To examine the usefulness of skeuomorphic metaphors for online banking, we performed a user-centered design process to determine exactly how older users currently use online banking and how the experience might be improved for them. This process involved several processes, including initial interviews, the creation of mock-ups of potential designs and finally the creation of two UI prototypes: a flat design and a skeuomorphic design. In this section, we detail this design process and the resulting prototypes.
3.1. Preliminary Interviews
The preliminary interviews were designed to establish a baseline with regards to older users use of online banking, their use of physical banking and how we might improve their online banking experience. The interviews were semi-structured, making use of a mixture of open and closed questions to gather facts and opinions. Nine question were devised. These nine questions would help with general knowledge of the relationship between older adults and online banking. There were no intentional questions aiming at opinions on potential skeuomorphic solutions as this is not the purpose of the interviews.
Five participants were recruited via a church group. These participants were all born before 1953, so each was over 65 years of age. The literature review has stated about the potential challenges that can be faced about the individuality of older adults as they age—that is, that specific older users or groups of older users may have different requirements that other older user groups [24
]. As such, these interviews are vital to allow us to establish the experience and needs of our specific group of older users [37
Our participants come from a variety of backgrounds and careers. These include careers such as teachers, engineers and childminders, in both the public and private sectors. This provides a wide breadth of information from very different people from different schools of thought. If there is commonality in problems faced when using online banking this presents more of an impression that there is a general problem. The participants were not given any incentives and all participants voluntarily chose to take part in the research. All interviews took place in either in the participant’s home or in a community space where participants felt comfortable.
Initial questions focused on the participants current banking practice, including which banks they already bank with. This would allow us to see if the participants all used similar banks and would allow us to focus out flat design on sites they are already familiar with. Four out of the five participants banked at Halifax, two out of the same five also banked at Barclays and one out of five banked at Lloyds. As such our flat design prototypes were based around Halifax’s online banking experience.
This next significant piece of information was to determine what technology the participants used when online banking. Four out of five of the participants use a desktop or laptop computer as their main basis for interacting with online banking. When asked if the participants would even consider using a mobile or tablet device, three out of five would decline to use that. This information allows another requirement to be fabricated, that is: both prototypes must be a web application that will be used by a desktop or laptop computer.
One problem that was commonly found was that when communicating tasks and activities that the user can perform banks described the activities with a lack of consistency. This is a common problem for older users and has been noted in studies of technology use by older adults [38
]. The result is that our participants found moving between banking sites different and as such our prototypes should use terminology that the participants were familiar with from their own banks’ online services.
Another issue was the input of data such as sort codes and telephone numbers when transferring payments. Again, this was a matter of consistency, as different bank (and other) sites use different formats for the same data. A similar lack of consistency was found in how charges, transfers, and payments are represented on statements, with the descriptions not necessarily offering a clear indication of what a specific line on a statement is referring to. This has resulted in some participants spending a lot of time backtracking previous transactions on statements to determine when and where specific transactions had occurred.
Common activities described by our participants included the use of standing orders between current and savings accounts, checking personal balances, and monitoring withdrawals and deposits. All of which were used by all participants, indicating that our participants were quite engaged with the process of online banking. All participants had experience is transferring payments to accounts in other banks, whether their own, or belonging to other people and businesses. These activities were noted and were used to create the tasks that were then used in the evaluation phase of this research.
There were also some atypical uses, such as in one interview where online banking was described as being used to transfer funds from Pound Sterling to Euros. While such tasks were not included in our prototypes or evaluation process, this is an indication that older adults’ ability to use online banking is not just limited to daily management.
Praise of online banking was common among interviewees. Online banking was seen as more convenient for older adults then the alternative of going to physical branches. Again, this would seem to emphasize the importance of ensuring that online banking interfaces are suited to the requirements of older adults.
Interestingly, during the interviews comparisons to physical objects were generally made when describing the activities during online banking, illustrating some potential for skeuomorphic designs. For example, in one interview a comparison was made between the online view of transactions and physical paper statements, to communicate issues around reading and understanding transactions.
To conclude, requirements for the two prototypes can be drawn from the analysis of the interviews. Both prototypes must be available to use on desktop or laptop computers, as this is how our user group appear to access online banking. Both prototypes must allow users to perform common tasks, such as checking balances, transferring money, and locating specific transactions. While there are no specific requirements for the skeuomorphic interface design metaphors from these interviews, the flat design prototype should be designed to resemble the existing online banking systems that our users are familiar with. Both user interfaces should also offer simplified banking experiences, providing only those tasks that we want the users to perform. This will reduce the cognitive load of the user interfaces and provide a more even test.
3.2. Flat User Interface
From our preliminary interviews we had some requirements for the flat UI design. We found that most participants were using the Halifax bank’s online banking and that there was much praise in the simplicity of the interaction, as opposed to other online banking systems. As such, we based our flat UI design on Halifax’s online banking, although greatly simplified.
We had also identified some functional requirements. The system must allow users to have more than one account, they should be able to check transactions on an account and they should be able to transfer money to another account. These form the basic functionality of our prototype systems, as well as the tasks for the later user evaluation. They also represent the most common tasks that our participants perform.
The main menu page (see Figure 3
) is composed of three sections the title, the advertisement, and the users accounts. The title constants the ‘Hallam Banking’ welcoming the user. The advertisements enhance the consumer environment, displaying offers and business slogans. Finally, finishing with the user’s accounts that will comprise of a current account and savings account, to be interacted with.
The view transaction page’s sole purpose is to display of the transactions for the selected account (see Figure 4
). The table view is based on existing online banking implementations. The table also can highlight a row that the cursor is hovering over. This helps the user read the row and to decipher the presented information.
Finally, the transfer payment page (see Figure 5
) contains all the necessary input boxes to gather the required information to transfer a payment from one account to another. This involves: the name, sort code, account number, amount of money, and a message that can accompany the transaction. A submit button is used for the transaction to proceed.
3.3. Skeuomorphic User Interface
The skeuomorphic UI was created using the same tools and technologies as the flat UI. The same functionality was also enabled—multiple accounts, checking transactions, and transferring money. Where this system differed from the flat UI was in the use of skeuomorphic metaphors. These metaphors emerged from our interview process when discussing with participants how they currently and previously had interacted with their bank accounts. In particular, we focused on those physical objects that were referenced by multiple participants, such as account books and cheque books.
On the main page, each account is represented by an account book, as shown in Figure 6
Please note that this page is not a completely skeuomorphic UI, with some elements (the choice of service) being chosen in a flatter UI-like way. This decision was made in order to offer a gentler introduction to the skeuomorphic UI and also as our main interest was in the ability of users to read transactions from the account book and to transfer money.
The transaction view page shows a close-up of the inside of the chosen account book, in a ledger-like format. Each transaction is a single line entry in the account book. See Figure 7
for further details.
The final page of the skeuomorphic design is the money transfer page. This page differs quite significantly from the flat design. In this case, the skeuomorphic element we have chosen is that of a cheque book. While a cheque book is something that younger users would not be familiar with it seems likely that older adults would have used one in the past, something which was confirmed by our interviewees. Figure 8
shows this page of the system.