Designing in a regulated industry

As a designer at ninety nine, a company at the intersection of financial services and technology, I thought I’d share a little bit of the approach we take to achieving simplicity without sacrificing security.

Material and digital products

Whereas manufacturing and related industries are hundreds of years old and well established, digital industries like fintech are still very young and changing at a rapid pace.

Yet despite their novelty and intangibility, digital products have gained the same economic and social status as manufactured ones. That has implications on many levels from user experience to matters of security and privacy, making digital companies like ninety nine increasingly under the regulatory spotlight.

Rules and regulations

Even so, with the increasing complexity of digital products, the regulators are sometimes a step behind the industry. We’ve seen it in the case of companies like Facebook or Twitter being unable to prevent fake accounts or misuse of personal information. However, regulatory bodies are relatively quick to respond, raising the legal requirements in order to protect customers and citizens.

While some of theses regulations might seem boring, burdensome and unnecessary to ordinary consumers, others, like the recent GDPR, have proven quite useful. It has shed some light into the dark business of online advertising and increased citizen awareness.


It’s within this increasingly complex environment that we are seeking to create our product. Like many designers, and unlike most people, I actually love constraints in design! They’re fundamental to driving towards the final product, although in our case they can sometimes be overwhelming.

Design is easy, sure. Just sketch some screens right? Not really.

Let’s take the example of a signup form. The instinct would be to simply put the usual fields. However, as I mentioned, a product’s design is in large part defined by its requirements.

And one major requirement for us is to comply with regulations. This usually means higher constraints, meaning one cannot simply put the typical signup form.

To sign up for Amazon, you simply fill in 3 fields: full name, email address and password. That’s simply not possible for a broker like ninety nine. Once you even dip a toe in the waters of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations you learn that you need to ask the user for a lot of data. Full name, date of birth, full address, ID card, annual income, etc. Keep in mind we’re talking just about the signup here.

Of course, many digital products solve this problem a wizard-like solution. The questions are split among different contextual blocks or steps that are easier to lay out in the design for the developers and easier to chew by the user.

That solves the solution technically. But it’s not inherently empathetic toward the end user.

Even if you’ve made it easier for them, that’s not necessarily their biggest concern. For many consumers they want to understand why they should give away such sensitive data and who is asking for it.

Earning trust is paramount

To earn trust, we are taking the approach of providing information on our company and product and requesting their personal information in stages.

Instead of asking prospective users to provide all of their details at once to us, a startup, we have created a waiting list.

From that basis of having provided their name, email, and country of residence, we will go on to share more and more information about the security and development of our company and the product.

When it comes time to request the additional information at launch, we hope to have established a relationship with these clients. They should know what information we plan to ask, why we are asking it, and where to go if they have questions.

We must ask reasonable, well explained, goal-oriented questions to help users commit to our product. Similarly important, we must be careful to make sure users feel they have a way to opt out at all times.

Of course, as we move from pre-launch to post-launch, we must earn a reputation for being a company users can trust, and improve the way that we ask for, and provide, information. It’s an important part of making the sign up process quicker and easier.

By being empathetic to the client, we can find ways to more easily gain, and maintain, people’s trust.

A Necessary Perspective

As our industry becomes increasingly important, we must be increasingly attentive.

We’ve already seen too many mistakes from both high profile tech companies and startups that have resulted in legal issues, and more importantly, bad user outcomes.

It’s from this basis, incorporating user wants and needs into regulatory constraints, that I do my design work. As we move forward into launching our product and building customer relationships, I hope it shows.