How user-centered design powers Airfox’s product development

In a tech-literate yet underbanked market like Brazil, mobile banking apps offer a seamless way of delivering more inclusive financial services. The Airfox mission is to provide robust financial services to traditionally underserved markets in Brazil. On June 5 Airfox re-branded its digital app and launched banQi, a full-service digital bank for Brazil.

This process was driven in part by a mission to bring the product closer to the needs of our users. For Airfox’s product team, conducting a major UX research project in São Paulo was essential in uncovering new insights that led to a redesign of the app’s information architecture and navigation.

What is UX research?

A lot of companies assume more knowledge of the user than they actually have. They bypass speaking to users in favor of indirect sources of information. It’s easy to tell ourselves these types of stories:

  • Our competitors have this feature, so our users must want it too!
  • We already get user feedback successfully through support and analytics!

Support tickets and analytics data can show where users are experiencing confusion or behaving in unexpected ways. They cannot dig deeply into the why of the behavior, or the problems the user is trying to solve in his or her life by using our product. Data also will not address how to improve the design to better address that pain point.

That’s where UX research and user-centered design come in. UX research involves assessing users’ context, behaviors, needs, and attitudes through quantitative and qualitative methodologies. UX research can look like many things: observing users online shopping in their own homes, recording someone’s phone screen as they attempt to execute a check-out flow in a usability lab, or comparing survey data from one customer segment against data from another.

Whatever method used, the researcher has to check their assumptions at the door, acting instead on a sense of curiosity about the users’ behavior. This is especially important at Airfox, a startup with employees in multiple countries, resulting in many employees not working close to their target audience.

Airfox team member Bruna in São Paulo discussing user needs with a Casas Bahia employee.

Keeping the user at the forefront

At Airfox, a focus on the user is not just restricted to UX: all of our team members value a deep understanding and relationship with our target audience.

Getting into the minds of users allows UX designers to better understand pain points in ways that might not be obvious. Users look at a product without knowing the original business plan and often “hack it” into something useful to their lives. With the help of UX designers, companies learn about new and unexpected value of the product, adapting to the real needs of their users.

Badaró conducting usability testing with wireframe prototypes of the banQi app.

When transforming Airfox into banQi, it was vital for our Boston-based product team to incorporate user feedback. Emma, Airfox’s lead UX designer, wanted to test designs and validate them against user assumptions before they were built.

She planned a trip to Brazil three weeks after joining the Airfox team to conduct her research. Alongside designers at Badaró, a UX agency in São Paulo, Emma performed a design sprint. She created, tested, and iterated on design concepts for the architecture of the new banQi app through doing research with the Badaró team.

Street vendor in Brazil giving feedback on several concepts for the new banQi home screen during a guerrilla testing project led by Badaró designers

The project involved surveys, heuristic evaluations, guerilla testing, and usability tests. “Nothing gives you more eye-opening data than meeting users and watching them think through your product in real time,” Emma says. “Conducting those qualitative and quantitative tests helped us make some major improvements in our app architecture.”

Emma also found it helpful to spend a lot of time observing the daily activity at the Casas Bahia stores where the app was being promoted. “On my trip I also spent time in the neighborhoods in which our users live, sitting outside of banks and lotericas, and visiting small businesses” says Emma.

“As a UX designer, absorbing yourself in your users’ context helps you build a better framework for making design decisions.” Emma is planning another trip to São Paulo in July.

Design iteratively and test efficiently

Iteration is an important part of design — particularly when it comes to entering new markets. Many of our users have never used a mobile banking platform, and some may never have had a bank account in their name. There’s a learning curve for both users and designers as the designers tackle the challenge of learning how to make something that’s new yet familiar.

Although it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be pixel perfect, designers can get a lot of mileage out of low-fi design assets. Collaborative whiteboarding and sketching workshops can cover a lot of conceptual ground and generate great ideas between product managers, designers, and other stakeholders.

Emma discussing sketches with product manager Max

When it comes to testing with users, wireframes can generate just as much feedback as high-fi designs.

Sketches by Marco Moreira, a UX designer at Badaró

When the Airfox team began validating basic home screen concepts, they had to get creative to get the concepts out to multiple users quickly. The Badaró designers printed the concepts on paper and brought them to people in the target demographic.

When it came time to design and test the entire app navigation, Emma and the Badaró team used InVision to create interactive app prototypes to test with users. They then iterated on the designs, tweaking them after each testing round based on user feedback.

Example of an app prototype

UX at Airfox

Emma is the first full-time UX designer at Airfox. She’s passionate about expanding the design team to include others who are excited about solving unique design problems and spending quality time talking to end users.

Are you a designer interested in the Brazilian fintech market? Airfox’s team is growing! We are currently hiring for a UX designer and UX writer to grow our product team in the São Paulo and Boston offices.

This article was contributed to by lead UX Designer Emma Goldhammer.