How we design magic moments at Monzo

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At Monzo we often talk about product quality and about magic, those details which go beyond the expected and make an experience surprisingly good. Magic moments in our product are details that might make the customer maybe stop for a second and smile, or feel like they’ve been seen and understood as a person.

The importance of magic moments

Magic moments make people feel something. And details that evoke emotion are also more memorable. Like Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

In the Monzo app examples of these signature moments are our playful Get Paid Early drag interaction and confetti moment, or the frost animation when you freeze a debit card so it can’t be used until unfrozen again.

Now, an app is basically a machine, and it’s expected to work. But magic is the human touch on top of that—and this is really important for us as a product, considering we’re a bank with no branches. We show our human side through the product itself.

Human-centred design is important for any product but doubly so for us as a bank, because money can easily be scary or intimidating. That’s why we base our design decisions on research and other evidence, and try to deeply understand our customers’ headspace as we design experiences. We want to make money work for everyone, regardless of their financial savviness.   

Magic doesn’t need to be a ton of work either, at its simplest can just be some creative or thoughtful microcopy in just the right place, or some other key piece of information that the customer didn’t even know they needed. We often talk about success not depending on how big or novel the project is, but what a designer puts into it. 

How to make a design feel magical 

Designing magical experiences at Monzo means starting from first principles and user needs, truly thinking with the user in mind to build things that connect with them. We don’t look at the competition and make a slightly better version of what’s out there because we know that the best possible solution could look like nothing that’s already been created.

Of course, it’s not just what you build but how you build it. Think of a very high quality Japanese chef’s knife: at first it may seem the same as a £5 Ikea knife but when experienced, its weight distribution, its surface finish, its durability and its attention to detail is nothing like cheaper knives out there. It doesn’t do anything unexpected but the experience of using it is unexpectedly good.

The bigger “story” of an app’s design is important, but smaller design details matter just as much: they’re like proper vocabulary and grammar that signal quality to the audience. Each detail a customer interacts with contributes to their overall experience.

At Monzo, Designers help ensure individual features we build are great but also that the entire product makes sense and feels delightful as a whole. A quality app is not “shipping the org chart” or just a collection of features, but a thoughtfully considered entity. We can’t have a disconnect between different features. To empower customers and give them control, we believe in “beautiful seams” in our experience, a concept coined by pioneers at Xerox PARC in the early days of interaction design.  

Balancing predictability and surprise

Not every moment should hit a peak of magic however. As a bank, most of the time we need to build things that help get the job done quickly and elegantly, and we then need to get out of people’s way. We also need to remember that attention is a form of currency, and if everything is a highlight then nothing is: we need to carefully pick those moments where we arrest a user’s attention. 

We designers often talk about “surprise and delight” but less about how important predictability is. There’s nothing worse than an unpredictable app where you don’t feel in control or know what a button will do. Whatever surprise and magic we want to design, we need a foundation of predictability in place first. 

So where does that predictability come from? At Monzo we follow a robust design process and principles to make sure we’re solving the right problems, and that we’re solving them right. We follow universal design principles like Hick’s law (the time needed to make a decision is proportional to the number of alternatives offered), we pay attention to affordance (users should never wonder whether an element is interactive or not), and so on. 

The Product Design process is a set of a thousand micro-decisions made to get to a refined final product – “saying no to 1,000 things before saying yes”, as Steve Jobs put it. So we also create bespoke principles for significant design projects or areas of work that helps guide decision making from beginning to end, such as our Borrowing features. 

An example of this might be in Trends, the part of the Monzo app where customers can see insights about their spending. We knew that everyone thinks about their finances differently so our principle to “Keep things flexible” ensured that concepts like categories could work for every type of user. Another principle that’s important to teams across Monzo is “Good friction” where we might perhaps deliberately slow down a flow to ensure you’re making a fully considered choice to borrow money or make a big payment. The team working on Flex, our pay later product, also used the principle of “never being more than one-click away from a purchase breakdown” to ensure customers always feel in control. 

The truth is, that most of the time we do want design to go unnoticed. We often talk about how our responsibility when building the product is to move mountains in the background in order to make experiences feel easy and intuitive to our users. And design is interesting because (typically) the more work and thinking that goes into something, the more obvious and natural and even invisible the outcome will feel — almost like no work went into it at all. Magic moments are like the spice on top — you don’t want to overdo them but you do need them in the dish somewhere.

Create magic moments with us!

We’re a team of about 35 Product Designers, Brand Designers and User Researchers working on everything our customers interact with: from our colourful bank cards, to the weight of our card carrier paper, to the sound a transaction makes on your phone, to the layout of information in-app and how customers interact with it. We also design for our internal tools and systems that enable us to serve customers at scale.

We’re very collaborative and we spend meaningful time together, learning from each other and helping everyone do their best work. We’re currently hiring across several roles. Join us!