Co.Design

Sign of the Times: A Piggy Bank That Takes Credit Cards

Students from the Umeå Institute of Design create the ultimate piggy bank that goads you into saving.

As a cash-free society inches ever closer and 9-year-olds field offers for $25,000 credit lines, it was perhaps inevitable that some entrepreneurial soul would dream up the high-tech piggy bank you see here. Does it take cash or check? Neither! Plastic only, please!

But that isn't even the most intriguing thing about it. A prototype thrown together in just a few days by Wang Chao, Maggie Kuo, and Jordi Parra, at the Umeå Institute of Design, in Sweden, the piggy bank is designed to behave like a greedy pet. An iPhone behind the grille is programmed to flash a digital character, who, little Gordon Gekko that he is, needs money to stay happy.

Feed him with your credit card, and he's all smiles:

Forget, and he gets hungry...

And starts pestering you...

And then... He cries.

Think of him as one half savings bank, one half Tamagotchi, and 110% a pain in the ass. This is what he looks like disassembled:

"We thought it could be a funny way to make you save money or even to teach kids how to do it while taking care of an electronic pet," Parra tells Co. "A bit annoying, of course, but with the reward of having saved some money taking care of it."

Brilliant or absurd? Before we get to that, a caveat: The piggy bank was the result of an assignment to use the iPhone as a prototyping platform for concepts that aren't necessarily iPhone apps; it was never meant to be anything more than a classroom sketch. For that reason, the designers didn't hammer out details like how often the character would have to be fed, how you'd link it up to a savings account, and whether it would annoy you with sound, too, which it'd probably have to do convince you to sock away your dough; a visual irritant alone would be too easy to ignore.

None of which changes the basic psychological principle at play: negative reinforcement. To revisit Psych 101 for a spell, that's when you terminate an aversive stimulus to increase some desired behavior; in this case, the tears of an iPhone to promote fiscal responsibility. It's an effective motivator, to be sure, in that it might increase the frequency with which your child swipes the credit card. But it won't exactly leave him or her feeling positive about saving money. Never mind the huge cognitive disconnect of teaching children money management by encouraging them to whip out the plastic.

In this sense, the piggy bank makes a lot more sense for adults who need to learn the promises and pitfalls of credit. Which, if recent events are a guide, is pretty much everyone.

[Images courtesy of Jordi Parra]

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