Design Thinking Exercise |Whole Bank


Max Karacun
Feb 26, 2019 · 8 min read

Design thinking is a solution based methodology that is used to solve real problems. The design thinking approach is commonly divided into five stages illustrated below.

Design Thinking Process

Each step has its own purpose and a way of contributing to the final product. However, rather than the linear methodology that is performed once, the design thinking should be thought more of as an iterative process. Where it could take several cycles to produce a working solution. For that reason, I prefer to visualise the design thinking process as a cycle illustrated below.

Design Thinking Cycle

In this exercise, I aim to apply design thinking methodology to solve a specific problem outlined in the case study below.


Whole Bank is a US bank, initially based in Framingham, Massachusetts, created with the mission to help customers save and manage their money using innovative options e.g. virtual currencies. They have specifically identified a problem for bank customers who use their debit/credit cards while travelling. So they would like to develop a tool to let the bank customers pay without having to use the physical card and create a better user experience for their clients.


The first step of the design thinking is about understanding the users and the problems they are currently experiencing with completing a particular task. There is no better way of understanding the users and their pain points but to actually talk to them. In the UX world, this is commonly done by conducting user interviews. For the task of finding out more about the problem, I’ve decided to conduct five different interviews with people who I know have travelled and therefore are able to share their experiences.

Below is the list of the questions that I have prepared beforehand.

  • How often do you travel abroad?
  • What method of payment do you use to spend money abroad? e.g. credit/debit card, cash etc.
  • Tell me about your experience with paying for things abroad.
  • Have you experienced any difficulties with paying for goods or services abroad?
  • What type of workarounds have you created to help you with this?
  • Have you thought about any other solutions to that problem?
  • What's your opinion on virtual currencies?
  • Do you see yourself using virtual currencies for payments abroad?

I have tried to create questions that are open-ended and not too specific. This way I am being open for unexpected turns during the interview and possible discovery of some unanticipated pain-points or solutions. Even though, I had a structure to my interviews, many times I’ve asked follow-up questions and have let the conversations to flow naturally.


After conducting the interviews, I had a substantial amount of information that had to be processed and analysed. Here are some of the consolidated user insights that I’ve gained.

  • Interviewees are concerned about the high exchange rate commission fees that the banks are charging them abroad.
  • Interviewees are concerned about the fees charged by the ATM machines.
  • Interviewees at this point in time are sceptical about virtual currencies.
  • Majority of the interviewees use both a combination of cash and debit cards to pay for things abroad.
  • Interviewees had to withdraw cash to pay in places where cards are not accepted e.g. free walking tours, remote places

Based on the information that I’ve gained, I’ve tried to find a common problem shared by most of the interviewees. One particular issue that came from interview to interview was the problem with the high commissions charged by the banks for international transactions and the fees for withdrawing money from the ATMs.

One root around this problem could have been the use of virtual currencies like Bitcoin. However, as the data from my user research suggests, people don't have enough confidence in this method of payment. Therefore, I knew that an alternative approach had to be taken.


The main aim of the ideation stage is to use creativity and innovation in order to develop solutions.

I have decided to conduct a brainstorming session to see what possible solutions I can come up with. To stay focused on the issues being solved I have defined the problems with the “How Might We” technique. This way I had clear and easy to work with problem statements:

(1) How might we reduce the high commission fees charged for international transactions?

(2) How might we reduce the fee charged for withdrawing money at ATMs?

Results of brainstorming

Under strict time constraint, I have tried to come up with as many ideas to the specified problems as possible. At this stage, it was important not to focus too much on the validity of the idea but rather concentrate solely on generating as many ideas as possible. After the time was up, I drew the stars on the post-it notes with the ideas that I thought were the most feasible. That doesn’t mean that the other ideas were not worthy. Contrary, some of them I thought were even more impactful than the selected ones.

In my decision making, I’ve tried to apply ‘Value-Effort’ matrix, which is the process of estimating how much value would the idea bring, but also how much effort would it take to realise that idea. So the ideas that have a lot of value but don’t take too much effort are considered to be the best ones.

Effort-Value Matrix

For the first problem, high commission fees on international transactions, I thought that the good solution would be to abandon the fees and instead focus on the other revenue streams. With players like Monzo, Revolut and N26, the commercial banking market becomes very competitive. The Whole Bank will find it difficult to gain and/or retain customers without matching the value proposition of its competitors i.e. no international fees.

I realise that this is more of a business solution rather than the technological one, thus not really showable in terms of wireframe presentation. Nevertheless, I thought that this problem could not be simply ignored as all of the interviewees in some way or another expressed their concern about the international fees.

In terms of the second issue, fees charged by the ATMs, I thought a good solution would be a map inside the bank’s application that would show the location of the ATMs with the lowest fees. According to my estimates, this would not take too much time to implement but at the same time would bring immediate value to the users.

Lastly, in terms of making an actual payment, since interviewees have not expressed any particular issue with paying with their phones. I thought not to “reinvent the wheel” and just use what can now be considered a convention and go with the NFC method of payment. This technology is widely used by different banks, and in my personal opinion, it works very well. This view is reinforced by one of the interviewees who stated that he prefers to use his mobile phone with NFC feature for making payments abroad instead of the card since it never fails when making the contactless payment. However, I understand that more user research would have to be conducted specifically on that topic to prove this assumption.


Below, is the image of the paper prototype that I have developed based on the results of three previous stages of the design thinking process. When building the prototype, I’ve focused solely on the features that focus on solving the user-defined problems.

When a user enters the app, he/she will be prompted to sign in using the fingerprint (if such feature is supported by the phone). Otherwise, the user can sign in using the four-digit passcode. Once the user is successfully authenticated he/she will be redirected to the home/transaction screen. This screen shows the most recent transactions as well as the visual representation of the account balance through the graph. I thought this is a handy feature as moving the pointer on this graph enables you to see the account balance at different points in time.

By pressing on the central icon at the bottom navbar menu, the user activates the NFC mobile payment feature. The user will be prompted for a secondary authorisation. Once the user is verified he/she can make a contactless payment with the phone. A success message will be shown once the payment is complete and the user will be automatically redirected back to the transactions screen.

Lastly, the user can check the location of the nearest low fee ATM machine by navigating to the pin icon. This will bring the user directly to the screen with the map, showing the user’s current location as well as surrounding ATM machines. By clicking on the specific ATM, a small pop-up will appear at the bottom of the screen showing more details about this particular ATM machine.


Completing this exercise has helped me to gain a better understanding of the design thinking methodology and its application to real-world problems. However, in this exercise, I have not conducted last but a very important stage — “Testing”. As mentioned at the beginning, design thinking is rarely a linear process. Testing ideally would have revealed some of the pitfalls with the current prototype and assessed its effectiveness, inducing another round of ideation and design.

One aspect of the process that I found quite challenging was to remain focused and solely design the features that were raised during the interview process. I’ve frequently found myself wandering off and trying to add new ‘nice to have’ features which don’t necessarily help to solve the problem defined by the user.

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