Inclusive Customer Narratives

Apurva Shah
Apr 22, 2018 · 6 min read

Personalizing customer experiences to be more inclusive presents a tremendous opportunity! This can apply to everything from high level brand narratives to specific UX/UI design considerations. Yet, most companies and design teams limit their concept of inclusiveness to accessibility — which is great and we certainly need more of it — but there is creative opportunity to do so much more.

The core challenge of creating inclusive experiences is the same one that accessibility practitioners struggle with constantly. How to help product, design and engineering teams develop empathy for a perspective that they, as individuals, don’t necessarily have. A problem eloquently articulated by Anne Gibson. Our biases and stereotypes are quickly baked into our service design flows and technical stacks. Josh Lovejoy uses Shirley cards to bring the entire notion of “default” into question and how formative that is to the rapidly emerging world of AI/ML.

In the Creative Technology innovation team at Capital One we recently completed a project where personalization was at the heart of making the narrative experience come to life.

Financial Superpower

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Financial Superpower poster (1 of 4) that focuses on financial strengths

Inspired by Jack Kirby’s beautiful art, “Capital One’s Financial Superpower” posters created for our Cafés and retail spaces apply the superhero metaphor to the truly superhuman task of making money conversations more engaging. The posters are printed with capacitive ink and use Bluetooth to transmit customer touches to Café Ambassador iPads. This facilitates an authentic conversation as customers explore the four posters relating to financial strengths, weaknesses, challenges and quests.

In supporting this rollout, the marketing team needed a digital version of the experience. Given the personal and emergent conversation between the customer and ambassador at the heart of the poster experience, we knew straight away that directly translating the poster experience to digital was not the right solution. The conversation dynamics in a physical in-person setting vs. a self-guided digital experience required a more direct narrative approach. In response, our team decided to create an interactive comic that would allow the reader to pick different challenges (college debt, home mortgage, retirement) that best correspond to their life goals.

Before we go on, lets meet your secret identity first…

In going through the interactive comic, it becomes clear that success of the experience depends on the reader being able to project themselves on the secret identity. If we can pull that off, the superhero reveal feels like a personal transformation!

UX Framework for Personalization

To have a common vocabulary and better grasp on personalization, we put together the following framework.

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The discrete/customized axis determines if personalization is based on predetermined set of options or customized to each individual user. The explicit/implicit axis indicates whether personalization is set directly by user choices, say in a settings panel, versus derived from user’s data, past actions or even facial expressions as captured from a front facing camera.

Lets explore each quadrant further. Discrete-Explicit is the simplest to implement, equally simple to setup and predictable for users. For example, Siri’s language and voice setting. Customized-Explicit allows users more specific control over personalization, for example using their pet photos for their desktop. Naturally these options are on a continuum, for example customizing Photoshop keyboard shortcuts fall somewhere in between. Moving over to Discrete-Implicit, Google Mail offers three display density settings to personalize responsive layout of the mailbox: Comfortable, Cozy & Compact. Appropriate setting is picked based on view size and sometimes this leads to confusion. Finally, with the onslaught of big data and AI, we will see many more examples of Customized-Implicit ranging from the very practical search autocomplete to Netflix’s movie recommendations.

Personalization Choices for Financial Superpower

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Avatar Customization

As a financial services provider, we had to be very careful about attributing implicit choices for our customers based on data or past behavior. For most people, money tends to be aspirational and their data footprint and behavior does not capture this. More broadly, in our society, identity itself is a fluid concept. So, we decided that key choices ranging from reader’s gender and skin tone to their key financial challenge should be declarative choices that empower readers to express their sense of self identity. In keeping with this idea, we wanted to stay away from nuclear families in our narrative which could end up excluding rather than including those that pointedly don’t fall into that stereotype.

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If all choices are explicit, the narrative becomes predictable. We wanted to keep some things a little bit magical. With that in mind, we paired specific villains to each challenge that is revealed once the story branches. This was based on the most common pairing we observed from the poster data collected during our user research. Similarly the voices that motivate our hero when all seems lost are the very same family that they selected earlier.

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Illustrator Ian Dorian’s rough sketch for “General Anxiety”

We explored customization by asking users to type in their name and at the beginning of the experience. The name is then composited into speech bubbles to personalize the dialog. This proved to be very effective in our testing and really helps readers get into character.

We also tried taking selfies from the front facing camera and compositing artistic stylization of the images into a few specifically staged story panels, for example a monitor that reflects back the character. Unfortunately, the selfies did not integrate into our story as tightly and flexibly as the discrete set of illustration layers over which we had full creative control. Advanced CGI techniques may have opened further avenues for experimentation. Ultimately due to schedule pressures we abandoned this approach.

Once AI techniques for storytelling advances further, it would be exciting to try truly emergent experiences that generally stays within our current structure while allowing a customer driven narrative to take shape. This would start to approach the authentic conversation the posters currently facilitate between our talented ambassadors and customers. Diamond Age anyone?

One key insight we discovered through this process is that inclusiveness is not the same as customizability. As long as users are able to exercise meaningful personalization tied to the core of the experience, we can create an emotional bond with them. Another important lesson, by starting to work with our accessibility team early in the process, we were able to incorporate core web accessibility features including alt text, keyboard navigation and contrast thresholds without compromising the unique scrolling experience for the comic reader.


The incredible critical and box office success of Black Panther has shown how impactful it can be to embrace the challenge of inclusiveness in a creative way. At Capital One, the Financial Superpower experience allowed us to scratch the surface of what personalization and inclusiveness can bring to the high avoidance yet socially important conversation around money. And if you can crush your nemesis and strike a heroic pose in spandex in the bargain, all the better!

Acknowledgments: This project was a result of input and hard work from every corner of Capital One: the One Design team; incredible engineering skills of Team Gunter; the accessibility team; Whamix for the reader technology, interactive script and comic book production; PrizeLogic for microsite development; and our incredible business partners in Café product team who shared our vision for where this project could go. I would also like to acknowledge the heroic Creative Technology Team of Jason DePerro, Amanda Legge, Chen Shen, Noelle Page and Ian Go.

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