‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it’ was the challenge given to operatives in the original TV series of Mission Impossible. Now, in the Tom Cruise role (I wish!) I’m being asked to fulfil the possibly impossible mission of finding top UX-UI Design Agencies in Austria, which have a leaning towards Fintech or banking.
Well, the first part of that task is not so hard, because Austria is well served by agencies which seem to be bursting with talent and skills. The country, and particularly Vienna, is also an important financial crossroads, so surely there is plenty of UX activity focussed specifically on financial needs? However, that seems to be not quite the case. UX-UI design looks very generalized, with agencies offering a wide range of services.
Starting the search
Take Peschkedesign for example, my first call. Based in Vienna, the company offers a clean, clear website, and the projects page shows lots of attractive industrial design objects. Clients include BMW, Austrian Airlines, Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss. Included in the team are motion designers and 3D graphic designers. Oh, and there’s no English version of the website available (unless it’s extremely well-hidden). My sense is that this is a company looking mainly to the domestic Austrian market, and founded in the principles of graphic design, rather than the disciplines of research and testing which I associate more with the financial markets.
In part I’m basing this on my experience of Ergomania, the Budapest-based UX-UI Agency which deals almost exclusively in the banking and financial sector. Over a year or so I’ve travelled on a personal journey of discovery, with thanks to Ergomania’s CEO András Rung and team, and found out that UX design is very much more than simply ‘making screens look pretty’. So I’m looking for companies which are somewhat analogous to what I know exists just over the Austrian-Hungarian border, in the shape of Ergomania. If there’s a specialist in financial UX Design in Hungary, with a population of just under 10 million, then surely Austria, population around 8.8 million, can also sustain examples of the species?
My next stop is at the website of a very ‘designy’ company which has attractive animated graphics, but seems primarily focussed on Web Development and Ecommerce. In trying to dig deeper into the site (I won’t embarrass the company by naming it), I discover that the ‘Work’ page is unfinished and contains Latin placeholder text. This is really not a good look for the leading edge design agency they would obviously like to be known as.
OK, onwards! 9Y in Vienna looks more promising – founded in 2015, they say: ‘We build mobile apps and modern web applications with a focus on great user experiences.’ Good, check that. ‘You have an idea or project? We’re a product design and software engineering team that can help you bring it to life.’ Great, tell me more! ‘We are uncomplicated and flexible on formality, but unrelenting on good processes. We can scale up (or down) with you, on demand. And whether we’re working tightly with your existing software engineering team, or as a more autonomous product team, we’ll always take our time to understand you and your product, and create an aligned vision.’ Well, I can buy into all of that, and the website is smooth, logical and well-written in the English version. But, according to a Clutch survey, UX-UI is only around 20% of the company’s activity, and of financial work, there seems to be none. Oh dear, perhaps this really is a Mission Impossible.
Finding a guide
At this point I return to my briefing notes, prepared by András Rung of Ergomania, and read ‘Please check in with Hannes Robier of youspi – he will be able to help!’
I do check in with Hannes Robier of youspi, and indeed he is helpful. The first thing I learn is that the name of the agency is spoken as ‘U-S-P’ which kinda makes sense. I also quickly learn that Hannes knows a lot about the UX-UI scene in Austria, and beyond. As well as being CEO of youspi, he lectures in UX at a number of Austrian universities, and is also one of the mainsprings of the World Usability Congress ‘One of the biggest conferences in the area of user experience and customer experience. The WUC offers experts from all around the globe the possibility to meet up, exchange insights, or share knowledge.’ It’s been going for 10 years, and is held in youspi’s headquarter town of Graz, Austria’s second largest city.
Linz, Austria’s third largest city, also hosts a UX meetup, UX Linz with regular meetings and over 850 members. The city is also home to UX Focus which organizes a UX Summer Academy and workshops, with customers including medium-sized to large companies from the industrial and service sectors. One financial customer is Paybox – website not apparently available in English – and not to be confused with several other Payboxes outside of Austria.
With Vienna, Linz and Graz all showing UX activity, it’s perhaps interesting that Salzburg, Austria’s fourth largest city is not featured. (Of course if you have a UX Agency in Salzburg, especially one specializing in Fintech, please do get in touch).
In Graz, Hannes Robier believes that his agency’s spread of clients is all to the good, and that being specialists in one area – such as the finance industry – is not really for him. Youspi has done work for UNIQA on the credit side, although this was actually for a project coming out of Italy. Generally though, he’s of the opinion that, “The more experience you have in different areas, the better … you have to compare with different industries.”
For youspi two of those industries are automotive and aviation, in the form of two huge mobility companies, both of which are based in Germany. German clients form roughly 20% of youspi’s portfolio, the rest being domestic Austrian companies.
Hannes notes that there are quite big differences in company cultures between the two countries. In Germany, “They pay what the work is worth. In Austria there is the mentality that they want to pay less, and get more. In Germany they know the value of UX, and pay for it. In Austria we have to fight for every euro to do the research.”
Andras Rung is also on the call and comments that it’s a little surprising to hear of this penny-pinching with Austrian companies, because on the face of it, the GDP per capita of Austria is slightly stronger than that of Germany. Hannes responds that it’s not so much about the money, just the perception by clients of the value of UX: “I think the UX area in Austria is 5 years behind Germany, 10 years behind the UK, and 15 years behind the USA. Of course some companies are really at the same level, but most still don’t understand what UX is.” So it seems that Hannes still has a lot of educating to do, both through his university teaching, the World Usability Congress, and of course in direct working with his clients.
Consulting the shortlist
They look to have an attractive mixed offering of clients such as Swarovski, Sandoz and Bayer, with a sole financial connection coming from Fidelity – although it’s not immediately clear what services are supplied by the agency. I do find a drop-down page through Bright’s website which promises ‘Our Fintech Pledge’ and for a moment think I’m on the trail of something, before realizing that I’ve been re-linked to a Fidelity page.
As Bright comments on their Success Stories page, ‘Nothing speaks louder than a sampling of actual clients and projects. Unfortunately many projects never make it onto this list due to rigid confidentiality agreements.’ I can certainly sympathise with this, having also been blocked by Non Disclosure Agreements from demonstrating my genius in satisfying client briefs over the years. However the brief here is to find that elusive entity – an Austrian Finance-oriented UX-UI Design agency, and I suspect Bright’s lack of references may not be solely because of strict NDAs.
I consult my shortlist: How about Opensense, with offices in Klosterneuburg – just north of Vienna – as well as New Delhi and Richmond, USA? In fact the core team is in India, but financial clients do exist in the portfolio, including Allianz, and the somewhat surprising Somalian Ministry of Finance.
Opensense is big on Drupal – ‘With robust content management tools, sophisticated APIs for multichannel publishing, and a track record of continuous innovation …. ready to stand as the hub of your digital presence.’ But is it banking, financial or Fintech focussed? It doesn’t look that way, and prompts my guide Hannes Robier to make the generalized comment about agencies which make claims to be UX focussed: “Of course UX is a buzzword, because agencies know that big companies need UX.” He says that youspi often have conversations with potential new clients who have already engaged with agencies claiming to be UX, but which have failed to satisfy clients’ needs. “They say they do UX, but they don’t have any clue about it. They do UX because everyone does UX. But from my point of view, if you are a UX Agency, you should work 100% in UX, you must have experience.”
A company which Hannes immediately acknowledges as having experience, both in UX and the finance sector is Usecon, established in 2001 and based in Vienna. “They are a well-established UX company in Austria and also the oldest one. They have the biggest network in Vienna, the best networking, and I am convinced they have experience in Fintech, with a lot of partnerships with big companies in Austria.”
Usecon itself says promisingly that it has, ‘A focus on Experience Design, User Research and Interaction Innovation from a user-centred point of view. In doing so, the 3 Us: Usability, User Experience, and User Interface Design are the center of our attention.’ Alright – this sounds more like it! Maybe I have satisfied the brief of finding a suitable candidate for an Austrian UX-UI Agency covering the financial sector.
Digging into the Usecon website I see that Volksbank has been a client since 2017, with the agency doing work on accessibility consulting for digital banking. This includes website optimization for blind and partially-sighted customers. I also see the kind of language and descriptors that I have become used to from Ergomania, with lines such as, User Research & Insights – ‘The goals, needs and requests of your customers and users are the center of our attention. Based on well-grounded data and analysis, we generate concrete proposals for solutions for your business goals and target groups.’
There’s also Experience Design & Prototyping where ‘We create interfaces and design solutions to generate positive customer experiences within the frames of your business case. Our focus lies on complex web and mobile applications, gantry systems, machine interfaces and workflows as well as the illustration of your business models in the (digital) world.’
Analysis, research and testing all appear high on the priorities of a well-established and mature agency, which can clearly lay claim to wide UX skills, and as Hannes Robier remarked, “I am convinced they have experience in Fintech.”
Parkside in Hannes’ city of Graz also gets acknowledgement from him. They number LinkedIn and Red Bull among their clients and say, ‘Our teams of experienced software developers, user researchers, digital designers and quality assurance managers work on projects ranging from DACH region to Silicon Valley and provide our clients with the foundation for long-term operational excellence.’ The DACH region being Germany (D), Austria (A), and Switzerland (CH).
Parkside was named the number one Austrian B2B software development company for 2021 by Clutch, which is an accolade to be sure, but not really in the direction of financial UX competencies. “I know them really well,” Hannes says, but isn’t sure how involved the company is with Fintech.
Onwards, to Oozou, which in Europe is Vienna based, but also has offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. I’m already suspecting that the Austrian office is probably just an outpost for Far-East development, and indeed the contact number given on the company’s website is in Thailand. OK, let’s move on then: Hannes recommends that I take a look at Intuio and Illustree, both of Vienna.
Fly me to the moon, plausibly
Intuio has a website solely in German but clearly is of the kind of agency dealing in UX, and with financial clients including Erste Bank and Volksbank. Clients also include, intriguingly, the Metropolitan Police Force in London, England, and NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in the USA. I also find some reassuring UX-type language mentioning familiar terms such as Customer Journeys, Customer Insights, Wireframes, Design Systems and Usability Testing – all the stuff of serious UX-UI investigation. You can even view some video footage and meet the hip-looking leaders of the company, Co-Managing Directors Dr. Thomas Zahler and Dr. Thomas Piribauer on one of the website pages.
As to Illustree, with its tagline of ‘Great User Experiences’ I’m again in familiar territory, Co-Founder and MD David Höller is quoted as saying, ‘As designers, we are creative problem solvers. The quality and precision of the solution is what counts, not the artistry in our sketches.’ Like Hannes Robier, David also lectures on UX topics in Austrian Universities. Founder and Concept Director of Illustree, Thomas Pfaller adds, ‘It is important to us that everything about our concepts is immediately plausible.’ I must say I am attracted to that idea of ‘plausibility’ in UX, although I can’t quite define what it means. Well, at least Illustree is introducing challenging ideas, even at the stage of the public-facing persona of the website. If the company challenges viewer’s perceptions at that point, perhaps the interrogation of client propositions is also rigorous.
Financial clients for Illustree include Superfund, the Swiss-headquartered Global Blue, and Bawag, the fourth largest bank in Austria – although the latter two are unfortunately not linked on the Illustree website.
Coming to the tour end
So is that about it on our tour of Austrian UX Agencies with some connection to Fintech? Hannes Robier agrees that we have probably touched on most of the main players. Or potential players. He says that for his own company, youspi, it isn’t really necessary to do much promotion and he has barely made a sales call in the last 5 years. So perhaps there are also other agencies which don’t need to be too overt about what they do. “Word of mouth gets the jobs, and that’s awesome,” says Hannes. He adds that as far as he is aware, youspi is the second largest UX agency in Austria, after Usecon, but there are also many one-person outfits which adopt the appearance of companies. “What I see is that at the moment, everyone is doing boot camps. And after six months of boot camp, they think they’re a great UX designer. It’s like marketing, where everyone says they can do it, but to be really good is not that easy.”
As I’m preparing my draft of this article, I wonder about the Ergomania angle. Now, you can call me naive, but why would a Budapest agency be so interested in what happens just over the border with Austria? And then I get it – of course – it’s the fact that there is something of a vacuum for specifically financial UX in Austria, which could mean opportunity for Ergomania. They are two hours away from the Austrian capital (ideal for even part-day workshops and meetups), are multilingual, including German, and have 20 years of experience in dealing almost exclusively with banks, financial institutions and Fintechs.
True, there are other nearshoring centers such as Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, which are available to support Austria’s growing IT needs, but perhaps the design and research elements there are still rather weak. – A little like Hannes Robier’s observations about how everyone is now a UX Designer. It’s also arguable that Bratislava is already at full capacity after Erste Bank committed its development there. That is, until Slovakia got so busy, and therefore expensive, that some development had to be relocated to the Czech Republic. As a knock-on effect of that, many Czech and Slovak developers have now moved to Vienna to earn an improved living, in exchange for just a little extra commuting.
What my quick dip into the pond in Austria has also shown is that – with the possible exception of Illustree and Intuio – there is little specific focus on finance, and even those agencies spread themselves wide, and thin. Ergomania is also far from a newcomer wannabe on the Austrian scene, having gained experience working with Vienna-based Finnoconsult, whose list of banking and financial organization customers is comprehensive. Another Austrian ally and associate for Ergomania is Towa, ‘The Digital Growth Company’ in Vienna and Bregenz, under the leadership of CEO Markus Grabher.
Then there’s also Startup Live which aims to help people, ‘Start a business in one weekend,’ where members of the Ergomania team have mentored since 2018, working with local startups in the Fintech domain.
In other words, the agency already has an established footprint and track record in Austria. I’m not even sure that the description of ‘nearshoring’ applies, although the company also has lots of experience doing such work for Belgian and Netherlands companies, for instance. When there’s only a 2-hour drive (no more than Graz to Vienna), capital city to capital city, perhaps there should be a new category invented: Ultra-nearshoring, anyone?
The message for banks and financial institutions in Austria is that if you’re not finding that your needs for quality UX-UI are being met within the country, it could be well worth looking to your Hungarian neighbors and checking out Ergomania. Perhaps you’ll then discover that finding a top ‘Austrian’ UX agency specializing in finance is not such a Mission Impossible after all.