The Challenge of Simplicity

The spread of smartphones seems inexorable. Already, a quarter of the world’s population uses smartphones and eMarketer expects that share to increase to a third by 2017. There is a flip-side, however, which is often lost in all the buzz about smartphones. Even three years from now, half of mobile phone users worldwide will still be using simple phones.

Although we have developed a native Android application as part of the FinCapDev competition, our core product still relies on SMS messaging. We designed this core product that can turn any phone in the world into a financial coach because those with basic phones often lead complex financial lives.

When designing messages for this core product we are limited to 160 characters. As we have blogged about before, we employ a user-centric design process that is informed by preliminary user research. Since our process is iterative, however, we seek feedback from users not just at the beginning but throughout our process.

When we were drafting these messages for our initial deployment in Colombia, we tried to maximize each message by making them as close to 160 characters as we could. We wanted to provide our users with as much information as possible that would help them better understand their new mobile bank account.

When we watched a video of one of our users reading aloud these first messages, we were shocked. It took her over 20 seconds to read a single message. She read haltingly, painfully slow.

This feedback helped recenter us around the needs of our users who are often not only new to banking but also relatively new to mobile phones. We realized the truth contained in the quote from Blaise Pascal, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Keeping our messages simple proved to be more of a challenge than maximizing 160 characters. However, simple proved to be effective. Those who received messages from Juntos were much more likely to have active accounts and saw a significant increase in account balances compared to a control group.