Designing Pay with Venmo (Preview)

A full-featured story and case writeup highlighting the team’s process and thinking is in the works. In the meantime, please enjoy this preview featuring a bit of history and some work samples. Or, if you’re super curious, feel free to drop me a line—I’d be happy to swap stories over tea or coffee 😊


A Brief History of Venmo

January 2015 was a very exciting time. Over the next few years, tectonic plates were about to shift for the company, and, we hoped, for our friends, family, and the payments world.

Venmo has always been about distilling out the fun part of something that is traditionally associated with negativity. Its claim to fame stems from its success at doing so for person to person payments: for several millennia prior to 2012, the the act of paying another person was a stress-ridden, tedious affair requiring serendipitous conditions and a lot of patience. From 2012 onwards, it suddenly became as easy as sending a text message to a buddy (and was equally as capable of carrying a lighthearted interaction with it — unheard of in the old world).

Venmo has always been about distilling out the fun part of something that is traditionally associated with negativity.

A key factor for this success was Venmo’s recognition that payments are as much a part of interpersonal relationships as any other interaction, and deserves to be treated with an equal level of care. In the old world, a payment was a transaction that began and ended with an exchange of funds (indeed, they unfortunately are still often treated as such today by the old guard). In Venmo’s world, a payment is an interaction between two or more people that spans multiple conversations and events before and after the moment of transaction. The transaction is a requisite milestone, but by no means the only or most important problem to solve for. In other words, Venmo isn’t building a payments app — it’s building an interaction tool optimized for situations involving payments. Designing with that perspective has made all the difference in the world in how we approach and solve problems.

So, back to January 2015. Armed with the aforementioned perspective, Venmo had been successful in transforming person to person payments. But there was a niggling question in the back of everyone’s minds: what about payments between people and businesses?

What about payments between people and businesses?

The ambition of extending Venmo to work with merchants had been around since its inception. No kidding: the name “Venmo” was sort for “Vendor Mobile,” a nod to the early experiments co-founders Iqram and Kortina piloted allowing hungry students to pay for Chinese food at the Yue Kee food truck on Penn’s campus. Over the years, the idea resurfaced in various incarnations. At one point in 2012, NYC restaurants Sigiri and Cafe Grumpy accepted payments via the Venmo app (today, Kottu House still does). In 2013, the company tested the waters of digital commerce with the launch of Venmo Touch. In 2014, it became a part of OneTouch and the v.zero SDK.

The team learned a lot from those experiments. Then, January 2015 came. The Venmo app was starting to mature, and the company was settled in and working well with parent companies Braintree and PayPal. It was finally time.

Work Samples: The Beta Launch

In January 2016, we launched a beta with select customers and two partners, Munchery and Gametime. It was the first modest step towards what we hoped our product connecting people and businesses would become. I was the design lead on the project.

Again, a full case study highlighting the team’s thinking and process is in the works. As an overview in the meantime, here are some work samples.

App Experience

After setting out to discover the key problems we were solving and articulating our overall strategy, north star, and design principles (in my role, I led brainstorm jams, workshops, design sprints, and gave presentations on our work), the team—consisting of our fearless PM John, our friends at Braintree, and strategists, engineers, and designers—identified and scoped the key parts of the experience we wanted to build and test with the beta launch. I then made rapid prototypes, worked with engineers to build live prototypes, ran user studies, and did subsequent iterations to eventually arrive at our final designs, which you see below.

Click the gear in the lower-right corner if the video is blurry.

The merchant checkout experience

If the video above is fuzzy, try clicking on the gear in the lower-right of the player. Streamable seams to default to low quality.

Actionable Reminders at the top of the Feed

This space intentionally left blank.

Click the gear in the lower-right corner if the video is blurry.

Posting to the feed on Android
Posting to the feed on iOS
Your Purchase History
Receipt Page

Marketing Site

I worked with John and our marketing team to develop the messaging around product features for the beta launch, and wrote the first draft of the blog post announcement. Our marketing team crafted the copy. The talented Matt Fanelli put together the site itself with feedback from key stakeholders. Matt and I split up the execution work and I produced a few of the sections, assets, and interactions.

For more, view the actual site (including the animated versions of the assets). Shout out to the web engineering team for doing a great job building it.

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See the actual site for the animated version in context.

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See the actual site for the animated version in context.

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The entire Pay with Venmo team has and continues to put in countless hours and care into the project— a big thank you to everyone for making it happen.

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