It can’t be every day that a UK studio gets approached by a leading Russian bank after a brand identity for their new app. So when we heard that NB Studio have created Zhuck, a banking app with a brilliantly satirical edge – an app which actually jeers at the user, goading them into working a bit harder, like a personal trainer who helps you gain pennies instead of losing pounds – we had to learn more. Nick Finney, creative director, answers my questions and reassures me that no smart-phones were harmed in the making of this app.
So, for those of us who aren’t familiar with banking apps, could you explain what they do?
I suppose on the surface most consumer banking apps (whether desktop or mobile) will help you perform basic banking activities (checking your balance, transferring money, arranging payments, communicating with the bank) without needing to go into an actual branch.
Zhuck was created to be a useful financial tool for Russian entrepreneurs in order that they can become more profitable and as such had to be much more than a “straight” banking app.
“Hurling your smart-phone is not something we considered”
Who do you imagine is going to use Zhuck?
We conducted interviews with Russian entrepreneurs invited to share their experiences in starting and running a business; their roles, responsibilities and daily routines. We talked to them about their dealings with business banking: the highs (not many), the lows (a great many). So we understood our customer and their needs fairly well – like most people, they want things to be simple, easy to understand and quick to use and pain-free.
What was also clear was that many had little or no experience in running a business or in the basic principles of business finance. And that starting a business in Russia can be a fairly lonely place; that cash is king (and untraceable), and that the metaphorical rug can be pulled under your feet by unscrupulous officials at any moment.
The app pokes fun at the user and responds to statistics and facts. Do any other apps do something similar? And did they at all influence your design?
When you’re creating a brand from scratch the app is only one of the elements you have to bear in mind – future vision and goals of the business dictate you need to think big.
While the focus was on creating an app for mobile, we spent a great deal of time trying to avoid looking at apps altogether. A great many apps look like they were forged in the furnaces of Silicon Valley and are homogenous because of this – we were keen to think differently.
We’re lucky to have clients who are highly creative and very early on they talked about building a better relationship between the customer and their money, of “your money talking to you”. So we had a range of influences from Tamagotchi, the movie Her to Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket and the weather – we found this a more helpful way to start.
Do you expect the app will provoke a fair few users to smash their smart phones in a fit of rage? Or does your design help lessen the possibility of this happening?
No, not at all – we’re keen that those moments of wit and sarcasm in the app are carefully and sparingly administered – so it’s only when appropriate and they’re there to lighten the experience. The main feature of this app is that it will learn your best habits and reward you; it will learn your worst habits and gently prompt you to take evasive action. It is ultimately designed to help you become a more profitable business. Hurling your smart-phone is not something we considered.
Is it tricky to design for an industry which is so different from the creative world?
Not really – it’s less “tricky”, more “great fun”. A fresh perspective and starting point of general ignorance meant we were able to see things differently, to challenge norms and try new things. We worked with a really smart team of people – in Russia and at SomeoneElse who shielded us from the complex financial detail and legislation in Russian banking.
What other ideas did you consider for the app at development stage?
We had a route which visually expressed your finances in a totally new way which was toyed with. We were exploring “the emotions”, the feeling of your business. We wanted something more natural than the flat UI statistic obsessed porn we’re used to seeing from the design world. It didn’t make it through as it needed ground-breaking physics to come to life and we just didn’t have the resources available at the time.
What extra challenges are there in designing an app for languages with two different alphabets?
Well, the app is entirely in Russian for the time being. The English language examples you see are purely for PR, although we designed everything in English first to ensure we got the meaning right and the typography working well. We spent time researching Cyrillic fonts and web fonts. We were designing for the text to be read, to be enjoyed, and that was our main priority.
We worked with copywriters and interpreters here and in Russia to get the tone of voice spot on – we have established rules about when to instruct and when to inform – and when to play. The team have a talented writer on-board who is the “voice of Zhuck” so we expect for our vocabulary to build over time and Zhuck to grow into a fascinating new brand.
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