A UX Case Study
Venmo is a peer-to-peer mobile payment application that allows users to send and request money. Venmo focuses heavily on its social networking element to differentiate itself. Venmo allows users to make payments public where they'll show up on Venmo newsfeeds so that transactions can be viewed, commented on, and "liked" by others.
Note: I do not work for, nor am I affiliated with, Venmo. I did this UX case study as a personal project to practice my product design skillset.
Venmo is an incredibly valuable application, yet the UI does not focus on the core functionality of sending and requesting money. The app's UI places a great deal of emphasis on the social networking aspect. It's hidden navigation makes many important features hard to find. When starting this project, I hypothesized that users do not see value in the social networking aspect of the application. I speculated that users care most about the financial functionality associated with sending and requesting funds.
My goal was to redesign Venmo to improve usability and make the features that users care about more comfortable to find and use. Based on the user research that I collected, users indicated that they do not use or see value in the social networking aspect of the application. They felt that it cluttered the UI and made the functionality of sending and requesting money hard to find. So I redesigned Venmo to focus on the financial functionality so that it was more discoverable, intuitive, and user-friendly. I also updated the UI to give it a modern and minimalistic look and feel.
My Design Process
I owned the entire redesign project. Throughout this project, I used a User Centered Design approach. I put the users at the center of the whole design process so that research and data supported all of my design decisions.
Stage 1: Analyze
To put my users at the center of my design process, I needed to get a good understanding of my users: who they were, what they needed, and how they worked so that I could add context and insight into my design process. My target audience was people who used peer-to-peer mobile payment applications (such as Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle) at least a couple of times a month. I developed a research plan that used interviews to understand broad trends in user needs and then a survey to understand the scale of those trends among a more extensive set of users.
Screener and Survey
I designed a screener and survey to source the right interview participants as well as to collect quantitative data. I sought out to understand how users interacted with mobile payment applications, what features were most valuable, as well as understand the types of people who used these apps.
The survey concluded that the majority of participants are working professionals, between the ages of 25 to 34, living in metropolitan cities. They use Venmo and other peer-to-peer payment applications regularly to manage transactions related to social, transportation, and rent/utility costs. They view peer-to-peer payment applications as financial tools, not social applications. Participants ranked sending/requesting money, seeing their Venmo balance, and the ability to send reminders to users who have yet to complete their requests as the features they cared about most. Users indicated that the social functions of the app were of least importance to them.
The goal of the interview study was to collect qualitative data from users who frequently use mobile payment applications. I sought out to understand what was painful and essential to users while using these applications. I conducted four one-on-one interviews with people that I sourced from the screener/survey. The overall trend was that participants cared about convenience, ease-of-use, and security. Another common pattern was the lack of use of and value seen in the social aspect of Venmo (newsfeed, public feed, and commenting/liking transactions).
Similarly to the survey findings, interview participants indicated that they use Venmo primarily between friends or other close relationships during social activities. Users want to settle transactions quickly and easily. They don't spend time in the application other than to complete those transactions.
Once I completed my user research and synthesized my findings, I identified patterns in the interviewees' responses and distilled those into personas. I used those personas to represent three different types of users that I identified during my research study. I also created empathy maps to bridge the gap between my personas and design concepts. Both were used to help guide my design decisions throughout the rest of the project.
Now that I had an understanding of my users, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the mobile payment space to better understand Venmo and its competition. I conducted a heuristic evaluation (using Jakob Nielsen's 10 heuristics) to identify the usability strengths and weaknesses of Venmo and two of its competitors: Cash App and Zelle.
Cash App and Zelle excelled and had several usability strengths. Both had a very clean and minimalistic UI that concentrated on the essential aspects of the apps. Their UIs aren't crowded with non-essential features. It was clear what the user should do at each step of the user journey because necessary actions were easy to identify and access. By comparing their attributes and features, I identified several usability weaknesses with Venmo's interface. Venmo's essential steps are not easy to locate and are tucked away in hidden navigation. The app is burdened with non-essentials and doesn't concentrate on the primary functionality.
Stage 2: Define
Based on my user research and heuristic evaluation, I created 3 design principles to help guide me through this stage.
Convenience and ease-of-use are #1 to users
Users see Venmo is a Payment Tool, Not a Social Platform
Lightweight and straightforward will create delightful experiences
I focused on the features that participants indicated as most important during research. My approach was to fulfill the user's needs with simplified flows with clear navigation so that users could get to where they needed quickly. With that, I was able to create user stories and acceptance criteria for the minimum viable product (MVP) of the redesign of Venmo.
Once I determined which features would be in the redesign, I created an information architecture that matched users' mental models. I designed an open card sort exercise through Optimal Workshop. This exercise allowed me to get users involved in organizing the features in the app. First, I wrote down all of the features that I included in my MVP onto cards. Then, I asked participants to collect those cards into groups that made sense to them and assign whatever names they wanted to the groups they created. Their groupings were used to create an organization scheme that would best match users' expectations.
Based on the research results, I organized the application's features into four main pages: home page/create a new transaction, my requests, my history, and my profile.
To understand how I was going to create a successful user experience, I took the data I collected from my research and mapped out the primary user flows to encounter potential errors and issues before beginning my design phase.
Stage 3: Design
When it came to brainstorming and wireframing, there were about 100 different ways to lay out the app's content and functionality on each page. To pass through tons of ideas quickly to help ensure that I chose the best solution, and not just a solution, the following helped guide my design decisions:
Empathy for my user’s and their needs (based on user research)
Understanding how users’ hold their devices (the thumb zone)
I chose a bottom navigation option because it's comfortable to reach and allows users to quickly navigate to their desired location and keep track of where they are in the experience.
Stage 4: Prototype
The goal of the UI was to feel minimalistic and modern. I decided to keep the color blue since it relates to trust and dependability. However, I replaced Venmo's trademarked light blue for a more modern blue that would contrast with the light background colors. During user research, participants expressed that Venmo helps them focus on their experiences. Thus, allowing them to enjoy them more by alleviating the need to carry cash, checks, or settle complicated bills. The Venmo redesign focuses on fitting into the user's lifestyle by enabling users to complete transactions quickly and easily.
Stage 5: Validate
To ensure the best possible user experience, I validated my design decisions through usability testing. I followed a research plan and script that I developed. I had five participants complete nine different tasks. Participants were asked to think out loud and provide feedback after each task. During usability testing, I uncovered that 100% of participants expected their Venmo balance to be on the account tab. Participants thought that the "account" label for the settings tab was confusing. Based on those findings, I updated my prototype. I changed the name of the "history" tab (which included account history and Venmo balance) to "account" and changed the label of the "account" tab to "settings."