In the Professionals series, we get up close and personal with some of PayPay’s first-rate professionals. Kikuko, a product designer, joins us for a chat on this issue.
Design 4 Team Leader at the Payment Product Division
Kikuko joined Yahoo Japan Corporation in 2013 as a designer for Yahoo! JAPAN shopping. She transferred to PayPay Corporation in April 2020. She is currently in charge of the overall UIUX of PayPay for Business. She apparently used to keep what appeared to be a 2L bottle worth of Kameda Crisps on her desk… Not a big fan of spicy food.
Before Becoming a Designer
So you were familiar with design from an early age?
It wasn’t design per se, but a friend invited me to an arts and crafts class in the neighborhood as a kid, since I always loved drawing. The arts and crafts class there was super relaxed. One day it’d be, “Let’s play around with paper mâché,” and another day would be like, “Let’s try drawing today.” I liked being able to step out and having a space to create. (laughs)
In high school, I had more opportunities to play around with computers, so I studied interaction design (designing operations and reactions between users and devices) at university, a combination of web and design, if you will. I was involved in a project collaborating with an aquarium. The project was to create a 3DCG virtual aquarium for children. In the team, there was someone designing the UI, someone creating the fish in 3D, and another person working on the programs that made the fish move. It was very much reminiscent of the environment in which PayPay operates. Our creation was installed in the aquarium, so I could see the visitors’ reactions to it, and that was such a monumental experience for me.
You joined Yahoo! JAPAN after gaining some experience in design and the digital domain?
Yes. I realized how much I wanted to work in the digital field. I wasn’t the type who’d say, “I absolutely want to do this!” I was more like, “So I got my university experience and had fun with web design; it’d be cool if I could do something with it.” When I joined Yahoo! JAPAN as a new grad, I worked as a designer for Yahoo! Shopping. It was during an era of change in the landscape of e-commerce, so I was fortunate enough to witness the service undergo major reforms up close. I was mainly tasked with web coding at the time rather than being elbow-deep in design. I’m the kind of person who wants to be involved in pretty much everything, from design to coding, and even handle everything in between. After that, I was engaged in many tasks besides design, such as sales promotion, apps, and planning.
Entering PayPay after Gaining Various Experiences
What’s the story behind your move from Yahoo! JAPAN to PayPay?
I had been working in the same department at Yahoo! JAPAN since I joined the company, so I had a vague feeling of wanting to experience a different service in a completely different environment. Around that time, I saw an internal job opening for PayPay, and I thought it sounded interesting, so I applied on the spur of the moment!
When I came to PayPay in January 2019, it was totally chaotic, with only one designer in the house. (laughs) Then this other person and I joined, working as a team of three. Since we were at the startup phase of the service, we had to work on the unending waves of project after project. I’ve done everything and anything since I hopped on the PayPay train, drawing from my experience at Yahoo! JAPAN.
Did you eventually transfer to PayPay?
You bet. (laughs) My position then was needed for only a limited period, so the original plan was to return to Yahoo! JAPAN in three to six months. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would eventually transfer. However, PayPay was in the middle of its growth phase with an exciting service, so three months wasn’t nearly enough for me. I had so many more new projects I wanted to get my hands on, so I thought it would be a waste to go back at that point. Now, here I am.
What kind of work do you do at PayPay?
In the beginning, I was mainly in charge of user-facing app projects, so I worked on various projects such as P2P, the “Offers” page, Myna Points, Bill Payment, and Coupons.
Since becoming in charge of merchant services, I’ve been engaged in PayPay for Business, a tool for merchants, and I’m working on essential functions such as payments and PayPay Stamp Card in general. I’m in charge of revamping the analytics page in my current project. I am also responsible for the overall UIUX for 2B, team management, and recruiting. There aren’t many Japanese among the current design members, so I also spend time and effort coming up with Japanese terms and expressions.
In my current job, the user demographics are different, which calls for different ways of designing. When it comes to merchants’ apps, I don’t have the opportunity to use them daily myself, so I have to work closely with the Sales and Business Planning teams, who talk directly with merchants. They can relay the stores’ needs to me, and based on those inputs I can change the design so it’s easier to use and understand.
Can you talk about some examples of your design work?
I was in charge of Stamp Cards, which is a tool for merchants. It basically functions like your average paper loyalty card, which lets you accumulate stamps in exchange for a special offer. The PayPay Stamp Card design can be customized, so I designed the feature in such a way that users could visually locate the settings easily.
Since it’s a business tool, it tends to have a lot of complex jargon and settings, but not all merchants are familiar with them, so I do my best not to make it too technical.
Whatever settings you have in PayPay for Business will be displayed in the B2C app, so I maintain close communication with PMs and devs as well as with the designers in charge of the general consumer app while working on the project. We are still improving it even after the rollout.
What were some of the challenges you faced at PayPay?
Lots of things remain a challenge, but I think the biggest ones were “communication” and “speed.”
Things are much more settled now, but things were constantly shifting when I first joined. Whatever was decided in the morning would be changed in the afternoon. It was a time when everyone was still coming to the office, so we’d keep our hands busy all day, get together, and keep repeating that cycle. There are still some projects we planned back then that still haven’t seen the light of day.
Also, there were many foreign members and since my English skills were zero to none, what would have been a breeze to convey in Japanese was not the case in English. I struggled to put my thoughts into words so I tried using translation software and asked for help from bilingual members. Fortunately, my salvation as a designer was that I could put my ideas into drawings, which helped me a lot (though the flip side was that it was tough to communicate abstract concepts typical for designers). I think designers are in an advantageous position and fill an important role in communication because we’re able to check whether we are on the same page through the designs. Having designers join the project from the beginning and create visuals helps with smooth communication and confirming that everyone is aligned. It sure made me appreciate the power of design, both in terms of speed and communication.
On the other hand, what did you find interesting?
The ability to get a feel for cultures through the language of design. For instance, China and Korea would have different dispositions, and the way of thinking and UI trends vary among cultures and countries. I’m not very familiar with services in India, for example, so it’s interesting to have a variety of information available, which is unique to being part of a group of people with such diverse backgrounds.
What are you mindful of in your work?
I set priorities among my tasks so that I don’t lose momentum while designing. It’s essential to prioritize the most critical items and the high-impact ones. I first submit designs of the ideal versions, see people’s responses to them and brush up on the design. It’s also important to loosen up for some assignments, as I can’t give a 100% to everything, or else I’d burn out. So I usually decide where to devote my energy based on discussions with my team. When communicating with other teams or departments, I also ensure to speak based on evidence, valid reasons, and data. It’s important to validate every eagerness in wanting to do something with the background and grounds for the claims.
PayPay through Her Eyes
What motivates you in your work?
When I joined PayPay, I honestly wasn’t sure if the code payment service would last, and the thought of how far it could go in a heavily cash-based country like Japan made me pretty nervous! It’s been almost four years since the service was launched, and now the service is so integrated into our daily lives that our family and friends use it as a matter of course, and even children are aware of it. It’s been an invaluable experience to be a part of a service that quite literally “changed the world.” The fact that the service is a part of so many people’s lives has been my biggest motivation.
What is the atmosphere like in the team right now?
The design team members are so close that we often get together outside work! We have a lot of fun-loving members, so we often play games online or go camping. We also have many foodies on the team, so when we get together, they share what’s good to eat! (laughs)
We have active feedback and communication, and since the members come from different countries, experiences, and backgrounds, I’m often exposed to new viewpoints and ideas that I’ve never had before. I learn something new every day!
In terms of the product team as a whole, we’ve got several new members on board. The designers, PMs, and engineers all come from mixed backgrounds, but they all work actively on products with great respect for each other, which is an attitude that hasn’t changed since I joined PayPay. It’s an exceptional, inspiring environment.
What is your vision for the future?
The first is to lay out a solid foundation. While we have continued to create new things, I feel that we can still do better in terms of quality. I want to make a product well thought out in every detail so people can use it more safely and securely as a service.
Secondly, I want to get to know the stores better and provide a better service. PayPay has many users who make payments and users on the store side as well. While PayPay has dramatically impacted the payment system in both 2B and 2C domains with its new code payment system, I believe there are still more services and convenient systems that can be realized only with PayPay. I want to learn more about the challenges the stores are facing and what they want to achieve at a deeper level, and create more and more services that only PayPay can provide.
What is PayPay like for you?
It’s a place filled with services and people that didn’t exist in my world before. It’s a lively place that never ceases to inspire me!
What kind of person do you think would make a great member of the design team?
This might be a given, but I think it’s essential to have the ability to communicate well and have an innate drive to keep going forward. I think it’s rare to find an environment where members come from such diverse backgrounds with different languages and cultures, and they can work positively towards creating a single product while respecting each other.
I jumped into the company on impulse, but there are many things you won’t understand until you get inside. There may be many challenges to overcome, but I welcome anyone willing to have fun as we work together!
In the preliminary members’ questionnaire, I’ve received comments that Kikuko is “cheerful and kind” and “has a great sense of balance in being able to pay attention to details while keeping an eye on the big picture.” When I met her, I felt she was a professional who could flexibly make appropriate decisions while looking at the whole picture precisely because of her rich experience and the desire to get her hands on everything.
Read more about her designs here.
Current job openings
*The recruitment status is current at the time of the interview.
Special Thanks:Kikuko Iwasaki / Editor:Danata(PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team) / Photographer:Hinako & Mina
*Employees’ affiliations are as of the time of the interview.