Xinja Mates:
Robots & Pencils

Xinja Mates: Robots & Pencils

At Xinja we’re spending every waking moment busily working away in preparation for our big launch early this year. However, it’s not all us. We do need to shout-out a few absolutely essential partners located around the world without whom none of it would be possible.

One of these is Robots and Pencils, a team of super-skilled Canadian digital ninjas helping us to make our dream of building Australia’s first neobank a reality. They’re working away throughout the Australian night-time designing our beautiful app for us.

We recently welcomed Dan and Mike to our Sydney office. They swapped the chilly Canadian winter for the balmy Aussie summer to work even more closely with us than normal. We spoke to them about digital innovation, neobanks and the importance of sunscreen.

‘Through software, my goal is to alleviate people’s feelings of fear, boredom, uncertainty, pain, rejection, and inadequacy’

What does Robots and Pencils do and what are your roles within the company?

Robots and Pencils is a digital innovation agency. We help enterprise companies and start-ups worldwide realise their digital vision and future-proof their businesses. We’re leaders in mobile design and development, and frontier technologies including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. If the tech enables it, chances are we have experts creating with it.

I’m the UX Lead, which means I’m responsible for the experience people have when they use the products we make. My tool set consists of principles from behavioural economics, psychology, research methods, and systems design. When approaching a new product, I start by getting an understanding of the audience through research, which involves a lot of dialogue, listening, and skillful interpretation of what they are telling me.

I’m a systems engineer by education, and I love designing systems that marry the goals of the audience with those of the organisation. UX work involves caring about people’s emotions. Through the design of software, my goal is to alleviate people’s feelings of fear, boredom, uncertainty, pain, rejection, and inadequacy, and raise their feelings of pleasure, mastery, hope, and social belonging. We’ve learned that this is how businesses earn people’s trust with their software products and how they create loyal, dedicated customer communities around their brand.

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Officially, I’m a Design Lead. Unofficially, I’m a self proclaimed Chancellor of Fun. How my role manifests and which skills I need to draw on varies greatly from project to project. I spent the first ten years of my career as a video game designer at a number of small start-ups which led to a pretty interesting combination of learned skills. Due to this, I’m often tapped for projects that want to incorporate gamification. Like Mike, I love designing systems, which goes hand in hand with games and gamification. Game theory and designing systems ultimately becomes a strategy for enhanced customer engagement.

I’m generally engaged at the very beginning of a project until at least the day the project goes live. I often identify as a product owner and work directly with our clients to design solutions and with the development team to realize the vision. Oscillating between the vision and the delivery requires the ability to see the entire system and minute details, often at the same time. Communicating all this push and pull to different members of the team is a big part of my job.

Tell us about your involvement with the launch of Xinja

The Xinja team is an amazing collection of talent and heart, and we’ve had the great fortune to work with them since July. Having developed apps for both established and start-up banks in the past, we knew that selecting a feature set that would meet with customers’ expectations was a top priority. After that, we ensure that the user interfaces and interactions for our earliest features in the app are functional and delightful. We meet with future Xinja customers routinely to help us make sure that our work is hitting the mark.

Beyond what Mike has already covered, we’re also constantly working with our very talented team of developers to bring the vision to life. We don’t believe in designers simply handing things off. Building great software is all about the back and forth between the Robots (developers) and the Pencils (designers). We continue working together until features are implemented to a point where they often exceed the original vision.

Our user testing session at the Xinja offices was an excellent chance to hear that people really like the direction the app is heading in

What is your proudest achievement so far in building the app and what are you most looking forward to?

As we move forward, we’re exploring the concepts of enhanced financial awareness and positive behaviour change. We’re focused not just on providing excellent financial products in a delightful app experience, but also on leveraging mobile technology to make people feel more in control of their money.

Finances are inextricably tied to our emotions, sense of self-worth, and capabilities. By assisting people with understanding and managing their finances in a way that empowers them, we feel we can make a real difference in people’s lives. We’re using principles from behavioural economics and psychology as we work on features that will help us achieve this.

It takes a concerted effort to step outside of the delivery mindset to define a moment that I’m most proud of in the development so far. For me, these moments can even surface months later when there is a chance to be retrospective. I’d say our most recent user testing session at the Xinja offices was an excellent chance to hear that people really like the direction the app is heading in. It’s easy to get disillusioned and only see the faults when you’re so close to the work. Hearing directly from people you’ve never met that it’s coming together means a lot to us.

I’m most looking forward to developing some of the innovative features we have on our roadmap. We have some really exciting concepts lined up that I believe will make for an incredibly engaging experience and ultimately lead to making a difference in the financial awareness of our future customers.

The common ability to push the boundaries makes Xinja and Robots and Pencils great partners

What do you think makes Xinja and Robots and Pencils such great partners for one another?

We created Robots and Pencils to “Follow the Talent.” Part of what this means is that we’re able to explore new ideas and concepts in our fields and apply them with very little constraint. We understand that most companies aren’t guided by their talent in this way, but we’ve seen first hand how Xinja is. The common ability to push the boundaries makes Xinja and Robots and Pencils great partners.

Working at Robots and Pencils means that once you join a project, you become a part of two teams. You’re always a part of Robots and Pencils, but you also become a part of the project team that you’re working with. What makes Xinja and Robots and Pencils such great partners is that culturally we have a lot of similarities. Everyone is passionate, genuine, and hyper-focused on delivering. Echoing Mike, we’re both constantly pushing the boundaries in our respective fields. Xinja has been an amazing family to join.

There was a 40 degree swing in the temperature between Calgary and Sydney

You’re working out of Xinja’s modest Sydney HQ at the moment. How are you finding the Australian summer compared to the Canadian winter? What have you been up to in your spare time here?

There was a 40 degree swing in the temperature between Calgary and Sydney – I’ll let you do the math as to how cold it is in Canada right now 🙂 That prompted us to spend most of our weekend overindulging at Manly and Bondi beaches.

As the coffee-snob-in-residence at Robots and Pencils, I’ve been ordering lattes and piccolos from the excellent shops in CBD with great gusto daily. Even just getting a chance to see the diversity and visual splendour of Sydney has been a real treat – we’re looking forward to exploring this great city further as we continue to create great things with the Xinja team.

Yeah, it’s cold in Canada. Every time I visit a place that isn’t cold I think about this comic

As Mike mentioned, we hit Manly on the weekend and I made the rookie mistake of not applying sunscreen. I rarely think about sunscreen in Canada and we were only out for about an hour but I got a wicked sunburn on my bald head. I’ve been spending lots of my spare time applying lotion.

All kidding aside, I have completely fallen in love with Sydney. Everywhere you look it’s absolutely beautiful. This has been our second visit and every time we have to leave, it’s getting harder and harder to go.