case study / capital one labs

Creating a culture that learns by doing.

How did one of the top ten consumer banks in the US develop a sustainable, design-led approach for innovating next-generation digital financial products and services?


Project Details

What are other pertinent details to include in this space?


Innovation strategy




Co-Creation+ design Sprints


process frameworks


Project Challenge

Innovation labs tend to be perceived as unruly playgrounds lacking structure and rarely delivering tangible results. Yet, while the nature of a lab is fundamentally experimental, its sustainability and success depends on the rigor of its processes.

Within CapitalOne Labs, a key objective was to create a vibrant culture of learning and yes, playfulness, with self-managing teams who held each other accountable to measurable outcomes.


The labs operated under a model of servant leadership. Rather than imposing prescribed processes, the team adopted a “freedom within a framework” mindset. This afforded teams full autonomy to design their own process and methodology, while establishing clear stage-gate milestones and criteria to evaluate progress and determine whether the work should pivot, persevere, or sunset.

Discipline leads collaboratively defined an annual program of learning objectives around which to structure R&D activities. These territories offered multiple paths to explore emerging trends, tech, and behaviors through both immersive research and rapid prototyping in parallel. The learning agenda included a broad-ranging exploration of millennial financial attitudes and behaviors as well as maker-driven “tech-xpeditions” to experiment with blockchain technology, or hacking payment terminal hardware, as a few examples.

Critical to the sustainability of the Labs’ engagement with the core enterprise was the embedding of product owners from the various lines of business into Labs project teams as hands-on participants. This was successful on two counts. First, it ensured the buy-in from executives needed to build organization-wide confidence and enthusiasm in Labs’ business impact. Second, it also transformed these product owners into change agents who were empowered to introduce lean and human-centered design methods to their own teams.

Considering the grim reality that few innovation projects see the light of day beyond their incubation in a lab setting, the team needed to be equally as mindful of how to maximize the reach of their work.

To shepherd pilots as they moved from the Labs into the core business production roadmap, the Labs created special transition teams. Enterprise product, design, and development resources worked alongside Labs’ project leads through the beta testing phase as they addressed issues, gathered feedback, and planned sprints to iterate. They were also charged with producing a detailed playbook that provided context and direction for decision-making.

Finally, because of the wealth of data being generated from the Labs’ ongoing research, the team created a searchable bespoke digital platform accessible across the organization. This repository comprised ‘building block’ frameworks of behavioral personas and key product insights brought to life through real customer stories captured from hundreds of interviews and prototype tests.


Maybe this is a client quote or interesting fact learned. 



 Since it’s inception in 2012, CapitalOne Labs has delivered multiple pilot products into enterprise development that have achieved market scale in the US through credit card and consumer banking touchpoints on and offline.

These include enhanced transaction data for increased fraud protection alongside intelligent spending and saving insights; the mobile Wallet app that was one of the first Apple Pay partners; credit health checks that allow users to simulate scenarios to see the potential impact of their financial decisions; and a money coaching service.

The Labs also incubated Capital One’s now best-in-class Design Thinking program. Building on that success, the team also prototyped and incubated a new practice–Behavior Design–that has since scaled into the enterprise design organization.