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Portrait bank cards are a thing now

Portrait bank cards are a thing now


The UK’s Starling Bank is making its cards look like they were designed for the way they’re used

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Starling Bank’s portrait Mastercard debit card
Starling Bank’s portrait Mastercard debit card.
Image: Starling

Consider the ways you use your bank card on an everyday basis, whether handing it over to a cashier, swiping it to make contactless payments, or inserting it into an ATM. How are you holding the card as you do all those things? Vertically, I’m willing to bet, or in portrait orientation, to borrow a term. And yet, the vast majority of credit and debit cards are designed in landscape, sticking to a thoroughly outdated usage model. This is the senseless design inertia that the UK’s Starling Bank is rowing against with its newly unveiled portrait card design, which was spotted by Brand New.

Starling is one of a new wave of mobile-only banks, whose business is primarily conducted through a mobile app. It also issues a debit Mastercard as part of its service (I know, because I’ve got one). Given its diminutive size and forward-thinking ethos, Starling has much more liberty to experiment than traditional banks, hence its choice to flip the orientation of its bank card. Mind you, this is still something of a mongrel design: the rear of the Starling card is still set up in landscape, perhaps to retain compatibility and some level of familiarity.

Looking around for other examples, I also found that Virgin America does a full-on portrait credit card, and CapitalOne has a range of vertical credit cards for a tie-in with GM. There’s been a smattering of banks and payment services experimenting with the portrait design over the years, with Venmo being perhaps the best-known recent convert.

The question is why these cards haven’t taken over entirely. Everything in our lives is portrait now, with the formerly square-only Instagram not only allowing portrait photography but creating a whole portrait-mode video service as well. Even I’ve caught myself taking photos in portrait lately, having once been a landscape photography absolutist. And consider the somewhat popular phone case-wallet hybrid, those fine leather goods that house both your phone and your valuable cards: in almost all cases, the cards are sitting in an upright orientation. The more you think about it, the more portrait bank (and business and loyalty) cards make sense.