Interview with Kevin Lee, Vice President and Global Head of Design at VISA

jeltsje boersma
Dec 10, 2018 · 5 min read

In this series of articles, we interview professionals who can teach us about the tools and processes they use to innovate and stay creative. This time, it’s a profile feature of Kevin Lee, Vice President and Global Head of Design at VISA. Kevin Lee shares his thoughts on how design can create value for the entire ecosystem partners. He also explains a multilayered approach to user empathy, a skill that is required to succeed within a company like VISA.

About VISA

VISA is a global payments technology company working to enable consumers, businesses, banks, and governments to use digital currency. The organization holds about 15,000 employees worldwide, which 110 of those are designers.

Kevin Lee: ‘’VISA is a fairly unique and challenging designer context, as we work within a B2B2C context. As a designer, you have to realize that consumers need to buy our products; they need to convert. But our products also need to provide an answer to the daily challenges of our stakeholders, including businesses, banks, and governments. They are the ones implementing VISA as a payment method. Both the stakeholders and their customers are our users.

Empathy within a B2B2C context

Working within a B2B2C context means that empathy, which is crucial to a human-centered design process, becomes multilayered. I call designers hypocrites if they say they have empathy when they only talk about consumers. They forget the importance of an effective stakeholder relationship. Great, you know a Tesla user, but have you ever worked in the car industry? Or do you know someone who sells cars? Probably not. Reading some automotive industry blogs won’t tell you much about the problems they experience. However, working at VISA teaches you not to make assumptions since you’re not the subject matter experts.

For many design related projects, we work directly with stakeholders to translate customer requirements. To co-develop solutions, you first need to understand the pain points their customers' experience. But be aware: although this research might lead to some good insights, your findings will still be company specific. Problems and pain points are as diverse as our stakeholders base, from auto dealers to governments, hotels, banks, and online clothing shops.

Outcome-based

At VISA, we don’t follow one specific design model. Some projects work according to a relative linear Waterfall process, while others follow the design sprint model. The majority of the projects, however, are agile. The design sprint is one of the practical tools that we use to iterate and get customer results quickly. We don’t choose the way we work because we believe in the process. Instead, we look at the potential results it could bring to our brand. This means we work outcome-based.

An outcome-based approach requires looking into the future and measuring before you start developing, the value of the project. With reverse engineering, we picture our desired scenario and then decide which tools and processes to apply to reach our goal. When I started at VISA, I formed a hypothesis: all good things come when you work outcome-based. In design, there are a lot of ‘hypes’ about the latest trending process. People believe they found the holy grail by following one particular process. Working outcome-based helps you to keep your feet on the ground and decide your route on the basis of case-specific features.

Quantify expected results before you start

As much as we can, we try to quantify the expected results of a new project. To get buy-in from stakeholders in a company like VISA, designers need to present convincing qualitative user insights and feedback to verify a set of key-value propositions of products or services. Within a B2B2C context, this means you sometimes have the understand the need and KPI’s of the entire eco-system partners. To optimize users insights and feedback, we teamed up with researchers who carry out large qualitative and quantitative researches and test product experiences around the world. You cannot make generalizations — people react differently to the product depending on each country.

If there is one thing I learned during my career in design, it is to be humble. As a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, I thought the world was at my fingertips. I believed that design was all that companies needed — you find a solution to a problem, you design, and then it’s a matter of simply selling it internally. But now I know that until you actually shipped a product to the market and scaled globally, you wouldn’t have necessarily understood what the value of design is in the entire problem-solving cycle. Design can make all the difference to the product delivery, and sometimes it has no impact at all.’’


According to Kevin Lee, here are the most important innovation learnings for design:

  • In a B2B2C context, empathy is multilayered. In order to be successful, you need to look at the pain points for both customers as well as stakeholders; the organizations and businesses that implement VISA as a payment method.
  • Throw your ego in the bin and stop making assumptions. Even if you learn the customer pain points through working with a stakeholder, your findings will still be company-specific.
  • Don’t choose the way you work simply because you believe in the process. Apply reverse engineering. Picture your desired scenario and then identify the best tools and process.
  • No matter how difficult, try to quantify the expected results of a new project. In a B2B2C context, it might mean you need to define KPIs of the entire eco-system partners.
  • Don’t make generalizations — in each country, people react differently to the product. Therefore, it pays off to carry out large, quantitative researches around the world.
  • Be humble. Until you’ve actually shipped the product to the market, you don’t actually know what the value and impact of design are.

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Thanks to DSA

jeltsje boersma

Written by

PR & Comms @PharmAccess. Amsterdam based, again. Tags: culture // (gender-) equality // social entrepreneurship. My stuff is in Dutch & English.

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