A few years ago, journalist Douglas McGray learned that the largest chain of check cashing stores in Southern California, Nix Check Cashing, was being bought by the nation’s largest credit union, Kinecta. The credit union thought it had something to learn from the check casher about how to reach out and serve the poor. This was curious. McGray’s impression was that check cashers (and especially payday lenders) were predatory, the bad guys, and that credit unions, especially one dedicated to serving the poor, were the good guys. This proposed sale made McGray look at the whole situation with fresh eyes.
I highly recommend reading Douglas McGray’s New York Times Magazine article all about it. It’s excellent.
I, of course, was drawn to the design aspects of the story.
Check cashing stores can feel very odd when you’re not used to them. Quite simply, they are often designed to look and feel more like a corner store. The furnishings are sparse, and the information is on signs — big, bold and clearly presented. Banks, on the other hand, have a design legacy of carpeting, heavy desks, suits, and pamphlets that are hard to parse. If you were to start over and design a financial products retail location today, which model would you follow?
Douglas McGray is also the editor-in-chief of Pop-Up Magazine– the world’s first live magazine, created for a stage, a screen, and a live audience. Having been lucky enough to both present and experience Pop-Up as an audience member several times, I can honestly say, it’s the best thing to happen to San Francisco since homosexuals.