I am sharing a recent design challenge I was given for a possible role. Below is the challenge, and the guidelines given. I had 3 days to complete and deliver my solution.

Title: Design an ATM for Kids

Guidelines: This challenge is deliberately open ended — there is no minimum or maximum. Feel free to tackle any aspect of a potential solution. Keep a record of your process to share with us. If you have questions along the way, please record those questions, then assume an answer for the sake of moving forward in the challenge.

I specifically wanted to shy away from almost any visuals, and focus solely on the concept and the story. Below is everything I came up with.

Overall Goal: design an ATM for kids (age 6 and up)
Business goal #1: increase ATM engagement thus increasing ATM profitability
Business goal #2: increase access to financial education for kids & parents
Experience goal: make using an ATM interesting, fun & educational for kids

The Spara unit: adjustable height with large touch-screen

Meet Spara

Spara is the touch-friendly, fingerprint-secured ATM made just for kids. Spara is a new way for your child to begin to learn about managing their money, and to start on the path to financial independence.

Spara begins its experience by automatically adjusting its height to accommodate your child’s height. There’s no need to fumble with debit cards or to find the slot: your child simply touches the screen anywhere to begin their banking experience. Once Spara recognizes their fingerprint, and they enter their passphrase, the real Spara magic happens.

Your child’s version of Spara walks onto the screen and greets them: this helps to engage your child with Spara itself. Spara is personalized to each child; not only in the avatar used, but the background and holistic experience on screen (more on this later). Depending on your child’s age, Spara might start with a few jumping jacks, or by cracking a few jokes. Once your child is fully engaged, Spara asks them what they would like to do: deposit or withdraw money, check their balance, view their goal progress, or record a message for their penpal. This last action is really exciting.

Fostering empathy and relationships through Spara

Enriching with more than money

When you and your child setup their Spara account, you can choose to take part in our partnership with Children’s International. By doing so, you will help sponsor a child in need. And, also by doing so, you will start to connect your child with their penpal in a meaningful, salient way. You and your child will record a short video message introducing your child, and share your excitement at being able to help. With each video you record, we send that to their penpal via a mobile app, which their penpal can then do the same.

When your child receives an update from their penpal, wanting to visit Spara becomes exciting. By tapping into this emotional trigger, and by fostering a bond across the world, Spara helps to imbue more understanding and empathy as humans (both children and their parents).

Always on your side

When your child engages with Spara, Spara converses with them to help them achieve their goals (i.e. deposit money, check in on their goals, etc.). Plus, when your child becomes a pro at Spara, Spara becomes more of a casual friend that’s hanging out with them.

Spara will also educate your child at certain times, deepening their bond with Spara. For example, if your child brings their piggy bank, Spara might show a short video on the history of piggy banks, and where they get their name. If your child is depositing money, Spara will show what’s happening to their account. Rather than just telling you what you deposited, Spara shows you what you started with, what you deposited, and what you ended up with.

In addition to educating your child, Spara also has a personality unto itself. Spara is programmed to randomly play quick games with your child. This helps to make interacting with Spara more fun, and Spara really starts to become a habit that your child will want to keep doing.

Learning isn’t just for the kids

When you and your child setup their account, Spara records their fingerprints — and shares them with local authorities for your peace of mind — to make accessing their account as easy as possible. In addition, you setup their passphrase as well. Then it’s time to begin both you and your child on the path of financial education. Your account manager will help you and your child choose age-appropriate goals to work towards.

Helping you understand how to help your child learn financial responsibility is just as important to us as educating your child.

While setting up their account, you can help them create their avatar, and the overall Spara experience — your child might want to always have Spara on a space station, on a pirate ship, etc.. We’ve designed this virtual embodiment of Spara to grow with your child. As your child ages and changes, so does Spara. Our core belief is that children learn best by doing and by interacting with other children. So, Spara embraces this to its core and becomes a friend for your child.

Spara, attached to a building, is perpendicular to pedestrians on the sidewalk

Security, as secure as we can be

Taking security seriously is an unspoken promise we make to you. Outside of dealing with financial information, you’re trusting us with your child’s sensitive data, and their well-being. We do not take this responsibility lightly. Thus we only have one slot for inserting and distributing anything (money, receipts, etc.). This slot is seamlessly flush with the rest of the screen, and is covered when Spara is not being used. Thus, hackers and skimmers have nowhere to attach anything to. This is also the reason we use fingerprint and passphrase authentication.

Spara lives perpendicular to any others waiting to use it. Traditional ATMs stand parallel, causing anxiety for those using it, and making it easier for those waiting to have prying-eye syndrome. Being perpendicular helps to prevent these by design. It also presents an opportunity to teach your child about being aware of their surroundings.

More than an ATM

At its core, and on the surface, Spara is so much more than an ATM. It’s a revolutionary way to think about instilling confidence, breeding financial freedom, and connecting on deep emotional levels. Designed to actively incorporate all 7 learning styles (visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary) for your child, Spara makes learning to manage money fun.

Learning doesn’t have to what we’ve become accustomed to. Banking doesn’t have to be either.


I wanted a brand-able name for the overall product: the physical device as well as the software & UI accompanying it. ‘Spara’ means ‘save’ in Swedish. I also considered ‘spaar’, which is Afrikaans for ‘save’ (my wife is from South Africa), but Spara felt more appropriate to use here. I also wanted a word that could be a name without implying a gender.

If I were actually working on this product, the first thing I would do would be to go out and do field research with kids of the desired age ranges and with varying environmental backgrounds. I’d love to see what they make of using existing ATMs, where they struggle, what they take away from it, etc.

As set in the guidelines, there are myriad questions and directions I could go with this project. However, to move forward and be able to deliver something I felt was well thought out, I assumed answers to my questions, and took a point of view on many decisions regarding this product.


  • why is this needed?
  • assumed: banks want to reach more customers to increase revenue, but also for more progressive banks wanting to help educate future consumers
  • is the goal to entice kids to save more OR to have easy access to their money?
  • I assumed it’s both, but focussed more on the former
  • has this been done before?
  • not that I could find in my research, outside of toys designed for kids
  • what age range of child is this ideally for?
  • 6+ — researching when kids really start to get a grasp on money, between 5 and 7 seems to be a safe area
  • I see no upper limit for this, and more thought would need to be put into how Spara would evolve into the teenage years and beyond — mayhaps it devolves into less a engaging experience and includes more actions that a user can take
  • is this new & solely for kids?
  • do banks want and add-on to existing equipment, or something new entirely? I settled on the latter
  • do these kids already have bank accounts?
  • I settled on the process of creating accounts as part of this, however a workflow for moving existing accounts to Spara would need to be considered as well

Thoughts and ideas while exploring

  • does screen need to be variable height?
  • use fingerprint to start the process
  • no need for card, no magic-band
  • more secure than card / magic-band as it can’t easily be faked
  • unlock with verbal password?
  • pair with underprivileged youth in developing countries where they can leave messages for each other, and the user here can donate to support this other user
  • this becomes more encouraging to the user than the actual transactions
  • by depositing more than withdrawing, can we encourage more donations?
  • multiple languages
  • support multiple age ranges: i.e. banking for a 5 yr old VS a 10 yr old VS a 14 yr old
  • UI different based on age?
  • use famous characters like how when ATMs first designed use Leonard Nemoy
  • in chatbot form, allow the kid to choose a character to engage with (i.e. maybe Barney, Bart, etc.)
  • if we design in entice savings, then after each deposit, dispense something fun (gum, stickers, etc.)
  • if we want to allow kids access to their money (thus more $ for the banks), make it fun to withdraw
  • do other things from the ATM — connect with friends, or virtually with characters / build up rewards in the system
  • have all input / output in the same spot
  • small / change-based cash output
  • banks will still get some money, kids will still feel in control of their money, but less likely to take much out
  • make it easy to GIVE money to charity
  • tie into online platforms to allow purchases right here?
  • bulk coin deposit: i.e. piggy bank support
  • need to be welcoming for first-time kids using it
  • timer-based sessions — can add more time if needed, to help keep the user focussed
  • the card insert is basically hidden until the interaction starts — the UI highlights this, thus making it virtually impossible for skimming by a hacker
  • make the ATM a room / self-contained unit
  • separate entrance and exit (somehow need to prevent people from waiting near exit)
  • payout for chores thru an ATM?
  • need quick way(s) to give fun feedback
  • dispense sticker for each step?
  • power by activity usage? i.e. like dance dance revolution
  • maybe use their feet to activate what they want to do?
  • if linked with a parent account, when child deposits money, pull in a bit from the parents account (matching)
  • make it clear the money they are interacting with is THEIR money, not anyone else’s
  • ‘By thinking holistically about how children experienced and interacted with the technology, Doug helped transform the MRI suite into a kid’s adventure story, with the patient in a starring role.’
  • make the kid the star of the interaction with the ATM
  • Random emotion / whimsy: Spara will randomly teach the user something (age-appropriate: maybe a new dance, joke, word in a new language, etc.)
  • when creating Spara character, the system will then create visuals that coincide with the character (i.e. location, background, colors, etc.)
  • location & background of Spara can be location-aware: i.e. a Spara in LA could have backgrounds relating to LA, etc.
  • or Spara could be more themed to enhance the childs interaction (i.e. a pirate theme, space theme, etc.)
  • Spara will be perpendicular to the wall, so people waiting are not glaring over a users shoulder
  • to save space, when not in use Spara will slide back into the wall
  • it’s facial / movement recognition system will alert it to when a new user is ready to engage (need to think about how to not fire this for those just walking by)
  • why did I choose 6 as the barrier age: http://kidsmoneylessons.com/teaching-money-kids-wont-understand-money-until-you-do-this/

Missed the cut

You can choose to enroll in SparaMatch. This is similar to how employers match contributions to employee 401ks. Whenever your child deposits money into their account, Spara will automatically match that with whatever you choose. Seeing more bang for their buck when they deposit money will excite your child and make them want to do it more often.

We love piggy banks, just as much as your kid does

The piggy bank bank

Your child have a piggy bank? Have them bring it. Spara looooves piggy banks. Spara can’t contain it’s excitement, and our patent-pending MoneyDrawar slides out. On screen, Spara starts to jump around and around, helping to encourage your child to get active and to try to get as much out as they can. When the piggy bank is empty, MoneyDrawar slides back in, and sorts the money. Phew, what fun!

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Lover of minivans, web designer and front-end tinkerer; product designer @simplepractice. A rad dad with 15% less mohawk now.