OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Making Banking Data Beautiful - Lessons from an Australian Water Saving Platform

A few lessons on making 'boring' information beautiful, learning by doing, inspiring behavioural change at home and more ...

Photo of Jes Simson

Written by

SWEP (Schools Water Efficiency Program) is designed to help the next generation lean, understand and change their water usage behaviour.   The online platform monitors and displays a schools water usage.  Students are tasked to find leaks and identify water saving methods - in doing so, they learn valuable lessons about water conservation, many of which are taken home to encourage domestic water savings.  

So, what does this water saving platform have to do with using the power of  communities to financially empower those that need it most?  Here are a few lessons on making 'boring' information beautiful, learning by doing and using lessons learnt in a classroom to inspire changes at home.  

Making 'Boring' Information Beautiful

Data about a school's water usage is boring, ordinary and pretty difficult to consume (just like a lot of imporant banking / finance data).  SWEP's data dashboards were designed to make this dull data really beautiful, informative, engaging, meaningful and interactive.  The design is uncluttered, simple and accessible.  The dashboards include status boards and easy to interpret graphs.  Abstract data points are made real with comparisons that are easy to relate to.   The design has a human quality to it - the icons and font have soft edges and look a bit hand drawn, the colours are bright and engaging, the imagery is a bit quirky.  

How might we make banking data visualisations more beautiful, human, informative, engaging, meaningful and interactive? 

Data visualisations are tailored for each audience.  SWEP beautifully tailors its data dashboard to suit the needs of each audience.    While there is an abundance of data in the background, each user sees the information that is relevant and meaningful to them.  This approach is clearly evident in the different amounts of information provided to primary school students, secondary school students and school facility managers. 

How might we tailor banking data visualisations to meet the needs and capabilities of the audience consuming them?  How might this change with educational level / cultural background / stage of life?

Learning by doing

The platform enables teachers to teach kids some pretty difficult maths and science concepts with meaningful, interactive, real life scenarios.  The dashboards are updated every 15 minutes with actual water usage data from the school.  This real time data gives teachers accurate, practical, evidence-based material to engage with students by showing them (rather than telling them) of the benefits of saving water.  The lessons are meaningful - kids actually get to help their schools save heaps of water.  This not only helps out the environment (this program runs in a drought prone area) but saves schools money which can be used to buy books, technology, sports equipment and musical instruments.  

How might we use real life scenarios with tangible results to meaningfully and interactively teach kids about financial management?
How might we tie lessons on financial management into broader lessons on maths / science / economics / social studies etc? 

Bringing lessons home

A lot of kids in the SWEP program are bringing the lessons they have learnt at school home and changing their family's water consumption behaviour.

How might we empower families to tackle financial empowerment as a family ?


Classes of students band together to improve their school's water usage and change their behaviour together.  Schools compete against each other with gamified rankings.

How might we use communities as a source of unity and competition to generate behavioural change in the financial space?


SWEP flips the problem of school water usage by empowering students to be a part of the solution through aggregating data and making it accessible.  

How might empower communities to tackle financial empowerment  via tools like aggregated and accessible data?


Rather than waiting three months for a water bill, SWEP enables users to see data changes every 15 minutes.  Real time data not only allows students to closely track usage trends (and find leaks when everything else is turned off at night) - but also makes the impact of behavioural changes really visible really quickly. 

How might we use real time data to create quick feedback loops that quickly visualise the benefits of behavioural change?


This contribution was inspired by a brilliant talk by Zoë Warne at Pause festival.  Zoe is the co-founder of August, the design studio responsible for SWEP.  This contribution was based on her talk (speaking notes here), August's case study and the SWEP site


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Jes, congrats on being featured in our community highlights blog! Check it out in the latest issue of ReFresh here:

Photo of André Fernandes

Hi Jes, what idea would you imagine matching making data beautiful and making small print legible? Both insights are interesting to review many of the current practices of financial services.
Another issue these 2 ideas can approach is regarding accessibility, like this idea I posted:

Photo of Ashlee Grenier

Love this! I'm a visual person and love how this makes learning and thinking easy. Makes it easy to see the changes once the steps are made. This is a fun and attractive way to get people involved.

Photo of Peregrine Badger

Hey Jes, this is awesome! I love the way you clearly break down what SWEP accomplishes well, and how that might be relevant to financial literacy and planning! I really like the idea of tailoring each visualization to the audience consuming it - I feel like this is so important to maximizing a design's salience and persuasiveness. It would be awesome to see a product with different complexities and simple settings for more complex and less complex data visualizations, so the user could tailor the app to their own needs.

Photo of Jes Simson

Thanks Peregrine. I really like your idea of tailoring each visualisation to the audience by giving them the controls to data complexity. The ability to see 'simple' dashboards and 'complex' could be a neat way to build learning mechanisms into the data sets by enabling people to work out what levers make big changes.

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

Hi. This is great. One of the ideas that has been floating around from the bay area meetup is have a tool to provide intuitive personalized data visualizations that convey a person's state of affairs and trajectories without the need to understand the underlying concepts (of the time value of money, the power of compounding, ability to choose between risky assets, tax consequences, etc.)

The key inputs would be something like income, projected income, education, expenses, projected expenses, savings, future milestones (children, house, school, car, risk tolerance, etc.) and then they get a nice visual display as an output that they could use to talk to an investment advisor or community support group.

Photo of Jes Simson

Hey Trevor, this sounds fabulous. I can't wait to see what the SF Meetup comes up with.

Photo of Em Havens

Jes, thanks for sharing this inspiration! I love the way this pushes us to look at the system as a whole and then identify ways to intervene that will maximize our efforts. A really interesting insight that struck me is around the power of educating children. That is, educating children (who tend to be more open, and curious) seems to be a great way to intervene and break old habits that families might be hard-pressed to let go of!

Photo of Jes Simson

Great point Em, it really does ask users to engage with the whole system and identify ways to make it better. I'm sure that kids are also learning some powerful lessons on systems and holistic thinking.

And yes! This is a great way to get kids to help change some pretty hardwired behavior. I wonder how we might negotiate this for the even more taboo topic of family finances?

Photo of Meena Kadri

Awesome analogous inspiration, Jes!