Overcoming Constraints: FISPAN UX/UI Internship
Summer 2019 + Summer 2020
In May 2020, I joined FISPAN in Vancouver for a second term as a UX/UI Developer Intern. I was greeted by many familiar faces (virtually), and once again had the opportunity to work alongside my managers, Kelly Morales and Arseny Kostenko in designing FISPAN’s line of innovative FinTech products.
Disclaimer: The supporting graphics used in this article were made for the purposes of my portfolio and do not represent FISPAN’s products. The thoughts in this article are my own and are not representative of FISPAN. All other information about them is publicly known.
Timeline: May - Nov 2019 + May - Aug 2020
Team: Kelly Morales (UX Design Manager) + Arseny Kostenko (Software Engineer) + Myself
Role: UX/UI Designer, Illustrator, Motion Graphics Designer
Over my two internship terms, I:
- Redesigned two company products
- Created fully responsive design systems and libraries in Adobe XD
- Designed conceptual UI for sales purposes
- Storyboarded and created a product explainer motion graphics video using After Effects
- Drew and vectorized custom product illustrations
- Contributed to the company’s rebranding from logo sketches to updating slide decks
About: FISPAN is a FinTech startup in Vancouver that helps banks turn their services into branded experiences embedded within the ERP and accounting software that their clients use. In simpler terms, FISPAN builds technology for
While I can't disclose the specifics of my work for the sake of confidentiality, I want to highlight my most valuable lesson: overcoming the constraints associated with designing for a FinTech Startup like FISPAN.
For context, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software essentially helps businesses keep track of everything from inventory tracking to accounting. They’re huge, complex, and most importantly, they aren’t actually connected to your bank account. This means that all your bookkeeping is done manually by cross-referencing your ERP data with your bank’s.
FISPAN automates this process by “enabling customers to connect their [ERP] software to their bank in 20 minutes, tops”.
The Value of Design at FISPAN
To better understand the crucial role that design plays at FISPAN, we can consider this scenario. If I were designing a subscription based video app for educational content, someone could say, "Oh, so it's like Netflix for education!", and we could continue our conversation based on that shared understanding.
FISPAN's products, on the other hand, simply don't have these reference points for users to tether their base understanding. In order to convince a client of our product's value, the company needs to be able to provide a demonstration of its features and their associated possibilities. Without a tangible representation, clients make incorrect comparisons to other products, or get confused by the abstraction.
It is therefore more practical to use design to translate abstract product ideas into detailed prototypes that behave like real software.
I knew I reached my goal when my design mockup's interaction design, animations, logical flow, and visual design convinced clients that the product had already been built with code.
Let's Talk About Constraints
My design experience prior to these internships was through university design teams, hackathons, and personal passion projects; these projects were short, isolated, and offered a lot of flexibility with regards to my design decisions.
At FISPAN, however, a designer must take these elements into consideration:
This meant that I needed to be flexible with the design process because we had no support for a dedicated design research practice. I couldn’t expect perfection but I could optimize my work to the best of my abilities given the available resources.
A Balancing Act
The first bottleneck was the fact that the client isn’t the end user. Not only does this mean that I can’t conduct user testing on the clients, but their requests are often in direct conflict with what benefits the end user experience. FISPAN’s white-label business model only added to this complexity.
For example, after submitting a design to the client, they asked to make their logo bigger, but doing so reduces the usable screen real estate and breaks the app’s visual balance. I would then try to adapt my existing design to their specific request, but found that this was at times done at the expense of the end user.
I eventually realized that the solution a client requests is usually a projection of their root goal. In this case, the issue wasn’t necessarily that the logo was too small, but that the client felt like their brand wasn’t prevalent enough in the overall UI. Understanding the problem afforded greater flexibility in the way I met the client’s request without making compromises to the UI’s visual balance.
Another common situation was when I was asked: “Can you mock up this concept for our client? It doesn’t need to be fleshed out since it’s just an idea.”
This type of request was tricky as it neglected surrounding factors such as the concept’s feasibility and fit within the existing product’s ecosystem. Simply mocking up a proof of concept without understanding its complexity is like making a false promise to our client.
Luckily, as a designer, I wanted to ensure that small details (often overlooked by the clients) were taken care of before the design was handed off for review, even if it was just a proof of concept. This meant diving into an idea more deeply than I was asked to and working with engineers, the operations team, and my own manager to prototype something that our company was capable of delivering should the client become interested. This saved a lot of time in the long run and established trust between our company and the client.
When the Best Option Isn't Feasible
Some of our products are also built on top of existing software over which we have no control. One of my tasks was to overcome the associated strict UI rules and design a way to guide users through error handling. I experimented with the software to determine some of its limitations before showing the developer the simplest solution I could come up with, as shown below:
The flow used simple visual alerts (dot alert, alert icon, red text, highlighted fields) and contextual error text to guide the user to the problem spots. Unfortunately, some of the key UI elements weren’t feasible, leading me to iterate on this design multiple times before landing on our final approach.
If the best method of showing our user the error isn’t feasible, then how about the next best method? While this isn’t ideal from a UX point of view, we were able to achieve the same functionality. Despite bulkier interactions, the full width alert both notifies and guides the user to their issues (just like the dot alert), while the tooltip is as close as we can get to an error message embedded in the input form itself. The key to solving this design problem was to be flexible with my solution and adapt it to the reality of the product’s limitations.
In fact, this same feature was requested for 3 different products, resulting in 3 different user flows based on the way each software was designed. I had to rethink the problem and tailor it to each case to ensure that I was delivering the best possible experience for the user.
Find Ways to Validate
For confidentiality reasons, we couldn’t conduct user interviews to validate our design decisions which often felt like we were doing guess work. My manager and I couldn’t treat each other as end users either, since we didn’t have the specialized domain knowledge needed nor the impartiality of a new user.
My last project, however, was conceptualized before I joined FISPAN, meaning that I was completely detached and could act as a new user. I saw this as a rare but valuable opportunity for us to receive unbiased user feedback, and extended this thinking to co-workers who had also been uninvolved with the project up until that point. I conducted “app reviews”, transcribed our critiques, and translated our feedback into design tasks.
What I realized was that even complex apps meant for people with specialized knowledge have elements that should be universally understandable. For example, an app made specifically for a lawyer should still have a logical flow that a university student could navigate. This meant that testing on my co-workers or myself helped validate a majority of the app, which was enough to help us move forward in making educated design decisions.
Look for the Next Best Thing
One of the first questions my manager, Arseny, asked me was:
“Imagine you’re making an app for CEOs to use. How can you do your user testing when these people don’t have the time or interest to talk to you?”
It really took me by surprise then, but now, with 2 coop terms at FISPAN under my belt, I understand why he asked me such an interesting question. As designers, we look for the ideal way to design a new feature, the approach that leads to the least amount of friction, or that will result in the highest engagement rates. What I’ve learned from my internship, however, is that reality often doesn’t provide you with the time or resources to perfect your designs (that is, if they're even feasible). You need to be able to adapt and think creatively about how you can implement the next best thing: the design that isn’t necessarily Behance-able, but that makes sense within the realm of the company’s complex ecosystem.