Bank × Design

How the “story” fuels business
- Sony Bank WALLET

The Sony Bank WALLET is a cash card with Visa Debit functionality and extraordinary global versatility,
boasting full compatibility with the yen, the dollar, and nine other currencies.
When Sony Bank started developing the revolutionary new WALLET service, the design was a major focal point.
Tōru Ishii, General Manager of the Web Planning Division at Sony Bank,
recently sat down with two Sony designers to look back on how the design story and the customer experience came together.

Sony Bank- Tōru Ishii, Sony Creative Center- Daigo Maesaka, and Motoki Higashide from the left

Expanding the customer experience: From “saving” and “growing” to “using

Ishii: Within the financial industry there is growing concern that unless banks build their services more closely around the customer experience, they run the risk of becoming a one dimensional “infrastructure” industry. We at Sony Bank knew we needed to provide customers with a further-reaching, integrated service that would go beyond just “saving” and “growing” money, something that would incorporate the experience of “using” money in practical settings.

When we got into actually designing the new Sony Bank WALLET offering, we wanted to bring in all the elements we could—including customer behavior and the user experience—and design a high-quality customer touchpoint. Instead of just concentrating on graphics and other decorative enhancements, we were going for a card and app that would reflect the user experience (UX) design and the whole service design, too. That's why we decided to ask the Sony Creative Center to handle the design. The designers there were really tuned into the basic approach.

Higashide: We brought a lot of different angles into the design process, working to learn more about the target market through user research and workshops. We even went out to interview actual customers at their homes and find out what kinds of things they liked or didn’t like about their financial options, what kinds of services they were looking for, and what kinds of values linked the segment together. That helped us design a user persona and start working the ideas for the optimal customer experience into the design.

Maesaka: When we were developing a target persona, I kept thinking back to when I was working in the United Kingdom a few years ago and had the chance to use a debit card. I couldn’t get over that personal connection—I felt like I had to find a way of weaving my experience into the design. In Europe, people use debit cards for practically everything: whether you’re shopping or even splitting a bill with your friends at a restaurant, having a debit card is pretty much a given. I remember people in some stores looking a little inconvenienced when I’d try to pay for things in cash. As I got used to the whole debit card culture, though, I was amazed at how pulling out that little piece of plastic was just like handling cash—it was like I’d seen the next step in the evolution of paper bill. What really got me was the idea that a single card could be a versatile, multicurrency tool for people to use around the world. The story took off from there.

Designing the “experience” and the “story”: Defining what the card embodies

Maesaka: We spent a lot of time poring over bills from around the world, trying to locate the visual elements that made paper bill look like bill. Eventually, we decided to build our design around two key elements: the distinctive colors that different currencies used and the detailed patterning schemes that adorned the bills. Another conceptual component was the element of “speed,” which we captured in the random widths of the different stripes on the card. Debit cards all offer real-time transaction functionality, so we wanted to avoid using a layout with any static, “fixed-interval” patterning that might go against the whole idea of immediate, on-the-spot action. We also decided to use a matte finish to give the card a more paper-esque feel, and provide a sense of finesse and refinement the user could enjoy every time they took the card in their hands. From the look to the texture, we tried to get the card to encapsulate the whole user experience.

Then there was the printing. We decided to put the stripes and the patterns over the base color layer, with a layer of glitter under the patterns to give the card a light-reflective element—kind of like a hologram on the bill—and a layer of gray on top to make the letters and numbers easier to read. We knew that a five-layer structure would be hard enough to pull off, but the matte finish is where we ran into a snag: the printer initially rejected our proposal, saying that a matte finish debit card was unheard of. This is Sony, though—we thrive on setting precedents. Once the people at the printer saw how committed we were to breaking new ground, they were on board. When everything was finished, we had exactly what we were looking for: a high-quality design with a consistent story running all the way through it, a distinctive visual presence that’ll always separate the product from the pack—and Japan’s first-ever debit card with a matte finish.*

* As of February 2016; based on Sony Bank data

Higashide: The Sony Bank WALLET App, which displays current balance in Yen and foreign currency, complements the card with a sleek, simple UI design. The card is obiously the key component of the whole service experience, obviously, so we decided that going for a no-frills app would let the card take center stage in defining the whole user experience. The UI design keeps the elements to a minimum, creating a visual personality that emanates the “smart” side of the card itself.

Ishii: Sony Bank held meeting after meeting about the WALLET design concept, but we always kept coming back to one fundamental idea: customers want us to provide something that goes beyond people’s imaginations. That meant coming out with a design that no one had ever seen—and everyone eventually agreed that the Sony Creative Center concept was the way to do that.

Designing the business itself: Fusing the service and the customer experience

Maesaka: Branding is another important part of getting customers to understand what a product all about—and if our team didn’t have a shared awareness of the core philosophy behind the WALLET card, the target audience would end up getting a different picture of the concept. To solidify the basic themes we were working with, we made a brand booklet that laid out the user experience and the underlying story in a visual format.

Ishii: The brand booklet was a huge factor—it spoke directly to people who weren’t involved in the design process, gave them a clear idea of the story, established the conceptual stance, and played a big role in building a consensus at Sony Bank. The persona and the customer experience only had vague outlines and contours until we laid eyes on the booklet, which pulled everything together with a visual clarity that made it easy to see exactly where we needed to head with the project. It brought the card to a more personal level—all the people on project team started looking at the service in terms of what they’d do if they were the users. It was amazing to see the business really start accelerating after the branding took shape.

Maesaka: Visualizing things from the customer perspective is what we do. It’s really gratifying to know that the ideas we came up with on the visual side made a difference on the business side of things, too.

Ishii: There are two basic dimensions of developing and releasing a new product: the abstract side, where you plan the business out in conceptual terms, and the concrete side, where you get specific about actual design elements. The thing that really made the WALLET collaboration a success was how the team managed to go back and forth between the two dimensions, always working to keep the two sides locked together and making sure that we always kept the bigger picture—the provider perspective and the customer standpoint—in mind. Good business isn’t a one-or-the-other thing; you need both elements if you want to succeed. The project got us to go back to our roots, look at things with fresh eyes, and take an approach to business from the customer perspective.

Higashide: Being able to keep planning and design both moving at the same time was definitely a big asset. If marketing gets too far ahead of the design, the styling ends up pretty flat and superficial; it's like the design is an afterthought—not the vital part of the product concept that it could be. There’s no way to really differentiate yourself from the rest of the market if the two sides are out of step.

Maesaka: We didn’t frame the project in terms of a client-designer relationship. We were one team, right from the get go, with one focus: figuring out exactly what customers wanted. If we hadn’t committed ourselves to teaming up, the user experience would’ve fallen way short of where it needed to be. We were going after something that would make people feel great about having—a card that they’d be proud to have in their wallets. Working in-house with another area of the bigger Sony family was crucial to making that happen.

Ishii: If you look at the figures for WALLET card applications and usage rates, you’ll see how the design is paying big dividends. We’ve been getting a great response from our customers—people are always talking about how innovative the design is. The Sony designers didn’t just design the card. Their designs encompassed the business itself.

The Sony Bank WALLET makes it easy to visualize a financial service:
the design captures the whole customer experience.
When the whole project team shares in the same story and the same philosophy,
the results can be extraordinary—and push business to the next level.

Tōru Ishii
General Manager,
Web Planning Division
Sony Bank

Daigo Maesaka
Art Director,
Sony Corporation
Creative Center

Motoki Higashide
Sony Corporation
Creative Center