Strm is a platform that explores the world beyond banking and the untapped potential of social interactions in finance. It consists of an app, a biometric sensor and an API to connect the physical world with the digital.
What is it? The project is about using participatory product design as a platform for rapid innovation and business transformation.
What did the make?The outcomes are an iOS app, a tailormade fingerprint sensor and a social banking platform presented as a public prototype and test at Slush 2015.
Who was the client? The project was commissioned by Santander Consumer Bank and executed between late May and early November 2015.
How did it begin?
In May 2015, Nordkapp was asked to help Santander Consumer Bank to envision, design and launch a new kind of financial service for millennials, based on the idea of virtualizing personal finance. We were excited to take on the task, and responded by building a comprehensive and participatory design process. Our aim was to both deeply integrate and involve key client personnel in all Nordic countries, and include as much insight as we can from the actual target users, millennials, from the very beginning of the project.
"Innovations are challenging to create and to push to market with existing corporate ways of working.
Innovations are challenging to create and push to market with existing corporate ways of working. This is why our goal was to work in a different and agile way right from the start, within a team that had as much client personnel as it had our people in it. To make this happen, we essentially created a mini accelerator that allowed us to design and push both physical and digital prototypes out at high speed. In this case, it took us under six months from the project inception to the unveiling of the prototype at Slush 2015. We are extremely proud of the client and our team who both showed true skunkworks attitude throughout the whole project.
The results took us all by surprise and the project succeeded beyond expectations.
How did we make it happen?
First, after some initial immersion into the topic thru desk research we set out to come up with a number of possible solutions with our client’s core team, including a internal millennial spearhead group called Future Leaders.
"We are extremely proud of the client and our team who both showed true skunkworks attitude throughout the whole project.
The project kick off was in late May, and in early June we ran a set of two full day workshops in Oslo. There our designers led the client through the research data and some bigger questions around the topic, sketching first by quantity, and the by quality. From tens of ideas developed, we collectively picked several leads for further development and testing. Our designers then proceeded to sketch out these in the “minimally great” fashion with just enough fidelity to be able to communicate the ideas and validate their viability with the target users.
During the process, biometric transactions rose up as a hot topic in the workshops. Together with the client, we decided to explore what it would mean, both from a design and a technology point of view.
Nordkapp designers then sketched out the ideas into prototypes in a tight timeframe. These were then tested and validated first with 20+ millennials in Helsinki, and then repeated with approximately the same amount of people in Oslo. This test research confirmed some of our assumptions and gave us enough insight to carry on with our main concept. The winning ideas were social expence sharing, context sensitive messaging around social objects and the “uberisation” of commerce, chaining physical and digital object transactions together. This gave our design team a clear direction to work along.
Making biometrics a reality
The team investigated biometric payments as a whole, and came to the conclusion that for the tight timeline, a fingerprint sensor would be the most sensible way to test, prototype and verify our thinking. The fact that Apple and numerous Android manufacturers already use fingerprint authentication, would also make introducing a standalone reader easier, since the interaction itself is becoming familiar with consumers. A standalone sensor would also complement existing payment methods, such as card terminals, mobile phones and NFC quite nicely. It would also offer various future opportunities in the verification and transactions with and without a mobile phone.
Less than two months after the beginning, we brought in seasoned hardware engineer Mikko Köykkä and renowned industrial designer Mika Nenonen who both got excited about the project and started working with us on the fingerprint sensor. After initial scoping, we found several promising sensor packages on the market, and picked one that best suited the timeframe we had. We tested the basic functionality and concept with off-the-shelf hardware. Once we nailed the basic functionality, we proceeded to redesign and -build the electronics, hardware and software from scratch to suit our needs better.
"Together with the client we decided to have our first initial testing ground at an internal Santander event in Oslo in early September.
Meanwhile, development of the app continued and the server/iOS team from Huikea Experience started merging the social banking app and the fingerprint sensor registration side. At the same time, our design team framed the first ideas on what an API as a platform for third parties and external brands would mean. Together with the client we decided to have our first initial testing ground at an internal Santander event in Oslo in early September. This offered us a clear deadline to have a working MVP of the sensor, the first version of the iOS app and the product concept behind it all in working order.
A complete offering
It soon began to look like we were onto something quite unique here. As our designers worked through the initial validation results, it became clear strm was going to be a single app consisting of three things.
"It soon began to look like we were onto something quite unique here.
1) At its core, strm would be a social banking app that enables you to manage your finances with your community of friends and family in a social, easy and effortless manner. The idea would be to make money social and more convenient than ever before, and remove the artificial barriers separating various siloed brands, services and whole countries.
2) Strm would introduce a new way to enable commerce and transactions between forward thinking businesses and individuals, based on biometric technology. We would first set out to test the viability of a stand-alone fingerprint reader. This would be much more convenient than cash and faster than cards. Literally, it would be banking at your fingertips.
3) Strm would be a platform, backed by an API and a complete financial solution which enhances the existing relationships you have with brands and services you care about. Strm would make relationship management, planning, purchasing and completing transactions easy on the web, mobile and in the physical world.
Your product is the brand
As it tends to happen, when you build a product you end up having a quite solid view on the brand itself as well. The name came to exist by way of a happy accident – our project started with the codename “stream”, as in streaming finances, and the name stuck. We began toying around with the Web 2.0 type abbreviation of the word, strm, and found that it actually worked quite well. It was memorable, and with a bit of luck it would have true potential to become a standard Oxford Dictionary noun just like "to google" had done. Finally we filed a trademark and started working on the identity itself.
"We took the opposite route of making strm really warm and red.
As banking and finances in general tend to have a rather cold tone, distant positioning and either blue or green, we took the opposite route of making strm really warm and red. As for the visual identity, we took a similar approach in softening the financial industry with a hand drawn typographic wordmark. That would change our users' mindset towards existing web services on the other hand, and bring warmth and personality into the product. All this was complemented by the relative strictness and strong backbone of the Nitti Grotesk type family by Pieter van Rosmalen, published by the Bold Monday type foundry.
The identity became complete once we started working on the concept video with Anima Boutique and selected renowned illustrator Pietari Posti for his unique and warm illustrative style. The concept video acts as the cornerstone of our release, and everything from five-meter-wide booth banners to stickers and business cards was modeled around the same style. The soft, smooth and comforting voiceover in the video was delivered by Rebecca Clamp, courtesy of Dictum and Humina. The brand music was done in-house by our designer Jukka Koops. In addition to the concept video, we also prepared documentary style videos explaining the core features of strm, shot and edited by Jerome Sivien and Midia 14.
Everything is a conversation in the UI
When diving into designing the app, we soon realised traditional menu based structures would not cut it for our purposes. Strm was forming out to be a truly elastic customer experience — at one moment you would be asking opinions and conversing with your friends and family, at another you would be depositing money collectively.
"The answer to this was obvious — we should make an app that lives within dialogue.
The answer to this was obvious — we should make an app that lives within dialogue. A conversational UI that would lead the user through the whole experience, from onboarding to financial deposits, introducing a distinct, friendly and unique personality during the process. By making the interface a conversation, we would make it easy for consumers to cut through unnecessary noise and engage directly with the brands, products and vendors they care about. Also, we would not force traditional application shell limitations onto the app, but could essentially get our thesis to work anywhere from push notifications to instant messaging.
And then we took it even further. We gave our AI a name and a personality. It would be female, in a very nondescript and asexual way, and she would be called “Jet”. She is the strm bot, butler and resident advisor. As a character she is warm, informal and quirky at times. She is the strm soul, who takes your hand, guides you around the service, acting later as a medium for important things and softens the tension in error handling.
Delivery at high velocity
Already in the early stages of the project, our deadline for the work was set to be Slush, the largest startup conference in the Nordics, in early November 2015. The reason for this was not to launch strm as another startup among hundreds of others, but to be where our lead users would be, to test our outcomes and to probe the demand for both the concept and its initial outcomes. This introduced us to a solid deadline and a tight timeframe, which gave us the freedom to act fast and make decisions within budget. It also turned the transparent and trustful design culture we managed to build on short notice, into reality.
"It also turned the transparent and trustful design culture we managed to build on short notice, into reality.
We built an app and a platform, trademarked the name, created a brand and delivered several versions of hardware and software in less than six months. Our team of battle-hardened professionals made lots of informed, bold calls and not to mention nailed almost each and every one of them at the first go. From August onwards, we delivered monthly updates to the client’s Innovation Board, and ended the phase brilliantly by releasing strm.finance at Slush 2015. There we probed the audience response with real people and real interactions over two days, with overwhelmingly positive feedback. We had several hundreds of 1-on-1 demos at the strm booth, registered over two hundred fingerprints. Over 95 per cent of them bought a lunch with their fingerprint at Street Gastro, our street food vendor partner. The whole team was assured by the experience, that social banking as we envisioned it, has a place in the market.
Beyond Slush, our platform development continues with its first real business cases in 2016. Please sign up at strm.finance for news and beta products in the near future.
The project team
Client Santander Consumer Bank
Nordkapp Sami Niemelä, Teppo Kotirinta, Petri Lattu, Panu Korhonen, Matti Mölsä, Shakti Dash, Jukka Koops, Aki Happonen
Development Huikea Experience: Teemu Kurppa, Pekka Uronen
Hardware engineering Mikko Köykkä
Industrial design Mika Nenonen
Millennial insight Future Leaders
Animation and illustration
Anima Boutique: Ville Salervo, Misha Lagerstedt, Jorge Pozo, Jyri Pieniniemi
Agent Pekka: Pietari Posti
Sound design and voiceover
Humina: Timo Anttila
Dictum: Rebecca Clamp