PayPal on Getting Design Involved Early in Innovation Projects

By Lilly Milman |  April 26, 2021

“Cotton Candy,” “Tropical Islands,” and “Campfire” are just a few of the color options available for the Venmo card — a vertically oriented credit card that comes with a unique QR on one side. When scanned on a phone’s camera or in the Venmo app, that code brings up a user’s Venmo profile. The QR code, which covers the entirety of one side of the card, also serves as a fun pattern in addition to its functional use.

The vibrant color combinations — like pink and purple or mint-green and navy — are meant to make the card stand out in your wallet, so you can “quickly recognize it’s your Venmo credit card even in a horizontal wallet card slot,” Daniela Jorge explains. 

Daniela Jorge, PayPal

According to Jorge, the Chief Design Officer at PayPal, the Venmo credit card is intentionally a bold step away from the well-known, subdued design of credit cards of times past. Based on market research, Jorge says her team determined that not only do consumers want a card made for vertical card readers, but that they “view their credit cards and digital representations…as an expression of themselves.” 

This is why Jorge singles out the Venmo credit card as one PayPal offering with iconic design. 

“To me, an iconic design is about all of the customer insights that go into the design process such that the resulting product does its job better than the customer might expect,” she says. “It’s functional. It’s easy. There’s an element of delight. It’s about how it makes you feel and what outcomes it facilitates rather than the object or product itself being the center of attention.”

Jorge’s team is responsible for the research and design of products and experiences across a portfolio of brands, including the online payments systems PayPal and Venmo. In a recent interview with InnoLead, Jorge shared the story behind designing Venmo’s credit card, and the role design plays when launching new offerings.

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Building Trust with Customers Through Testing 

According to Jorge, one way PayPal builds trust with customers is through rigorous testing of their products. 

When creating projects like the Venmo card, the team starts with one or two large, quantitative studies to find out a product’s most important features. For Venmo’s credit card, that included the colors and look of the card. Then came user research, driven by Jorge’s team. 

“We, at times, are testing on a weekly basis,” she explains. “It might start with doing much more foundational research and much more ethnographic research, where we might be talking to customers and asking them to show us their credit cards and talk about how they use their credit cards.” 

Her team asks questions like: “Why did [a person] pick that credit card versus another?” And focuses on “really understanding some of the whys behind their answers, not just what they’re telling us.” 

What they figured out was that “[users] want to feel good when they pull out a card to hand to a waiter or to use it in front of their group of friends,” Jorge says. “They want the card to represent who they are or that it sets them apart and is a conversation piece.”

This type of study can last several weeks, and longitudinal tests where consumers are asked to keep diaries about product uses may occur at the same time. For the Venmo credit card project, the timeline was about three months from ideation to testing the first physical iteration of the card with customers.

Getting Design Involved in Innovation

While there is no formal innovation group at PayPal what the company does have is “three in a box,” meaning each project group consists of product, engineering, and design team members. For projects where something is being built from the ground up, like the Venmo credit card, those three functions come together immediately.

“We do a learning plan, where we really sit down and figure out what we already know and what we need to go find out… Then design starts very early with actually putting together concepts because it really helps to make an idea real,” Jorge says. “It also helps us put [the product] in front of customers very early to start getting those signals of whether or not we’re going down the right path.” 

This is a relatively new cultural shift in the office. As recently as five or six years ago, the company was still using more of a waterfall model, which is a linear process that requires a team to complete one stage of a project before moving on to the next. The shift has moved the needle in terms of getting products in front of customers faster and increasing collaboration, Jorge explains. 

“When we were back in the office, our designers actually sat with product and engineering. Really having [design] be embedded into each of the product areas that we work on is, to me, the biggest thing that made a [cultural] change,” she adds. “The second thing was showing that design could be a really good facilitator of the early innovation process. We have tools that can really help drive those conversations…to describe and to brainstorm what something could be. Design often will play a facilitator role in those discussions, which is another way that helps [us] get invited earlier into those discussions.” 

What’s most important about the mindset of a designer is that it places customers at the center, Jorge says.

“Design, at its core, is about problem solving with the human at the center. It’s about asking ‘What if?’ and ‘How might we?’ and all of those questions that really help to open the aperture and not necessarily go for the most obvious path,” she says. “[In design,] you’re considering many approaches and thinking about problem solving, but with that human at the center.”