below the logo, or in the upper right which is wide open).
  3. Consider adding the word “menu” below it for a few months, at least until users get the hang of it.

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Update 16 Nov 2015: Digital design guru Jakob Nielsen just published an overview of mobile navigation echoing our concerns with the hamburger menus. 

Feature Friday: “Combine Usernames” from Capital One

Capital One just updated its Wallet iPhone app to include gift cards. That seemed like a good candidate for this week’s Feature Friday.

capital_one_combine_usernamesBut on the way to checking out the gift card feature, I ran into another new Capital One feature I love. It’s called Combine Usernames and it does just that. The option appeared automatically the on the first screen when I first logged into the latest issuer’s standard mobile banking app (not the newer Wallet app) (see inset). The card giant noticed I had two usernames registered and offered to automatically combine them. It’s not something I’ve run into before, and it’s super convenient for those of us who can’t keep their digital life in sync. After selecting Combine Usernames near the bottom of the main screen, you are directed to a new screen with instructions to swipe to combine. I swiped and it worked immediately, although the page warned it could take up to 72 hours. I wasn’t sure what was lurking under my other username, but it turns out it was my old ING Direct (now Capital One 360) account. Now, everything’s visible on the app, and I’m in sync at Capital One. ———– I’ll cover the gift card function after I test it at Starbucks. Enjoy your weekend.

The Evolution of Mobile Weather Apps (and what it means for banking)

weather_buttons_iphoneIn 2007, I’d never used an Apple product. But I was one of the first to get an iPhone that year. I wanted to see for myself what the much-touted device meant for the future of financial services. While there was no banking in v1.0, I found myself enthralled with the weather button, my first taste of the elegance of a native app experience.

Fast forward (almost) 8 years, and the weather button(s) is still my most-used app (as you can see on my home screen at right with four weather choices). But in the face of fierce competition, even weather apps have evolved from being completely static to having a useful alerting functions. The Dark Sky app (screenshot below, note 1) hits me with a popup notification and jingle 10 minutes before it’s about to rain, which comes in very handy in Seattle.

Look at the schematic of the Dark Sky weather app below. Five years ago weather apps gave us the a simple probability of rain some time during the whole day. Now it predicts precisely the exact minute rain will start in my neighborhood. That’s a massive functional improvement.

dark_sky

Relevance to bankers
The evolution in mobile weather demonstrates the importance of transitioning from static information retrieval to active alerting. A good passive experience was fine for the first wave of mobile information (2008 to 2013/2014), but the best apps now go way beyond that now.

Let’s switch gears to money management. Your preferred banking/PFM app knows how much you’ve spent compared to previous periods, it knows how much you make and what bills are due before the next paycheck. So your money app can alert you, in real time, when you are bumping up to the last of your discretionary spending each pay period.

And while that’s a pragmatic use case, it’s also a negative one since the app keeps reminding users how strapped they are. A more entertaining use revolves around purchase recommendations. My money manager (Mint in this case, but it could be my bank/card issuer), knows I’m a coffee shop addict. The app could give me a heads-up when I was in the vicinity of a high-rated coffee shop. Of course, the recommendations would have to be highly relevant and focused, or I would just ignore (or turn off) the alerts.

Bottom line: It’s time for banking/PFM apps to be as smart about your money as Dark Sky is about the rain. I forecast a bright future for FIs that get it right.

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Note:
1. Dark Sky is so good, they actually can charge $4 for it in face of dozens of free apps (including the one that comes bundled on all iPhones).