Designing for Big Tech: Top 4 Lessons Learned from a UX Designer at PayPal

Paypal UX design lessons

For many designers, including myself, working as a UX Designer in a big tech company is a dream job. These companies are known for their cutting-edge products and services, innovative design teams, and exciting work culture. But what does it really look like to work as a UX Designer in a big tech company? Is it simply about general UX Design?

The reality is far different from what most people expect. As a 26-year-old designer fresh out of college, I was thrilled to join a big tech company, envisioning that I would work on a variety of designs and prototypes each day while collaborating with an amazing team of professionals. In reality, however, many UX designers like myself take on responsibilities beyond their job descriptions, and I have learned more than I did in college. There are undoubtedly some tips I wish I had known before joining a big tech company as a UX Designer.

In this article, we'll explore why this is the case and what it means to be a UX Designer in a big tech company. Moreover, I'll share the top four things I learned from my two-year journey working as a Product Designer at PayPal.

First, Embracing the Unhappy Path in UX Design

There's a common misconception that being a designer solely involves creating a seamless user experience. I was also guilty of this before I joined PayPal, where most of my projects revolved around designing happy path experiences with assumed user behavior. However, in the real world of tech, designers must have a holistic approach that goes beyond just creating perfect solutions. Designing for the "unhappy path" is a crucial aspect of product design. This means anticipating error scenarios and figuring out how users can navigate out of problematic experiences. It also involves finding ways to help users achieve their goals even if they deviate from the expected flow.

Before handing over the final design to the development team, all possible scenarios must be thoughtfully considered and designed for. I still remember my first project at PayPal, where I was tasked with designing a verification flow to help users verify their identity. At the beginning, I focused only on the happy path and didn't consider error scenarios. However, after several meetings with the development team, I realized the importance of designing for all possible scenarios. I ended up spending more time designing five additional flows for error scenarios. This experience taught me that as a UX designer, it's crucial to think about the flow in a comprehensive way.

In essence, UX designers must think beyond the ideal user flow and anticipate potential issues that may arise. This was my biggest lesson learned, and since then, I've become more cautious when handing over final designs to the development team. By considering all possible scenarios, we can make everyone's life easier and ensure a seamless user experience.

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Second, Get accustomed to the fast-paced tech environment and increase the speed of your workflow.

Many people have misconceptions about the daily work of UX designers. While wireframes, prototypes, and usability testing are important aspects of the job, the reality is different when working at a big tech company like PayPal. I also had misconceptions before I joined PayPal, thinking that I would spend most of my time creating diagrams, conducting research, and testing. However, in a dynamic and fast-paced environment like PayPal, my daily workflow involves collaborating with designers, researchers, developers, product managers, and stakeholders to solve problems together.

To ensure that I can focus on the most important tasks, I rely on a UX researcher on my team to handle some of the research work. This allows me to adjust multiple projects in different design phases based on product and engineering timelines and priorities. Sometimes, I'm given a tight deadline to provide an initial flow to my product manager, which requires me to quickly understand the requirements and provide a design to the team.

Working in a high-speed environment like this has taught me to adapt and make the most of my time. I've learned that the iterative process doesn't always begin with UX research, but rather with a high-fidelity prototype that is evaluated by the product team. This process requires flexibility and a willingness to make changes as needed.

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Third, Am I  a product designer or a product manager? 

If someone were to tell me that I'm actually a product manager, I'd be surprised. However, the truth is that I've been performing the role of a product manager for most of the past year due to various reasons.

It's important to note that your product manager may not know everything or every requirement, and sometimes they may not consider the user experience. I've received random design change requests without understanding the goal and end-to-end user experience, leading to problems where I provide a good solution but in the wrong direction.

For instance, I'm currently working on a verification and authentication flow design, and my product manager noticed a 3% user drop-out rate during the entry page or FAQ page. They requested a design change without considering whether the drop-out could be fixed through design. There are many ways to approach this issue, depending on the project scope and timeline. I ask my product partner for more analysis data to understand whether the problem affects the majority of users or just a few. Understanding user behavior is key because changing the design is risky, and it may gain new customers but lose existing ones. Discovering the problem is always key to my day-to-day life.

As I stated earlier, when you own a product, you're not just a designer. You must take responsibility for helping your product team understand the root of the problem through a UX perspective. This involves thinking strategically, understanding market trends, and effectively communicating with cross-functional teams. Balancing the needs of the end-user with business goals and objectives is crucial.

Finally, Continuous learning is a fundamental part of my professional journey. 

Each day, each week, I strive to discover new insights and expand my knowledge. Working in a large tech company demands a strong commitment to ongoing education. When I first joined PayPal, I faced a steep learning curve. Unfamiliar with how to collaborate with Product Managers and navigate complex design challenges, I eagerly pursued every opportunity to learn and grow. I sought guidance from my colleagues, never hesitating to ask questions and seeking out their expertise. This tenacity has propelled me forward, enabling me to become a proficient designer in a short period of time.

Throughout my time at PayPal, I have honed my ability to work with diverse stakeholders, offering a UX perspective and skillfully handling multifaceted design challenges. My continuous learning journey has been fueled by my passion for my work and my unwavering curiosity. While my formal education in UX design was limited, I recognize that social interaction and practical experience have been my most valuable teachers.

In addition to leveraging the expertise of my colleagues, I attend conferences, enroll in courses, and seek out new connections to further refine my skills. I am fully committed to never being complacent in my role as a product designer in the tech industry. Rather, I approach each day as a new opportunity to learn, innovate, and advance my skills. For me, there is no such thing as a completed education. Every day, every task, every interaction presents an opportunity to grow and develop my expertise further.

In conclusion, I have gleaned invaluable lessons during my two years at PayPal. Firstly, I have learned to design with the unhappy path in mind, a necessary skill in the unpredictable world of technology. Secondly, I have grown accustomed to the fast-paced nature of the tech environment, requiring adaptability and efficiency. Additionally, I have realized the importance of taking leadership over one's projects, effectively collaborating with cross-functional teams and driving the product to success. Finally, I have come to understand the significance of continual learning and self-improvement, an essential quality for success in any field.

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It is surreal to consider that my work at PayPal has impacted the lives of millions of people. Through this job, I have had the opportunity to grow and understand the responsibilities of a product designer. While I recognize that there is still so much more for me to learn, I hope this article has provided insight for those curious about what it truly looks like to work as a product designer in the tech industry. Additionally, I hope it serves as a resource for new designers seeking to enter the world of big tech. If you would like to chat further, please do not hesitate to reach out to me on ADPList. I am always eager to connect and expand my network.

Big tech companies value designers who take ownership of the products they design, and I am the lead designer for a product, responsible for both the long-term and short-term design work, including optimization and future product expansion. These responsibilities have already put me in a product manager's shoes. Thus, UX designers often take on product management responsibilities, such as defining product requirements, managing the product development process, and measuring the product's success.

Despite the challenges of working in tech, the collaborative environment provides valuable opportunities for growth and development as a designer. One of my biggest lessons has been that you solve complex problems and create innovative products that meet user needs by gathering different perspectives and working together.

About Author

Zilin Zhou ( Jason ) 

Product Designer, PayPal 

Hello! My name is Jason. I am a product designer at PayPal building human-centered experiences to positively impact people's lives. My overall goals are to utilize the power of design to connect concepts, cultural moments, and people in a compelling way. I tend to look for inspiration from observation, conversation, and formal design research to stretch my perspective. I tend to look for inspiration from observation, conversation, and formal design research to stretch my perspective.


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