Drive user adoption with a little ’emotional skeuomorphism’

Why would a bank want more than one app? Amazingly, fewer than 50% of people use e-statements. Want to drive adoption? Create this banking app.

User experience is about more than where buttons are or what fonts to use. User experience is about weaving the experience of using a technology product into consumer behavior to improve the value the consumer gets from the product.

Sometimes the habits we build up around a task are what holds us back from improving. Personally, I like to hand wash dishes even though I own a dishwasher. I know it’s a comfort thing that I think is related to taking care of myself.

I make up the phrase ’emotional skeuomorphism’ as I wrote this post. In my mind, it’s the emotional latticework that UX designers need to put in place in order to help customers transition to a digital model.

It’s similar to how digital-buttons used to look like buttons so people would know to press them, only ’emotional skeuomorphism’ refers to transitioning the emotional experience we have with physical products to digital offerings.

Take e-statements as an example. Let me share one way I think of the trend towards focusing on the user experience and the opportunity the application economy provides.

A surprising statistic about e-statement adoption

As a technical person, I love electronic statements. I don’t have to keep file cabinets full of paper around, and e-statements are better for the environment.

I’m sure readers can relate, as we’re most likely from the technical community.

Would it surprise you to know that paperless adoption is less than 50%?

According to Forrester, even as e-statement and e-bill adoption trend up for checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages and home equity lines of credit, all the products share one stat: actual paperless adoption remains under 50% for each product.

That means more than 50% of people like to keep file cabinets full of paper or destroy the environment, right?

Probably not.

It means that the e-statement offerings haven’t touched the human behavior, keeping people stuck to their old habits, even in the face of real benefits.

A symptom for a larger challenge

We have to be a bit introspective and challenge the assumptions we make about how the world works. Even those assumptions we don’t realize we’re making.

Here’s how a product is marketed currently without the application economy in mind:

  • A product is launched
  • Adoption happens, then stalls
  • Market research is done, and a campaign is created to speak to the barrier
  • Bank promotes the same web portal that attracted early adopters where they keep your statements using a new message.


To me, this feels a little like Americans who travel overseas. When a foreigner tells us they don’t speak English, how does an American respond?

We talk slower and louder.

That’s what companies do. When a product stalls, they talk differently but are still speaking the same language. Clearly it doesn’t work so well – at least with e-statement adoption (and my bet would be with photo check deposit).

The application economy helps us target specific behaviors by building a brilliant user experience

The application economy can provide a technology assist to get banks through the marketing barrier. The application economy philosophy enables us to think about a completely different user experience to get through the barrier.

The insight to the statistic above is:

Among the top reasons people still want paper, according to the report, include: “I want the paper version for my records” (48%), “I’m used to paper and see no reason to change (29%), and most interesting to banks, “my provider doesn’t require me to switch” (26%).

About half of non-adopters like paper for their records.

What if we re-created the paper trail experience digitally?

What if we created an app called ‘paper trail’ and it mimicked people’s in-home paper filing habits?

This app would be different than the all-in-one banking portal, where statements still use pop-up windows like porn sites (or so I’m told). It would be a custom experience for people who find comfort in the paper trail – a way to transition them to digital, without such a harsh transition.

It’s like how Apple originally relied on ‘skeuomorphism’ in their software. I’ve referred to the change away from skeuomorphism as follows: “we understood that people had already become comfortable with touching glass, they didn’t need physical buttons, they understood the benefits.”

Thinking about Jony’s perspective, as companies drive towards the application economy we should rely upon a bit of emotional skeuomorphism to provide a more comforting user experience in order to drive adoption through resistance.

Final word on the opportunity

If a bank were to rethink mobile banking from the ground up, rather than just moving their portal to a phone, imagine how useful it would be to provide document and content level security for advanced notifications or secure statement delivery to a tablet?

Image credit: Steve Wilson

David is VP finan­cial ser­vices solu­tions at CA Tech­nolo­gies. He is an expe­ri­enced tech­nol­o­gist focusing…


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