"Good design doesn't need instructions." This statement made by Alejandro Carriles, executive vice president and director of mobile strategy and retail innovation at BBVA Compass, at the Mobile Banking and Commerce Summit Monday, sums up a major theme at the show: success in mobile banking and payments depends on understanding what customers want and designing applications accordingly.

"The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious," said Carriles. "People know how to deal with a desktop intuitively." Mobile apps are not always intuitive. Carriles believes mobile banking apps need to be enjoyable, attractive and fun. "Apple said it best — the app needs to be beautiful," he said. "Apple even defines beautiful in its developer guidelines. That changed my life."

Carriles has incorporated this philosophy in the design of the upgraded iPad app BBVA Compass announced yesterday. In redesigning the app, "We wanted to present content in beautiful, often realistic ways," Carriles said. "We had been using 20% of the iPad surface. Really, 20% of real estate on a screen like that?" The new version has large graphics, such as semicircle pie charts.

BBVA's new iPad app, which will be released at the end of the month, also offers check and receipt images that people can flip through as they would paper receipts.

Neff Hudson, assistant vice president for emerging channels at USAA, pointed out that banks have been floundering a bit at providing customers what they want in the broader realm of mobile commerce. "People are shopping for everything on tablets, including financial services, and we're not equipped for that," Hudson said. "Financial services firms are doing a lot of marketing on mobile, on Google and Facebook. But when you click on a bank ad, you usually go to a website, then you try to pinch and zoom into it on your phone. It's very hard to do anything meaningful."

Hudson pointed out that 19% of mobile commerce users are using electronic payments, 35% are accessing their bank accounts, and 25% are doing online retail. "Look at what people are doing already with the very primitive tools we've given them," he said.

"What people need from us is a transformation of payments, retail and advertising with the mobile wallet," he said. "What we've done in the past won't work. We all know how to buy ads, we don't know how to engage with customers."

Kristin Rankin, mobile channel manager at Suntrust Banks, noted that although banks need to provide a consistent experience across channels, they have to keep things very simple on the mobile device. "I don't know how much time we spend on things that should be simple, such as deciding what certain buttons should be called" so that customers instantly know what they do, she said.

Mobile banking users tend to be more sensitive about the customer experience, she said. "A good experience makes them feel really good, a bad experience makes them feel really bad," she said. "You don't have to get everything out right away, but what you do get out, you need to make sure you do right. Once apps are out there, you can't pull them back. You can update them, but you can't assume everyone is updating." Therefore, usability testing is very important. Even asking a handful of employees to test a new app is helpful, she said.

Several attendees and speakers at the conference indicated that they're soliciting and listening closely to customer feedback. "Two years ago we decided to change the way we do our business," explained Eric Mac Nicoll, director, internet and mobile business solutions engineering, Desjardins Financial Group. The bank decided to integrate customer feedback into its mobile app design process. "We wanted to see what kind of solution they want." Last year the bank tested its mobile applications with 300 customers; he believes the resulting solution was much more effective than it would have been without that input.

Chase's many disparate customer segments make creating user-friendly products challenging, noted Michael Yurochko, senior vice president, mobile design and innovation studios, JPMorgan Chase. "We're trying to deliver those intuitive experiences for our customers, but also manage the many products we have that meet the different needs of our customers," he said. The bank looks at the feedback customers provide to call center agents and video-tests some products.

"We use a variety of different research techniques," Yurochko says. "There's no playbook we can go by. What we try to bring to the table as designers and customer researchers is more of that behavioral understanding, so we can see what their needs are throughout the day."

Each type of device induces different behavior, he noted. "A mobile interaction is going to be on the go, it's going to be what we call 'lean-forward' — a 30-second, one-handed operation. What is that customer really trying to do in that point in time," he said. "It's also related to where they are. Tablets are more 'lean-back,' the session can be a few minutes, the device can be shared."