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Empathy fuels Tally’s approach to emotional design

How the look and feel of an app can align with a company’s mission. Think about the last app you used on your phone. (Try not to go back and check. Reflect for a moment and recall what you were doing.) Do you remember what the app looked like: […]

Kyle McDowell

Head of Design at Tally

August 31, 2018

How the look and feel of an app can align with a company’s mission.

Think about the last app you used on your phone. (Try not to go back and check. Reflect for a moment and recall what you were doing.)

Do you remember what the app looked like: What colors do you recall? Were there photos or graphics? Was it all text?

Now, think about how the app made you feel ...

The way a user interacts with a product — in this case, an app — is crucial to the product’s success. The most important consideration is usually how useful a product is to a user; an app is likely more valuable to a user if it provides them with something they need.

But utility isn’t the only thing to consider.

What’s emotional design?

Emotional design is the connection between a user and a product that creates a positive experience or feeling. Whether it’s a user’s initial reaction to a product or their assessment of its usability and performance, emotional design plays an important role in the way humans understand and relate to the world.

This idea of emotional design is crucial at Tally, where our mission is to make credit card users less stressed and better off financially.

Tally deals with finance and debt, which are personal and sensitive matters. So it’s extremely important to our product to cultivate that positive experience and empathy.

We’ve relied heavily on emotional design and the influence it has on our users to achieve their financial goals. We want the way Tally looks, the way it feels, the way it makes our users feel, to work in tandem with the our goal of removing the unnecessary stress that comes with credit card management.

Empathy as a driver

Tally’s success as a company, to a certain degree, hinges on our ability to empathize with our users. To remove stress from the equation, we must first understand and share the stressful feelings our users experience.

I was excited to join Tally in November 2016 for a variety of reasons, but the most important was because I could have benefitted from Tally a few years ago myself. I had previously dealt with financial issues related to a medical event. I remember trying to not only understand how to tackle the setback, but also how to overcome the anxiety it caused.

I know first-hand what many of our users are going through. That experience taught me how to live my best life — and now it shapes the work I do every single day.

My personal mission aligns with Tally’s mission, and doing my best to help people understand and overcome their debt using emotional design is my ultimate goal.

Where do we begin?

We started by going through many user experience iterations to define the Tally experience. One of our first goals was to figure out how we could distinguish ourselves from other products, which required research into the existing fintech landscape. We dug into what worked, and what didn’t, among other products and focused on creating an app that would improve our users’ lives.

The app needed to deliver on Tally’s core promise — making credit card users less stressed and better off financially — but in a way that was clear, empathetic and, ultimately, human. It needed to be easy to use, while still instilling confidence in users that Tally can be trusted.

These considerations were not taken lightly.

Eventually, we realized the qualities we wanted didn’t have to be trade-offs. We didn’t have to sacrifice simplicity for sophistication, or vice versa. And that’s what makes Tally fundamentally different.

After our foundation was established, we started to think about the user interface. The philosophy around colors and the emotions they can elicit played a major role in our decision-making process. We went through numerous color explorations, searching for the color schemes that most effectively alleviate stress and create a comfortable experience.

In the end, we landed on a unique red, an array of blues and a subtle green. These were the colors that would convey feelings of calmness, warmth, peace, trust, intelligence and, best of all, happiness.

Tally also conducted a survey to learn more about how people feel about their credit cards, and learned that more than half of the respondents experience some form of anxiety over their credit cards, regardless of their financial situation. In fact, the anxiety levels in many cases were akin to the anxiety people feel while awaiting medical test results.

The survey results encouraged us to identify solutions to help users with their anxiety and stress, so we began testing our designs.


We experimented with full-screen color and gradients to immerse the user into our hopeful color idea, but realized the full-screen color was too intense and could potentially distract the user away from important information.

Finding that balance was key. 

Then, we tried using color to create tasteful illustration. This allowed us to simplify the experience, create a human connection using relevant life scenarios and focus on what matters.

The motivation to create a great product that quelled this anxiety was real, and we learned that the emotional factor in Tally’s product is tantamount to our success.

Tally blasts off (but our work is never done)

Tally’s launch in October 2017 was an exhilarating whirlwind of excitement and nervousness. We truly put our hearts and souls into the product.

I wanted our users to really feel that immediate calmness we established in the design. I wanted our users to feel less stressed. I wanted users to understand that Tally could help them worry less about money and get back to living their best life — just like I did.

After just a few months, our users began sharing how Tally was improving their lives. From the simplicity of our onboarding process to our approachable navigation, the majority of the feedback we received was positive. A a few even said Tally helped improve their credit score!

This was an immediate win. But there was, and still is, much to do.

Working as a designer in fintech, I’m learning that the balance between personal experience, content, and user behavior is key to building a compelling, empathetic product.

This is my motivation every day.