Bringing design from within

In our annual Fjord Trends report, we predicted with “Design from Within”, that large corporations will increasingly be looking to bring design thinking in-house.

With the pressure to innovate stronger than ever and with digital customer experience redefining competitiveness in this industry, we’d already seen a number of major banks investing in Fintech start-ups. A logical next step would be to bring the thinking, talent and capabilities in-house, that create such true customer-centred thinking, and a faster and ultimately better pipeline for digital services.

It’s important to stress that this move towards in-house resource isn’t a money-saving exercise on behalf of a finance department looking to reduce agency fees. For many businesses, and especially banks, it’s business critical.

Commerzbank were quick to see the gap opening up between the type of experience their customers now expect (largely from their interactions in other sectors), and the experience the major banks were providing. So they made it their mission to become “the most customer-friendly bank in Germany” and that didn’t mean more smiles, a friendlier tone of voice and longer opening hours. It meant a holistic review of their customer experience across all channels.

In order to do this effectively, Commerzbank wanted to go one step further than the traditional client-agency model. They approached us about setting up an in-house design agency, dedicated to identifying trends, incubating ideas and developing prototypes quickly, working across all areas of the bank – and fully backed at board level – to improve the pace and quality of digital implementation.

“In the discussions we had with Commerzbank, one point that always resonated with them, was bringing the outside perspective in more prominently. Which is based on the finding that banks have to move closer again to people and their needs, in order to develop products and services that customers really want and need.”  Christoph Loeffler, Managing Director, Fjord Berlin.

Our objective was to integrate strategic innovation management, creative excellence and information technology in one consistent process that enables us to create useful products.
Ole Franke Director Directbanking, Commerzbank


This wasn’t our typical project, but our role was clear: to set out the vision for the new agency, provide a clear set of practical steps for bringing it to life and then work side by side with Commerzbank to help make it a reality.

The very idea of creating an in-house design agency perfectly reflects our belief in installing a design culture within our clients’ businesses so we had a good idea of the factors that would help ensure success:

“Neugelb acts as an interface, which methodically ensures that the customer’s perspective is permanently considered. In addition we also have to foster an interdisciplinary way of working and bring design thinking into the organization. This is an essential part of Commerzbank’s digitization strategy.” Tobias Kruse, Group Business Design Director, Fjord Berlin.


This was absolutely critical and something we had from day one. It’s important not just for over-coming the inevitable obstacles in a project of this scale but also for building relationships with other functions such as IT, operations, finance and HR. These departments will be the agency’s allies in the battle to get ideas quickly from concept stage to minimal viable product (MVP).


This project was, without doubt, a large step into the unknown for Commerzbank. And the unknown’s not something most businesses feel comfortable with. Our way of managing this stress was to provide a highly experienced team, and an incredibly detailed plan, including timelines and a step-by-step breakdown of everything that needed to be done in the run up to launch.

This helped us to be prepared, but we also knew that this plan was almost certain to change once we start the new agency. We were effectively creating a start-up and in the start-up world things rarely run to plan. Priorities shift and you have to be flexible enough to move your backlog around in response. We were ready for this uncertainty and were completely comfortable with a flexible approach. Our groundwork and in-depth planning with the client meant that they were too.


It’s tempting to think you have a period of grace when setting up a new department. Wrong! We knew that proving our value was important from day one. So we had the new agency working before we’d even found their studio space, showing the rest of Commerzbank the advantages of having this resource close at hand.

“Our approach is best conveyed through making – and inviting colleagues to join us. We facilitate, but our colleagues create the solutions themselves.  After all, they are the experts in their field. It enables colleagues to break out of their daily routine and try a new approach.” Hannes Kober, Managing Director, Neugelb


As part of our planning process we clearly defined what this new agency was here to do. This is critical when it comes to the knock-on decisions like the type of studio space you’re looking for, the equipment you need to invest in and the key hires to make. But it’s also really important to define what you won’t do. We were crystal clear that to succeed, this agency needed to focus on new product development, not get distracted and risk becoming a tactically focused creative services team.


Today Commerzbank’s new in-house agency, Neugelb, is up and running with a combination of Fjord and Commerzbank employees working in their own, open-plan design space in Berlin and with a project space close to Commerzbank’s head quarters in Frankfurt.

The team at Neugelb has already had an impact on one of the bank’s core strategic priorities – the huge task of aligning the customer experience across the bank – and will shortly be delivering a new app to assist their multi-channel banking strategy. They’re also working on a major project with HR, which will have a huge influence on the culture at the bank, and on aligning the internal and external systems, bringing the same experience that customers have online, into the branches.

Neugelb arose from the need of the bank to organisationally and structurally regroup and open up a new field of competence in the long run. Therefore, it is an impressive initiative by Fjord. We work as one team, sitting together in the sprint planning and consider team constellations for the coming weeks and months.
Holger Grünwald Managing Director, Neugelb

A lot of agencies might view this as cannabalising our own business. After all, what’s in it for Fjord? The answer lies in the bigger picture. We don’t see it as setting up a competitor. We see it as installing a culture of design within a large organization that will push design as a discipline into the boardroom and then back into every facet of the bank’s customer experience and internal culture. This can only be a good thing for us as more organisations begin to see design not as a way of making things look better – but as the discipline of creative problem solving with the power to transform businesses in every sector.