How to design a modern bank card

Benedict Shegog
5min read

At a recent Halloween Fintech Insiders After Dark event, the audience was asked to hold up their challenger bank cards. About 75% of the 200 person audience help up a challenger bank card (despite much of the audience having incumbent bank email addresses). Monzo, Starling, Curve, and Soldo were all represented. One particularly enthusiastic attendee even came dressed as a Monzo card. Sure, the podcast is called Fintech Insider so you could call it a skewed sample, but still.

The next day, a slightly worse for wear 11:FS team got talking about card design. The upside? We don’t think people pay enough attention to card design.

Why you should pay more attention to card designs

How many times did I use my Monzo card yesterday? Five times. How many times did I check the app? Zero times. That’s five more times I interacted with the brand and five times people in the queues for Pret or the Tube saw that distinctive hot coral colour in action. But how long did the card design session take? According to members of the founding team, less than a week. How much time is going into designing the app? Two years and counting. Now that’s not a criticism of Monzo’s card design. Smart people made smart decisions and chose a colour that (at least in the early days of the card) was guaranteed to receive comments at the bar. Mashable even published a piece recently titled ‘The bank that's apparently so cool it has become a chat up line in London's bars’, a story discussed at the Fintech Insider show in question.

The world’s ugliest cards

[caption id="attachment_64372" align="alignleft" width="300"] Venmo's "dough" card[/caption] In the past, we’ve talked about the worst card designs. Grotesque examples from Farmville and questionable user targeting from the likes of Hello Kitty are bad enough, but it’s the more mainstream offerings that are particularly objectionable. Particularly bad examples include Venmo’s recent ‘ball of dough’ design that received a lot of flak when it was launched in September (there was almost audible corporate back peddling with quotes about it being ‘tongue in cheek’) and Tangerine’s card design that centred on a large orange arrow that points in the incorrect direction for ATM usage. [caption id="attachment_64370" align="alignleft" width="300"] Tangerine's arrows pointing away from the ATM[/caption] Arguably more subjective are the conversations around custom cards and gimmicks like cards with weighted metal cores. Personally, we think the custom cards open up a can of worms around what images users can have printed on their cards (for example, what happens when someone inevitably wants to put a copyrighted Disney character or something pornographic on their Mastercard?). And weighted cards, while they might be fun, are massively expensive to produce and only receive attention from people who actually hold the card (ie. you and the person behind the till, as opposed to everyone standing around you).

Things to think about when designing a card

So what should a well-designed card do? The first rule is to not produce an ugly card. Easier said than done, you might say. But it’s not really. Just make sure you have someone with a good eye working on the use of colour, images, and branding. If you don’t have that person on your team, get a designer in. Secondly, without compromising on the first rule, try to design a card that stands out from the hundreds of other pieces of plastic. Undoubtedly, given the attention Monzo’s design has received, we’ll be seeing more bright colours. Get test designs printed and show them around the office. Finally, don’t create a design that gets in the way of the card actually being used. We’re looking at you, Tangerine. Both Visa and Mastercard have strict rules on brand and the format of card numbers, so unless you’re going to create your own payments network, you’re also going to have to work within their rules.
The first rule is to not produce an ugly card.

Bank cards are here to stay

If you only takeaway one thing from this post it should be that bank cards are important. Until the hype around Apple and Android Pay plays out fully, bank cards are here to stay. A well-designed card can be your main customer touchpoint and an under-recognised and under-utilised element of a marketing strategy. For more information about our research team and the research projects we can deliver, drop us a line. To find out more about 11:FS Pulse, visit the website, or contact us for more details about how you can access this fantastic research and insights tool.