How N26 Wins Users with Data-Driven UX Design

Agata Rączewska

Jun 22, 2021 • 13 min read
Women using a laptop

A smooth and seamless user experience (UX) is essential for banks that rely on mobile devices. One company that prioritizes great UX is N26. N26 is a German neobank that enables people to manage their bank accounts, track expenses, and set aside money on the go.

Like most neobanks, N26 relies heavily on its mobile app, and therefore, a great user experience is a crucial focus for its team.

In this episode of Disruption Talks, we spoke with Jolene Tan-Davidovic, Lead User Researcher, and Emanuel Milicević, Lead Product Designer at N26, to learn more. They share behind-the-scenes details about conducting user research, and using psychology and hard data to create the best data-driven UX design.

What is data-driven UX design?

With any kind of app or digital tool, the user experience is key to success. People need to be able to navigate without any snags and achieve what they need to as quickly and efficiently as possible.

To design the most seamless experience, it’s not just the top designers you need. You also need real feedback from users to create a data-driven design that takes the user’s needs into account.

By collecting data and surveying users, you can create fantastic data-driven UX design instead of just relying on what the designer thinks will work.

The team at N26 prioritizes user research and understanding the psychology of their user base to create the best experience possible.

Agata Rączewska: Can you give us an introduction to your roles?

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: I’m currently the Lead User Researcher at N26. We work in the account opening business side, taking care of the website and the whole company process. I’ve been in research for more than ten years now and started as an academic researcher studying psychology and behavioral science. Then I made the switch to UX, which is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Emanuel Milicević: I’ve been doing this line of work for a few years now. I worked in an agency for about four and a half years and had experience in a lot of different industries. The good part of this work and partnering with Jolene is that I learn a lot about psychology, how people behave, and how we can help make their lives better. I work with Jolene in the onboarding experience to make it as smooth as possible.

Emanuel, you mention on your LinkedIn that your favorite parts of the job are “teamwork, sacrificial concepts, and launch day celebration.” Can you tell us about that?

Emanuel Milicević: Yeah, in the early days, I was doing a lot of support in teams, and this was one of the things that stuck with me. I don’t think we can build any product by ourselves as designers or researchers. We need to collaborate, so I really like being in the room with different people sharing their ideas. Everyone has different views so you can learn a lot.

With sacrificial concepts, what I mean by that is a reality check. It’s when everything looks ideal on our screens, but when you put it in front of the user, they have a completely different opinion. It can hurt, but it’s good to have that feedback so we can improve.

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: You can learn a lot during this process. It gives you a safe space to test out crazy ideas because you know it’s not the final product.

Could you tell us what a day in the life of a Lead Product Designer looks like?

Emanuel Milicević: There are many different personalities in the team, so you really need to get to know everyone. I always try to ask a lot of questions. When you ask the right question as a Lead Product Designer, you challenge them to think beyond what they currently know.

There are a lot of meetings, and me asking a lot of questions. As well as meetings, we do lots of hiring and onboarding people, review sessions, research, and team activities.

Jolene, how do you cooperate with designers to make research and design work together?

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: We really try to establish a relationship and trust because I think it's the key to cooperation. It's not like, “oh, I'm a researcher, and you're a designer.” We are part of the same UX team, and our goal is to improve the UX.

There are no clear boundaries in our work. We're just working towards the same thing.

We start the day by just telling each other what we're working on in a very quick stand-up on Slack so we all know what each other is doing so we can collaborate.

Could you tell us what makes research and design collaboration successful?

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: I think the first thing is this culture that user research is a team sport. User research is not something that sits solely within the user researcher’s world. It's something that is distributed through the entire company. So everybody speaks the same language about our users.

My job as a user researcher is really about being an enabler, enabling everybody to have access to the users’ needs, to support them with the best methodology and tools.

The other thing is this idea of psychological safety. When we feel psychologically safe with each other, this creates a great environment for feedback. If I give feedback about a design or somebody gives me feedback about research that I've done, it will be taken very constructively.

What would you say is N26’s North Star? What values, principles, and beliefs does the team have?

Emanuel Milicević: All the tools, methods, and strategies that we’re using help to create value for users and for the business also. I would say this is a kind of North Star for the design team.

We are working in a very broad landscape in terms of different currencies, languages, and countries. We believe on multiple levels, from a macro level to micro-level, that one size does not fit all. You can see this through our product offerings.

We do see a variety of users we’re trying to serve, and without that research, we wouldn’t know this to make an informed decision for our product offerings. Research is not just one stage in the process. It's literally all the way. This is why we like to use the term “research informs decisions.”

Our other values are definitely security and clarity. I like to use the saying that “security and clarity come first.” In the banking world, this is even more emphasized because you trust us with your money.

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: Our goal is that this is a bank that you love. This is a bank that you’re looking forward to opening the app. It’s not going to give you stress. It’s something that fits into your life and enables you to live the best life that you could have.

How do you combine making your users feel safe and secure while also undertaking user research?

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: This is certainly super important. Money is a sensitive topic. People have different degrees of willingness to share about their finances.

We start small and talk about broader topics to build a sense of trust with our users before diving into the gory details. We also like to emphasize that our users absolutely do not need to answer the questions. They can just say, “I prefer not to answer.”

This creates a space for our users to feel comfortable sharing or not sharing. That’s our strategy, and I think so far, it's worked.

When it comes to data-driven design, what is the level of transparency with your users?

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: We definitely don't share our data with third parties. Everything is really meant to improve the workings of the app, and that information is collected when someone signs up. We are very transparent in that regard. We’re not sharing any sensitive data.

Emanuel Milicević: You can also see more and more that Apple and Google are sharing data about how companies are collecting data on their app store.

It’s a constant battle between making the signup experience seamless for users while also being transparent and providing all the necessary information.

We use this approach of “snack, bite, and meal,” which is when you provide enough essential information for the user on the screen. If they want to know more, they can easily reach out to the next screen, where they will know even more information.

What has been the impact of design and research on the company itself and you as a designer?

Emanuel Milicević: We try to understand how we work together, and there are a lot of team activities, workshops, and so on to get everyone on the same page. We really need to make sure that how we cross-connect gets us smoothly from discovery to delivery.

As a designer, as a researcher, or a UX person, you really need to make sure that you're educating people along the way, while really understanding their motivations and their needs.

When you enter a company, it can be either a start-up or a well-established company, people have their own ways of working already. We, as human beings, don't like changes. We try to reject everything that is not within our comfort zone. This is why we need to use this approach and really be mindful of doing those changes gradually and steadily.

When you meet those stakeholders who are in their comfort zones, how do you make sure that those conversations are fruitful and successful?

Emanuel Milicević: I think my biggest lesson is that it’s the same when you go to live in a different country. If you learn the language, it will be easier for you. I use that analogy for business.

I see a lot of designers saying, “but I don't want to learn about business” or strategy or KPIs and so on. I think you really need to read the room and see what is important for each of those stakeholders. If you're talking to people about the business, you definitely need to make sure that you understand business language.

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: It’s not something that can and should be done overnight. This is something that can start bit by bit. One way that I have tried to do this is, as Emanuel said, to really help people understand the business and establish a relationship with stakeholders. Everybody knows that we are all working towards the same goal of achieving the same OKRs to deliver a fantastic experience.

Is there anything you had to unlearn on your journey to become a Lead Product Designer or a Lead User Researcher?

Emanuel Milicević: I needed to become more comfortable not knowing everything across the business.

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: From my previous role, I was a little bit obsessive about efficiency, always wondering what’s the best use of the company’s time. I’d always be thinking if something can be done with one person, why do you need six people to be involved?

That’s something I had to unlearn and really understand that getting a lot of people involved enables everyone to own their decisions and work together.

You both have a long experience in UX research design. How do you still professionally grow?

Jolene Tan-Davidovic: I think there’s so much more room to grow. One of the biggest areas that I would like to develop is how to be a better leader and be a better UX champion. This means really understanding the business, the processes, and HR.

Emanuel Milicević: I definitely agree with Jolene. I would like to help people think about their development, use their skills, and help them see what they would like to do. I think you need to understand everyone, empathize, connect, and see how you can serve the designers and researchers you are leading.

This discussion is part of our Disruption Talks recordings, where we invite experts to share their insights on winning innovation strategies, the next generation of disruptors, and scaling digital products. To get unlimited access to this interview and many more, sign up here.

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