Spending App (Good Design)

As a working student with a reasonable amount of loans on my back, I recently realized that I was in dire need of a way to track my spending. Like most people, I have multiple bank accounts and credit cards that I use to make my various payments and receive my deposits, not to mention my use of cash on a regular basis. Tired of not knowing exactly where all of my money had gone by the end of the month without sifting through an assortment of online statements, I knew there had to be a better way. Although I’ve had an iPhone for a few years now, I only recently began exploring the glorious world of apps – as the slogan suggests, there really is an app for everything. After a quick search on the app store, I selected the appropriately named “Spending” app. It had good reviews, and most importantly, it was free. Luckily, my gamble panned out, as the app matches Don Norman’s concept of good design.

Although simplicity does not necessarily equal good design, this trait does contribute to the principles of good visibility, mappings, affordances, and constraints when analyzing the design of the Spending app. The interface of the app utilizes the conceptual model of a grade-school chalkboard, with total income and categorized expenses tallied up to a final balance:


This system image is appropriate to the user’s model of what is essentially a calculator for those conceptually challenged in the finance arena. The visibility of the app is excellent, with all relevant parts apparent, including the two major affordances of the design, the ability to add an expense and the ability to add income. Having the two major affordances set apart and independent from other options is an example of a well-designed physical constraint. Upon downloading the app expressly for the purpose of tallying expenses and income, the good visibility and proper constraints ensured that I did not need to be trained in order to figure out how to add a source of income, and was therefore able to complete the action cycle with no issues arising. The feedback of the app is immediate and accurate, with the new balance calculated without any lag. Further, the feedback is enjoyable to experience, as the numbers flip up (or down) quickly similar to a flip clock, making the user feel they are having a tangible effect on the calculation of the numbers they have inputted.

As an application for a touchscreen device, mappings are tied to the reliability of using touch and motion to navigate from one option to the next. One example of unique mapping in the app is the ability to rotate the device to view a pie chart or graph of my monthly spending. The initial visibility of this mapping is made possible through a text command at the bottom of the screen; though text is frowned upon as a sign of poor design, the mapping itself was an example of working appropriately with the physical constraint of a small screen.

Beyond the simple affordances of adding an expense or income source are the affordances linked in the menu bar on the bottom of the initial screen. These affordances are full and varied, including the ability to view transactions piecemeal (versus by category on the Spending page), to view all the potential categories available, and to change the settings of the app. The visibility of this menu bar is good, and upon touching each option, the mapping proves to be reliable as indicated by the immediate feedback of switching from one screen to another.

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Overall, the design of the Spending app makes excellent use of Norman’s principles of good design. Excellent visibility in conjunction with good mapping for appropriate affordances make this spending tracker highly usable. There are many more functions for the app beyond the basics, but what makes the program so appealing is that the typical user doesn’t really need much more. Most importantly, I no longer have any trouble understanding where all of my money disappears to each month (though I still may not be willing to emotionally accept the documented need for cutbacks).