Earlier this year, while working in Detroit with small business owners and the Rebrand Cities team, it became clear that entrepreneurs and publishers are looking for a simpler way to accept credit and debit card payments on their sites.
Our Happiness Engineering team — the guardians of our customers — also weighed in, and we knew that we wanted to make an existing process simpler. So we set a design goal of bringing a 15-minute-long process to under a minute — especially for a customer that has never used PayPal before.
So a small team of engineers and designers came together to solve that problem with the intent of releasing a “Version One” with which we could start to understand how a simpler payment button could be used by our customers. It’s currently limited to our Premium and Business Plan members while we tune and refine how it can work best.
Here’s how it works: Open a new post, select “Insert Content,” then choose “Add Payment Button.” You’ll fill out the details for what you’re selling, add the email address for your PayPal account (where the money will be sent), and that’s it! Now your readers can send you a payment with a credit card, debit card, or PayPal account.
It’s easy to think that making simple things is, well, simple. But that’s never the case. Austin, Texas-based engineering leader Bob Ralian led the product team that pulled this live, working prototype together in record time. I had the opportunity to observe the design team in action working with the engineers, and the following is a brief interview with Bob on how all the pieces came together.
JM: So tell me a little about yourself, Bob!
BR: I’ve been building websites and web applications for the better part of 20 years, and I’ve worked at Automattic for four years. I’ve done a mix of engineering, team management, and project management. I live in Austin, Texas, with my wife, three kids, and two dogs.
JM: How does an engineer think versus how a designer thinks?
BR: As an engineer I usually think in terms of what I have and what I know. I can work within a system, take different pieces and turn them into something new. Take duct tape, dental floss, and a rubber band, and turn it into a bicycle. Or I can look at a process and think through how I can make it better. But I’ve found that designers are able to create something totally new out of nothing. They’re not intimidated by a completely blank slate. It’s a superpower that I greatly admire!
JM: They sound very similar!
BR: I think we’re motivated by the same things. We want to make something that people like and appreciate and makes their days a little better. Really, we just want our users to be happy and enjoy what we’re building.
JM: An unusual amount of planning went into this little button — it started in Detroit with a group of designers and then was packaged into a variety of concept sketches and little movies. Does all that up front work really pay off? If so, how?
BR: We spent a lot of time with customers, particularly small business owners, to learn about what they need from their websites. We learned that many of them just want a simple way to take payments. So we used that as our guiding principle, make it as simple as possible for these business owners to add a payment button to their site.
JM: What’s an “MVLP”? I heard the designers use that term with the engineers.
BR: MVLP stands for “minimum viable lovable product.” It means that rather than taking a long time to build a complicated product behind a curtain, we try to build small, simple features and launch them early. It’s ready when it solves a real user need and we can feel proud of it – something we can love. Then we let our customers tell us what they want next and how to make it better. This keeps us focused on building for real user needs.
JM: As an accomplished musical artist yourself, how does “love” play into the engineering of products?
BR: To me it’s all the same; composing a song, writing a blog post, building a new feature, or making something with my hands. I just really love the process of “making things.” Bringing something new into the world is an act of love. It’s an act of vulnerability and generosity. It’s saying to the world “We did our best, and we really hope this makes your life a little better.”
JM: Thanks Bob! Our huge thanks to the engineers who built it; Jason Johnston (who led the project), Artur Piszek, Damián Suárez, Don Park, Jarda Šnajdr, Payton Swick, and Rastislav Lamoš! And special thanks to designers Takashi Irie and Dave Whitley for thoughtfully crafting the experience design for this very first MLVP of the Simple Payment button.