Designing The World’s Most Modern Platform: Q&A With Highnote’s Head of Design

Feb 14, 2024
Highnote Team

Building the world’s most modern card platform takes many pieces, but one piece that’s gotten particular outside attention is Highnote’s design.

In this blog, Head of Design Stephen Patterson describes how Highnote approaches design and what choices we made that led to our success.

How would you describe your approach to design?

A lot of people think design is similar to art. But while both usually incorporate aesthetics and might be based on an underlying theme, art can simply exist without needing to make sense or solve a problem. Design, on the other hand, is about solving problems and making sense. That may involve incorporating the look or feel of something in the same way art does, but ultimately, design has to accomplish something that serves a specific task or purpose and the end user.

For me, design is more similar to division. Think about reducing a fraction. You need to keep reducing the two numbers to their smallest, simplest possible form to accomplish the goal of solving the problem. That’s often what design is like. That’s a form of art in itself – reducing complexity – but it’s about reducing complexity to serve a specific task or business purpose.

How has that manifested in the Highnote platform?

Since Highnote is a startup that moves at a fast pace, much of the design process – the problem-solving process – is done through an iterative approach. We design and build something quickly, continue to get feedback, and continuously improve. Our customers don’t want to wait several months for us to tinker through various approaches, run a bunch of tests, or send out forms. Instead, we take the benefit of having extensive knowledge in payments and leveraging that to create the best first version possible while constantly gathering feedback so that we can iterate and improve over time.

Because we have that deep bench of expertise and experience with payments, we can often take standards from the banking and payments industry and translate those into new modular solutions for our customers. We frequently examine these building blocks and consider how they build upon each other. We then will organize that overarching story regarding how the dashboard correlates to questions like: How are these objects linked? Which do they go back and forth from? What is the user flow?

For example, say one of our customers is troubleshooting a transaction that shouldn’t have gone through. That customer may be in healthcare or trucking. They aren’t experts in payment workflows or funding models. Part of our job is to think about how we take the elements of payments we know well and storyboard them to make them simple, taking complex components and making them digestible to the average person who doesn’t necessarily have a background in payments.

Many design groups regularly share our pages as examples of design best practices. Why do you think that is?

A lot of our success comes down to being familiar enough with the rules and standards of both design and our industry that we know when to follow the rules and when to break them – or at least bend them – to allow ourselves to stand out.

For example, payments and technology-focused brands are often dominated by blue in their color scheme. It’s seen as a color of trust and modernity. But we chose our bright green color as an intentional departure from this norm. Instead, we decided to translate that trust and modernity through other design choices that we thought would resonate more with our users. For instance, we chose Swiss design elements of strong, clean, unembellished typography and an uncluttered, logically organized grid layout. For us, these elements just as effectively communicate the idea that we know what we’re doing and our customers can trust us with their very important payment processes without falling into the same easy visual trick of just slapping blue elements everywhere.

This philosophy shows itself in other ways on our platform, too. Much of our website and navigation follows standardized and commonplace best practices, such as where a search bar should go, how pages and subpages should be organized, etc. This setup is essential for establishing trust with our user and their confidence that they are engaging with a high-performance platform – an opinion they’ll form within the first few seconds of interacting with us. But we also try to infuse surprise and delight into that navigation process, such as confirmation notifications that pop in when a user completes a task or a very on-trend gradient to establish some of that feeling of newness and freshness.

The important thing – and this is always true with design – is that the elements should always solve some task or serve some business purpose and not simply be there because they look nice or cool. We always try to be thoughtful in ensuring elements relate back to the product, such as a graphic of a card that bursts into a gradient, ensuring that with the visuals, there is a story and rationale behind our choice.

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