The Challenges of Creating a New App Design for the Ever-Evolving PayPay

PayPay updates its app every week, bringing the UI (user interface) of the PayPay app to v3.0.0 in June 2021. We interviewed Sunna, the project manager, and Hong, a member of the Design Team, who were in charge of the app’s design renewal to the current version. We asked them about the challenges they faced during the development process and how they actually proceeded until rollout.

In the interview, there were moments where they expressed their gratitude to each other, as they shared the particular difficulties of creating the most important touch point for users and worked together to overcome various obstacles. The project was also made possible by the teamwork of other project members and the PayPay team. We asked them their plans for future updates of the design renewal. Their “user-first” approach is definitely worth a read.

Sunna MoGrowth Team, Product Division. Raised in the US and South Korea, Sunna is trilingual in English, Korean, and Japanese. She came to Japan in 2016 and has been living here for five years. She worked as a product manager for messaging and core features at LINE Corporation, and as a project manager for live streaming features and video streaming services (OTT: Over the top media service) at a Japanese subsidiary of a US company. She joined PayPay in July 2020. She appeared in the Tech Talks Vol. 8 as well.

Hong DuDesign1 Team, Design Department, Product Division. Originally from Vietnam, Hong Du came to Japan in 2015 and has been living here for six years. He worked as a designer at a real estate company, investment management startup, and at a major Japanese company in education-related services. He joined PayPay in February 2021.

What is needed for PayPay to go beyond the function of “payment” and become a “super app”?

What led you to create the new design for the PayPay app?

Hong:The foundation of PayPay’s service is its payment feature, but we aim to go beyond the function of “payment” and create a “super app” that enriches and makes users’ daily lives easier. It can be used at convenience stores, supermarkets, and other bricks-and-mortar stores, but also supports online shopping. We’ve also added a number of “mini app” features in the PayPay app that allow you to easily make reservations, order products, and make payments for services provided by PayPay’s partners. We need to increase the number of touch points with users so that they can use the app in a variety of situations.

Therefore, since the home screen is immediately ready for use after launching the app, it needs to be constantly optimized. The last time we redesigned the home screen was one year ago, in April 2020, just as the number of mini apps and other features was increasing. We’ve also recently released new mini apps one after another, including “Mobile Charge” and “PCR test kit.” We’ve been redesigned the app to make it easier for users to recognize these features and use them.

PayPay app home screen design since rollout of the service in October 2018 until now.
What were some of the specific challenges you faced when creating the new PayPay app design?
Hong:We specifically covered three of the main issues with the previous home screen before working on the redesign.
  1. The number of mini apps is increasing, so it is becoming more difficult for users to find mini apps.
  2. Users are not scrolling to the bottom of the screen, which means that they are not seeing information posted there.
  3. When implementing large-scale campaigns, they are only advertised on a banner at the bottom of the home screen, so the information is not widely circulated among users.

We proceeded to renew the design in order to solve these problems.

Left: With the new home screen design, the bar at the bottom of the screen disappears when you scroll, making the bottom of the screen more visible. Right: The top part of the screen, where the PayPay balance, barcode, and QR code are displayed, is designed to look like a card popping out of your wallet.

How is PayPay’s product development different from your previous experience?

What do you feel makes PayPay’s Design Team and PM different from other companies?

Hong:I think PayPay is particularly different from other companies in that our design team is highly diverse, consisting of members from about 10 different countries. Sometimes it’s hard to understand different cultures, but I enjoy our daily communication and it’s easy to collaborate and exchange ideas with each other.

I believe PayPay’s product team updates the app every week (except for annual holidays like the New Year holidays). I think PayPay is the only company in Japan that constantly updates their app like this. Do you update the design as often as the app?

Hong:We certainly often adjust the UI to improve usability. In many cases, major design renewals are conceived and considered from the perspective of providing a better overall experience and new value to users. We’re always thinking of ways we can improve user experience.

I heard that the current project is a little different from the other projects in PayPay. What makes it distinct?

Sunna:Normally, when a new project is underway, the PM (project manager) takes the lead. For this design renewal, though, the Design Team is leading the project, and I’ve been in charge of internal coordination, liaison with each department, and progress management.

Hong:There may be similar cases with other projects, but I was surprised that I was allowed to spearhead this project right after I joined PayPay. I didn’t expect to be entrusted with such a huge task immediately after joining the company, so I was worried at times, but the Design Team and Sunna helped me out a lot. Also, YAGI-san (Hong’s boss) and Adi (former head of Product Division) gave me so much support. I really think PayPay is a good environment where you can take on various challenges as soon as you become a part of it.

When thinking about designing a new app, do you have any anecdotes where you can honestly say, “That was a tough one”?

Hong: Soon after I joined the company, I had to consider various requirements, existing specifications, and technical constraints, so it was difficult to figure out how to adjust. There were many ideas and directions to take, and it was difficult to weigh the appropriateness, effectiveness, and feasibility of these ideas, then make decisions on top of that. Not all current specifications were documented, and I didn’t know which department was doing what kind of work, so I had to first learn about them. When I still couldn’t make heads or tails of it, Sunna taught me the service specifications and roles of different teams within PayPay. Thanks to her immense support, I was able to move forward with the project, so I’m extremely grateful to Sunna.

Sunna:Because Design was leading the project, Hong received a lot of inquiries from pretty much every engineer at PayPay. It must have been very difficult. But he handled all of them, which I’m very thankful for. I told him directly before this interview (laughs), but it was a pleasure to work with Hong.

Hong:It was really fun to be in charge of such a huge project when I had just joined PayPay. Again, I’m really thankful for Sunna, YAGI-san, and many other people’s help. I was also happy to see so many positive comments from users on Twitter. I may not be able to satisfy everyone, but I’d like to keep coming up with better designs.

The two express their gratitude to each other in the interview.Listening to their conversation, it seemed like their teamwork on the project was fantastic.

Always evolving. An app design that provides new user-first value

I heard that this new app design will be further updated over the next year. What kind of updates are you planning for the new UI?

Sunna:We are considering implementing a “favorites” feature (a feature that allows you to select your favorite services and put them on the home screen), which we’ve particularly received many requests for. We’re also considering renewals for designs other than the home screen. We’d like to make many updates to the app, so we hope users will be looking forward to them.

Hong: We’re also considering a dark mode for the app, and organizing the coach marks (the speech bubbles that tell you how to use a feature when using it for the first time). We’re still in the process of discussing our new plans, so stay tuned. It will make us happy if you play around with the app a lot when it’s updated. I’m really looking forward to see what everyone will think about it!

Is there anything in particular that you are careful of as you work on renewing the app design? Are there any particular issues that you think need to be further improved?

Sunna: PayPay is a payment service, so if the design, specifications, or the way you use it completely changes when a user is about to make a payment, it will be an unpleasant surprise for them. Even if the design may be good, we don’t want the user experience to go south because of a sudden change, so all project members are involved in thinking and planning. In the future, if we can do something like an A/B test not only internally but also externally, I feel that we could increase the number of ways we can improve the app, like gradually changing the design or narrowing down the targets for adding new features.

Hong: Various departments at PayPay are currently conducting user research, and the Design Team is one of them. Going forward, I’d like to actively conduct external research as well.

Finally, is there anything that you would like to undertake with PayPay in the future?

Hong: I’ll continue working on the home screen redesign for the time being. That will be my undertaking for a while. Also, we set up a User Research Team within the Design Team to provide new value in a more “user-first” manner, so I’d like to further strengthen our research base and utilize it in the redesign. I’d like to collaborate on user research both internally and externally to create a more valuable service experience for users.

Sunna:I’m in charge of marketing and core functions of the app. They are not directly related to PayPay’s revenue, but I believe both are important for users. I’m sure there will be many more features on PayPay, so while bearing in mind the importance of creating more touch points with users, I’d like to keep challenging myself at work.

【An example of Hong’s daily schedule】
Time Activities Notes
Morning Walk and exercise before work
10:00 Make coffee and start work
11:00 Plan with PM the research and design of new features
12:00 Remote lunch with the Design Team
13:00 Join the Design Team’s Weekly design review
14:00 Confirm features under development with PM and engineers Design specifications, confirmation of intermediate deliverables, etc.
15:00 Review with project members after feature is released
16:00- Design work
19:00 Wrap up
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Editor: Mamiko (PayPay Inside-Out Editing Department) *All Information is as of the time of the interview.
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