Laying the foundation

Over a beer one evening, my friend Maneesh suggested we create a finance app. I had just stepped down as co-founder at BeeBuilt and had an urge to build my own product. This sounded like a great idea! The apps that were available at the time were good, but they were either crammed with unnecessary features or hadn’t updated themselves based on current trends.

We planned to target users who were looking to start financial planning as well as users who were currently using legacy apps with outdated navigation systems and interfaces. We conducted market analysis and jotted down different ways of capturing income and expense. Our ultimate goal was to make it as quick as possible for users to input data on what they had spent or received.

Monsense-sketches

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Charting a course

Designing an app to track financial data can be quite complex. Would you start with a common folder in which you store all financial information or would you segregate it into separate folders so you can add/delete them later? Questions like these became the focus of our conversation over the next few weeks.

After mapping out different user journeys and adding it to the information architecture, we finally arrived at the Minimum Viable Product — 6 essential features to concentrate on—’Multiple Accounts’ for tracking different expenses, ‘Quick Expense’ for repeating expenses, ‘Export an Account’ as an infographic/xls, ‘Patterns’ to help visualize spending habits, ‘Pending Payments’ and ‘Custom Categories’.

While running BeeBuilt I came to learn what was critical to creating a good product:

• Get to the design phase as soon as possible

• Start with one or two core features and build on it as you go

• Make sure every pixel is cared for

• Test, test, test

• A good visual language goes a long way

• There is always room for simplification

monsense-wireframes-printed

Monsense_wireframes-v01

Keeping it simple

Right from the start we aimed at reducing the time it took users to input data. One of the obvious ways was to simplify the ‘add an expense’ form, which we did by making most of the form fields default. For example, date and time could be taken from the phone itself.

We noticed that a lot of people had recurring expenses—like a daily cup of coffee—and it didn’t make sense to use the form each time. So we created Quick Expense, where users could define and save the recurring amount, from then on needing just two taps to enter the expense.

With a well defined Information Architecture and Product Specification document in hand, I started creating quick visual prototypes.

Some of the challenges I faced included:

• Finding a font that works well with text as well as numbers from 0 to 1,000,000,000

• Displaying critical information in a simple and readable format

• Creating a clear visual hierarchy that lets users access important tasks easily

Initial-screens

patterns_allversions

accounts-landing--versions

pending-payments-versions

patterns-versions

Form-versions

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Making sense

I started working on prototypes for MonSense with the iOS development team at Styre and their lead programmer Navin. After a process of simultaneous prototyping and testing with a select group of users over a period of 18 months, we narrowed down on the final screens that make up MonSense.

We launched at midnight on 14th August 2014, almost two years from when we began. The app reached the number one spot in the paid finance app section, and top 25 overall, during the launch week itself. It was ranked amongst the top 10 finance apps across 32 countries, and the top finance app in 12 countries. It received positive reviews from The Next Web and 148Apps among others.

quickexpenses-mock

pendingpayments-mock

accounts-mock

patterns-mock

alltransactions-mock

app-store-results

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Reflections

Bruce Lee said, “If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land, no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”

That’s how MonSense happened. We faced challenges along the way but pushed forward tirelessly. Initiative helps overcome all obstacles.

You can download the app here or visit the website for more information.