Skip to content


The Superman Effect: The Human Side of Banking UX Design

August 27, 2021 | Jonathan Pryer

As humans we have expectations. Expectations of how interactions should occur, expectations of how experiences will feel, and, let’s face it, expectations of how we’ll be treated by our banks.

This interaction with our banks was once very regimented, we’d visit our local branch and speak to a teller or manager and we’d follow the required steps to get the financial services we needed. This often meant lots of paperwork and lots of time, but we all knew what was expected of the interaction.

Then along comes technology and these interactions with our banks begin to change rapidly. What was once a strictly human to human experience suddenly becomes a whole lot more complex, face-to-face interactions are replaced by automated processes, traditional paper-based interactions are completed digitally, your customers now speak to ai assistants instead of tellers. In this digital-first world, does your user experience meet customer expectations?

Exploring the Uncanny Valley: When things just aren’t quite right

In 2011, Ayse Saygin, a University of California at San Diego professor in the department of Cognitive Science explored the “uncanny valley.” Essentially, the uncanny valley hypothesizes that when man-made objects become too human, in animation or robotics as an example, humans become uncomfortable. The point where discomfort develops is known as the “uncanny valley” and it makes us want to run for the hills.

Stick with me, I’ll get to what links the “uncanny valley” to expectations, technology, and banking UX design soon… but back to the experiment.

Professor Saygin attached viewers to an MRI, testing their brain activity when shown different versions of an android. When they were shown an android with human qualities people’s brains lit up like a Christmas tree. Their brains were working overtime trying to make sense of what they were seeing.

“What we found was that if you’re going to get so close to what the brain considers a person, you better get it right,” Professor Saygin says in Huffington Post. “The brain is not very tolerant of deviations from that.”

The android didn’t meet their expectations of a robot and it definitely didn’t meet their expectations of a human. The experience wasn’t right.

The Uncanny Valley of Banking UX

More and more, as people tune into the inner workings of technology and digital experience, our tolerance for misshapen design and snake-oil gaming in user flow has plummeted. Virtual assistants that take you in circles makes people insane. Social media algorithms can be mind-numbing. Who among us hasn’t considered hurling our phone into an active volcano after a phone pop-up ad follows your thumb around?

We know when brands are trying to game us. Like Professor Saygin’s uncanny valley testing, we know when something feels off in user experience design. When it comes to real, on-the-ground needs like the digital mortgage experience, understanding the human experience–the stress and harrowing spending that the average person experiences while finding a place to live–is essential. The digital mortgage UX is the last frontier that people want littered with inadequate attempts at tapping into the human soul.

Avoiding Uncanny Valley: Developing a genuine digital experience

When UX is genuine–when it recognizes the pitfalls and joys of being a real person–it can soar. We, the people, no longer tolerate passive aggressive UX that appears out of touch with the noisy waters of the digital world. So, what makes for a genuine UX?

  • Be bold and cohesive: Craft a look and feel that doesn’t just digitize the brand’s mission. It is the mission.
  • Don’t forget the human touch: While digital assistants and chatbots can be incredibly useful, banking services can be extremely complex. Make it easy for your digital users to get in touch with a human if they need to.
  • Create emotional experiences: In the age of experience, users search for emotion to make a connection to a product.
  • Anticipate: Integrated analytics that help you anticipate your customer’s needs and make the right offers.
  • Serve don’t sell: In a world of fake news and too good to be true offers it’s time to be the guide not the salesman.
  • Keep it simple: Navigating your user experience flow shouldn’t be a challenge. Test and test again to make the route to success as simple as possible.

Honest Experiences that Meet Expectations

I’ll use mortgages as example again as let’s face it, buying a house is one of life’s great mountain climbs. It’s our homes we’re talking about, the place where we’ll live and name our dog after a Game of Thrones character. There are already hills of paperwork and expenses that make it a little harder to breath, which makes it vitally important that lenders provide an experience that anticipates and counteracts moments of stress.

Actually, smart UX should guide us through its service like Marlon Brando’s character Jor-El in the 1978 film Superman: A benevolent, all-wise parent. Let’s say we call this the Superman effect in UX: When parental free-floating apps and digital experiences lead us, pragmatically, to the thing we find most valuable.

If that sounds like climbing Everest, it’s not; we’re already there, and the technology is ready. Fintechs are already working to make a digital mortgage experience that doesn’t send customers running for the hills. A TechCrunch op-ed stated:

“Closing a home loan today takes more time and has become more difficult and costly than ever imagined…The good news is that both of these problems are being aggressively tackled by tech companies working to transform the mortgage experience and bring lending into the digital world.”

UX that’s inspired by a true understanding of what people are going through is the first rung of a step ladder that leads to customer loyalty. When brands employ technology that is harmonious with customers’ human experience, when it leads us and we, in turn, lead it, there will be no running for the hills. Instead we’ll wander hand in hand through the meadows!

But, the moment we feel that design is over-reaching or brands are using the space disingenuously, whether it’s the oddly humanistic qualities of robotics or an app that gets us into owning a house quicker, the whole experience becomes unharmonious. When technology doesn’t guide us, seamlessly and invisibly, it becomes UX’s uncanny valley.

Get in touch