Advances in artificial intelligence and mobile technology have led many banks to consider using virtual assistants to provide their customers with personal and portable financial managers. In this article, BBVA design manager, Julián García Ruiz, describes the challenge BBVA undertook and the path that led to the creation of the bank’s virtual assistant, Blue.
Our goals were clearly defined: we wanted to offer a product to simplify the interface between customers and the bank; to create a place where they could quickly find the answers to their questions, personalized assistance, and information that is relevant to their financial health, their bank accounts and products; providing direct access to all the functionality in our mobile application. To accomplish this, we needed create an entity that would address these requirements via a conversation: an intelligent assistant available 24 hours a day to whom BBVA customers could ask questions or make requests using natural, everyday language.
At the end of 2018, we gave ourselves the challenge of unifying the BBVA virtual assistants that had already been developed, both at a group level and from the different local design teams. We wanted to take the best of each, encourage their continued evolution, and jointly define new customer experiences. Our goal was also to scale up the product to function with internal mobile and web channels as well as via external messaging channels, always taking into account the implications of translating or adapting the interface.
To achieve this we created a small core team comprised of two UX/UI designers, a conversational designer, and an end-to-end experience designer. Our task was to research, compile, retrieve, and redefine the principles, guidelines, tools, and assets with 12 designers, six product owners, three program managers, and 20 developers across the participating countries. It was a global endeavor that resulted in the creation of Blue.
This is Blue
Together with the marketing team, we christened the assistant ‘Blue’, an easy-to-remember name that represents the BBVA identity. It was essential that the name would reflect the personality traits that we wanted to describe.
Defining the personality behind Blue began with initial user research in four countries and was followed by an arduous analysis process, which included psychology and positioning methods. It was important for us to be consistent, ethical, and responsible in creating the tone our virtual assistant would use to communicate with customers.
Blue is pleasant, patient, and thorough. When it comes time to work, it is attentive and sleek. During more relaxed times, it likes to show off its wit.
Blue adapts its tone to where each person is on the customer journey. We achieved consistency and flexibility with a conversational system that modifies its tone by using linguistic particles that can be included or not. They are also reusable, in the same way visual components are.
We defined a conversational design system, a modular written content creation tool in order to ensure consistency, clarity, accountability, preserving the personality of the assistant, and most of all using linguistics to be able to scale across the target countries.
In our system, which we call ‘recipes,’ the ‘ingredients’ are words and reusable phrases that are suitable to each country and ‘condiments’ are interjections, adverbs, expressions, and connectors that help adjust the assistant's tone.
Blues’ identifying features
In principle, BBVA Blue is gender neutral (despite the occasional linguistic limitations when it is referred to has ‘him’). Its age — as conveyed by its voice — is between 25 and 35 years old. Its way of speaking is casual and colloquial, but it never tries to pass itself off as a human. Neither does it totally identify itself as a robot, although it is aware that it can perform tasks that can only be done with the help of artificial intelligence.
The reason we chose not to assign Blue a gender is when we were defining its personality, we were clear that it was non-human. Being able to reflect Blue’s non-human nature while creating a balance between inclusive language and the need for clarity and space limitations helped us hone the uniqueness of our assistant.
Blue's visual identity
We wanted to give our virtual assistant a smooth, fluid, and harmonious visual identity. To achieve this, as a foundation we used rounded shapes and flowing movements, avoiding squares, hard edges, and straight ends. Although our basic element is a circle or sphere, we combine it to create more solid structures in order to give a sense of security and efficiency.
At the same time, we base most of the animation in rounded turns and smooth movements, emphasizing the importance of creating clean, smooth arcs in order to create a fluid experience. The animations are light and agile, without suspended states or using exaggerated bounces.
We co-designed a set of UI components with the system global design team, using a combination of 21 elements to achieve more than 60 different use cases.
It was not an easy job since we were faced with significant technical difficulties, challenging roadmaps, competing priorities, and complicated processes. But thanks to the hard work, commitment, and deliveries made by all the individuals on the product and development teams, we managed to deliver a customer experience with dozens of use cases and thousands of possible responses. We decided to take the risk and we learned a lot from the mistakes and successes associated with developing a product of this scope. Our task was further complicated because invariably there are high expectations for a leading bank, a bank that has set the standard for digital transformation, when launching a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence.
Today Blue is operational in Spain and Mexico, but it will continue to evolve, broadening its footprint across countries and different channels, offering an inclusive and accessible option to customers using BBVA mobile banking.