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Design Updated: 18 Mar 2019

Anticipating user needs with intelligent design

When it comes to designing customer interaction with online services – whether from a GPS navigator or through a mobile banking app – it is more and more common to design automated features that anticipate customer issues.


Creating products or services that solve problems is the fundamental user experience design principle. This is how Manrique García, BBVA’s Global Head of Design Research, explains it. He stresses that the designers responsible for achieving this goal frequently don't have prior knowledge about the end user problems, so they have to approach each potential customer issue separately, investigate it, understand it, and suggest a suitable solution.

Nonetheless, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, there is a new way to understand what customers need: through the use of algorithms and the analysis of the abundance of data available, there are cases where it is possible to identify customer issues before they occur, which facilitates an automated, personalized solution design.

We can find an obvious, practical example of this trend in the design of navigators that give us the best route for getting from one place to another. With only an address as input, these applications are able to intuitively, clearly, and easily provide the best way to reach a destination.

This is the context where a concept called ‘anticipatory design’ comes into play. It involves preempting an end-user’s problem, offering a solution before a problem arises, or, at the very least, informing the customer – whether with a graph or other visual display, an alert or other type of message – in advance of a specific situation transpiring.

According to BBVA’s chief designer, this kind of user experience can also be designed for the banking industry, by using parameters based on customer information. “Analyzing data – always in accordance with our criteria of transparency and responsibility – we can design products that provide actionable information and personalized services that solve concrete problems,” he explains.

To given an example, Garcia describes how it would be possible to avoid an overdrawn account by defining a rule that automatically redirects sufficient funds from a different account so that there is a sufficient balance. Then a solution should be designed that offers this option to the customer in a clear and compelling way. “This solution could be set up so that the transfer occurs even before an incoming bill causes a negative balance, thus providing the customer with a greater sense of security and transparency because the bank has preempted a potential blunder.”


BBVA's app already include some functionalities that help customers anticipate movements in their account.

To design these types of experiences, BBVA has a clear point of departure for winning over customer confidence: customers should not only clearly understand the benefits of these services, but should also always have full and total control over their own data,  facilitated through the design.

An X-ray of your expenses

Real-world examples of this kind of design can be found in Bconomy and  personal finance management features like “Anticipated Transactions”, two services integrated in BBVA’s app and web site, which allow customers to use mechanisms to improve their financial health: controlling expenses, establishing goals, or predicting an overdraft. It also gives users the option to to use profiles that are comparable to theirs so they can receive potential personalized investment recommendations.

Specifically, thanks to its meticulous design, BBVA Bconomy manages to provide customers with a precise x-ray of their income and expenses, which they can easily navigate to better understand their financial habits. Consequently, they can decide if they want to save more, if they should reduce expenses, or, on the contrary, if they can maintain their actual spend rate. Customers can also easily navigate between different graphs that show the expense categories where they have spent the most in the past few weeks and see a preview of how the month will end depending on the prior performance of their finances.

"Transparency and clarity are the fundamental foundations for applying artificial intelligence to the user experience"

The functionality also offers a visual, data-powered roadmap with personalized steps the customer can take to improve their spending in these categories, thus optimizing their total savings. For example, if a customer is below the 20 percent monthly recommended savings threshold, he or she can define budgets to control expenses.

Customers can easily navigate between different graphs that show the expense categories where they have spent the most.

Garcia points out that solutions can go even further using data analysis and information about customer behavior. To further help optimize savings and customer investments – thus contributing to a customer’s overall financial health – tasks related to different banking services can be automated.

A clear, transparent design

This type of functionality will only be embraced by customers if the designers keep the customer perspective in mind; customers have to recognize the value of these automated, customized services without ever feeling a loss of control over their data and maintaining confidence in the supplier. "The end-user has to understand the automation and retain control every step of the way. We only get it right if the customer sees the automation as an improvement, if he or she understands it as a facilitator or enabler in the situation.” explains García.

BBVA's Head of Design Research is unequivocal that transparency and clarity are the fundamental foundations for applying artificial intelligence to the user experience. Mindful that banking customers are still hesitant to fully delegate control to automated services, Garcia advocates for a transition where banks combine automation with customer-empowering control. "The customer should have the final say over any automation and should completely understand what will happen from there on out, whereas the banks must make it clear that they are acting responsibly and in the best interest and needs of the customer,” he concludes.