Money Brilliant User Research

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How our user research helped shape the design of the new MoneyBrilliant money management app for mobile.


Client: MoneyBrilliant (formerly Cha-Ching)

Engagement: User research

Location: Sydney, Australia



MoneyBrilliant was founded by Peter Lord in 2011 to help people better manage their money. Since then, led by CEO Jemma Enright, the team have developed a rich digital platform for tracking personal finances and providing guidance to better manage money by reducing expenses and saving more. Although the company focus is on empowering women to manage money, the tools are used not only by women, but also men and families across all walks of life. Since its reslease in 2014, MoneyBrilliant has attracted a growing following of dedicated users. 

Earlier this year MoneyBrilliant started planning a mobile expansion of their offering, engaging Cognitive Ink to carry out user research. The aim of this research was to help the team decide which features most effectively support their customers' money management needs and should therefore be included in the new mobile app.


"Which features will our mobile users really need?"

Exploring needs with real people has to anchor on what people understand best; the everyday stories of their lives. Asking someone directly about which features they need or want can often result in answers coloured by cognitive and social biases. In contrast, we wanted to understand peoples'  implicit needs when it came to the day-to-day management of their money; (how do they manage their money and why do they do what they do?)


Our research approach

To focus on implicit needs, our research sessions were therefore focused on storytelling. We talked with users about their successful moments in money management, failures and other areas of their lives where management practices came into play. 

This led into a brainstorming technique we called "The Genie". This works by proposing that a person's wishes can be granted by an imaginary figure, no matter how improbable or impractical the idea might be. This framing allowed people to brainstorm a wide range of "blue sky" ideas and solutions, free from the usual "reality-check" limits we would usually impose on ourselves when it comes to thinking about technology.

We also presented participants with a number of existing ideas (derived both from existing features in the desktop version of MoneyBrilliant as well as some from earlier participants) and let people react, provide their prospectives and suggestions and then rank their preferences. Presenting the ideas on"quick sketch" paper cards(as opposed to professional screen designs) allowed people to focus on the concepts of the ideas and how this would affect money management in the context of their lives. The "easy to change" perception of paper also encouraged participants in making suggestions for change.


Putting it all together

Ideas, material and notes produced during the interviews was synthesised alongside survey data and pure domain research. Using multiple types of research makes it easier to avoid biases adopted by using insights gained from a single style of research. The focus of the analysis was to create behavioural models that could predict the suitability of proposed solutions and to provide design guidelines for how to implement the features in a mobile experience.

We considered that mobile interactions often occur in the context of limited time and/or busy environments. Mobile users would therefore use the features differently from someone sitting down at a computer.



By participating in the research, the MoneyBrilliant team gained deeper insights into:

  • how people solve and fail to solve their financial problems
  • where financial activity fits into a person's daily life
  • what solutions suit novices versus those that suit experts

Twenty proposed features for the mobile experience were winnowed down to a short list of four heavily-validated features for the MoneyBrilliant mobile experience. Outcomes from the research were used to inform and revise screen designs.

The MoneyBrilliant mobile app was released early 2015 and we've been excited to hear its release has since resulted in a steady 50% month-on-month growth in MoneyBrilliant users.


Words from the MoneyBrilliant team

When we approached Cognitive Ink we had lots of questions around how to support our users for the mobile experience. At that point we had only created our product for desktop users and we understood that the mobile experience would be completely different. We had ideas around what we wanted to build, but were not 100% sure whether it would meet our users’ expectations.

Christopher and his team helped us dig deeper into our users’ needs, painpoints and behaviours around money, specific to mobile use. Through their research we identified different groups of users and were able to prioritise the features we needed to build in order to support them. This helped us to be confident that we were building the most important features to fit the market, design a brilliant and flawless user experience and also delight our users with a behaviour-changing product. We expect to continue working with the team at Cognitive Ink to keep building amazing products and services.
— Adrian Soldan, Head of Product & UX at MoneyBrilliant
We brought Cognitive Ink in to support the development of our first native app experience. This was a very important project for us because we knew the power of an app experience to drive engagement and support people’s financial lives. We had a mature desktop solution, so part of the challenge was to start with a blank slate and create something powerful in a mobile context. Christopher led us brilliantly with an intelligent and creative approach to understand the needs of customers. He’s one of the best researchers I’ve worked with, not only in the design of the research but also in his talent to explore the customer need in a free-flowing, yet directed way. This helped us achieve a clear direction we could be confident in, and the result was an app that has been praised both by customers and the broader financial services industry for its UX and UI. I’d highly recommend Christopher and Cognitive Ink.
— Jemma Enright, CEO at MoneyBrilliant


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The Rocks


Client: Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (working alongside Sputnik, a leading creative communications agency).

Location: Sydney, Australia

One of our favourite places in Sydney is the Rocks - a historic area steeped in culture and charm, and located right on the waterfront. So we were thrilled to work with Sputnik and the Sydney Foreshore Authority last year to develop the new website for the precinct.

Work completed by Cognitive Ink included the interaction design and information architecture of the new website. We also conducted domain research to best understand the history and aesthetics of the area and the reactions and emotions of its visitors.


Project background

The Rocks area has a distinctive and quirky sense of charm - some of its treasures include historic warehouse buildings, cute cafes, waterfront views, buskers and markets. The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority wanted to capture and reflect this in the web experience.

How can the web give someone the experience of a place? Let’s face it. Digital in general and the web in specific can be a thin experience. By thin we mean stripped of all the immersive sights, sounds and most importantly smells of a location. 

As much as we’ve occasionally had to resist the impulse to go the full Blumenthal on a digital experience, budget and practically usually outweighs it (see Heston Blumenthal for how you bring the sensations of the sea to a small restaurant in the middle of the UK). For the moment, the web is a primarily a visual experience. 


History of the Rocks precinct

Granted, it usually isn’t important to smell the head office of a large corporation (what would a head office smell like?). But what if the client represents one of the most iconic tourist and entertainment quarters in the largest capital city in Australia? 

This was the case with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore and their management of The Rocks. 

If you don’t know the story, The Rocks is a small area of the Sydney Foreshore that preserves a significant portion of the buildings, history and most importantly the spirit of energetic creativity from the 1800s and the foundation of the Sydney colony. 

Source: Cognitive Ink, Copyright Cognitive Ink 2013

Source: Cognitive Ink, Copyright Cognitive Ink 2013

The Rocks is one of several fundamental cultural, tourist and heritage sites in Sydney. It has a long and storied history.

In the 1970s, under the pressure from both the NSW State government and development interests, a significant portion of The Rocks was to be demolished to make way for an entire district of large monolithic housing complexes rich with the brutalist, concrete cinder block style of the 1970s. Battle lines were drawn and the underprivileged working class people of The Rocks banded together with unlikely allies in the form of construction union supporters to demonstrate. 



Through speeches, resistance (not always peaceable) and perseverance, the developments were compromised and The Rocks retained it’s unique heritage as a place for creativity, artisanal work, food and street fairs. 


The brief

Until 2013, the digital experience of The Rocks was sadly lagging behind in communicating both the history and the modern richness of the precinct. 

Working with Sputnik, we responded to a brief to radically re-think the digital experience of its sister precinct around the corner at Darling Harbour ( 

Previous website for the Rocks precinct (pre-2013)

Previous website for the Rocks precinct (pre-2013)


Information architecture

In project inception, we took to the streets of The Rocks; talking with both locals and tourists. Though relatively small, The Rocks is wonderful rabbit warren of twisting streets, cobblestones, old buildings and the waterfront. It became clear early on that the backbone of the digital experience should be centred on the rich and varied offerings, including: 

  • What to do
  • Where to stay, eat and drink. 
  • Where to shop. 
  • Things to explore. 
  • The Rocks Markets

Fusing on-the-ground feedback with user surveys, we developed a simple and scalable information architecture that placed Events, Food and Shopping at the forefront. 

Information architecture for The Rocks website (Cognitive Ink)

Information architecture for The Rocks website (Cognitive Ink)

Exploring ideas for the site's navigation

We explored a number of options where the navigation itself was an experience that mimicked (metaphorically or literally) the winding experience of moving through the physical spaces of the precinct. 

Ideas for the site's navigation

Ideas for the site's navigation

Although many of the ideas felt exciting and fresh, based on internal testing, they appeared to actually impeded interaction with the content and were abandoned in favour of a more straightforward horizontal navigational model. 

Main menu in wireframe deign

Main menu in wireframe deign

Main menu on final site

Main menu on final site

An emphasis on imagery

It was clear from user feedback and our own experiences in the precinct that large and expressive imagery was a crucial link between the digital experience and the real-world emotion.  We created full wireframes and an interactive prototype of the proposed site, gathering feedback from the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority as we went.

Our layout and design reflected this both at site wide and page-level, with an emphasis on imagery:

Wireframe for the Rocks home page (Cognitive Ink)

Wireframe for the Rocks home page (Cognitive Ink)

Wireframe for the Rocks event pages (Cognitive Ink)

Wireframe for the Rocks event pages (Cognitive Ink)

To make the best use of the developing solution, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority committed significant resources to commissioning rich photography assets from every one of the businesses within the precinct. 

The result was stunning. 

The Rocks home page against wireframes designed by Cognitive Ink.

The Rocks home page against wireframes designed by Cognitive Ink.

Cognitive Ink has designed solutions with Sputnik/BWM Group for key client Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. They were able to quickly make sense of requirements and sprawling content and distil into a clear structure and user flow. The sophisticated Axure wireframes/prototypes for desktop & mobile have been an invaluable tool in bringing sites to life and enabling testing, validation and adjustment of the design before the build. Christopher is a pleasure to work with and his insight, skill and experience adds value to every project.
— Digital Producer at Sputnik/BWM, March 2015