Penn Design Challenge 2015

Reimagining the Experience of the Underbanked

Liz Stark
Liz Stark
Jan 18, 2016 · 5 min read

This fall 60 members of Wharton Innovation & Design embarked on a
three-week design sprint for the 3rd annual Penn Design Challenge.

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PDC Pride!

As a first year member of ID, I was excited to witness the creativity of the participants and work with a great team of co-chairs: Kristy Nguyen MBA’16, Alex Mark MBA’17, and Eleanor Horowitz MBA’17.

As the only multidisciplinary club with members across UPenn’s different schools (of our 190 members, 30% are from outside Wharton), Wharton ID is uniquely positioned to bring design challenges to the community each year. The Challenge fulfills two of the club’s core goals:

  • Serve as a hub for all things innovation, entrepreneurship and design
  • Give students the opportunity to build new problem-solving skill sets

This year’s sponsors, American Express, came seeking to better understand the needs of the users for its low-fee prepaid debit product, Serve.

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With American Express Serve, financial inclusion is pretty sweet

AmEx has long been an advocate of great customer experience. We were lucky to partner with the Enterprise Growth Design team, who use design thinking to “help create experiences that intersect the goals of our business with the needs of our users.”

We were surprised to learn how large the underbanked population is in the U.S. — estimated to be ~70M consumers. They rely on alternatives to traditional banking products and represent a huge opportunity for American Express to grow and help individuals achieve better financial outcomes.

We asked teams to answer: What can Serve do to get more customers to adapt the product as their long-term banking alternative?

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Team $wipe Right reps Wharton, Engineering, and IPD

Participants were organized into 10 teams of 6 hailing from schools across Penn: Integrated Product Design (IPD), Engineering, Architecture, and Wharton (MBA).

“I wanted to do the Penn Design Challenge, because it would give me the opportunity to develop my portfolio, and to work with Wharton and Design students who bring unique perspectives to designing new products” — Ivan-Thibault Pham, Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering

Designers Adam Brodowski, HJ Kwon and Stuart Eccles from innovation firm Made by Many introduced teams to design thinking, drawing on their experience working with clients such as Universal Music and subscription “butler” startup Alfred.

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Made by Many’s design thinking framework

“Design thinking is a toolkit for everyone using the skills and mindset of designers to tackle a challenge and to create a relevant solution for it. What is really appealing to me is that, every time I use design thinking as a process to generate solutions, I always end up with something very different than I had thought at the beginning. It’s kind of fun you lose your mind in between, and it gets to the right output in the end.” — Aobo Zhou (IPD’16)

Made by Many led teams through a series of hands-on exercises over two workshops. Some highlights:

  • Practicing user research interviews to draw out stories: “Tell me about the time you opened your first bank account”
  • Rewriting a prompt and redefining the opportunity: “How would you save a Noisy Nightclub from being shut down by the city?”
  • Sketching user stories
  • Speed dating pitch session: 10 minutes, 10 “investors!” (our favorite)

Words can’t fully do justice — check out their presentation in Slideshare.

For the first time, we paired each team with a designer from Made by Many or American Express to act as a coach and mentor. Teams held weekly sessions for coaches to provide guidance and feedback on the team’s process and progress. We were lucky to host the coaches in Philadelphia for the second workshop, in which they met their teams in person for the first time and served as mini-VCs in our speed dating pitch session.

Teams also put in many hours outside of the workshops to build user empathy. First, 30 participants joined us in the field for two user research safaris: We visited the likes of Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, and United Check Cashing to apply Made by Many’s teachings about user research to intercept interviews with unsuspecting shoppers.

Aditi Dugar (MBA ’17) said this was one of her favorite parts of the Challenge:

“We went and stood outside stores and asked random people about their finances…It was a really eye opening experience to see how many people were willing to help us out and to answer questions and have a conversation with you.”

After three weeks filled with post-its, prototypes, and PowerPoints, teams pitched their solutions to the AmEx Enterprise Growth Design team.

These were not your average “decks” — teams shared thoughtful insights about the users they met and detailed prototypes using tools such as InVision and Flinto.

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Team Paper Plane celebrates with a team selfie

AmEx crowned Paper Plane our winners. They won $3,000 and will present their in-store origination portal to AmEx execs.

Runner-Up: Team 9 for their Facebook-like feature Swerve Stream.

Honorable Mentions: Zest for their physical-digital savings product & Team 8 for their deep user research and enhanced pre-approval functionality.

Thanks again to all of our participants for their time, effort, and thoughtfulness. We can’t wait to see how they bring design thinking and their learnings from the Challenge to future projects and pursuits.

Many thanks to: Miles Begin, Katie Koch, Ellen Goodman, Clara Bunker, Sean David Kelly, Luke Stern, Linda Sum, Cristina Robledo, Yoshie Muranaka, Nick Peacock, and Nick Morgue from American Express. Adam Brodowski, HJ Kwon, Stuart Eccles, and Brian Kerr from Made by Many. Samantha Ortiz & the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at UPenn. Wharton Social Media.

Wharton Innovation & Design

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