Product Designer at PayPal


JasonZhou (Product Designer at PayPal)

Zilin Zhou (Jason) is a passionate and award-winning product designer at PayPal dedicated to shaping human-centred experiences that bring about positive change in people's lives.

He/Him • Austin, United States • April 23, 2024

What led you into design?

My path into the world of design was both serendipitous and transformative, beginning in my college years with aspirations of becoming a computer engineer as a Computer Science student. This trajectory took an unexpected and thrilling detour when I decided to enroll in a few graphic design classes out of curiosity. Those classes acted as a spark, igniting a previously undiscovered passion for design within me. It was in these moments of creative exploration that I recognized my true calling was not in the rigid structures of computer engineering but in the boundless and dynamic field of design.

However, my journey was unique in that I didn't abandon my love for technology; instead, I sought a way to marry it with my newfound passion. This desire for a synthesis between technical prowess and creative expression led me to make a pivotal decision—to shift my major to Information Technology, specifically with a focus on UX design. This decision reflected my ambition not just to become any designer but to carve out a niche where I could leverage my technical background and love for understanding human behavior to enhance user experiences. My journey into design was thus a blend of my initial love for technology and an emergent passion for crafting solutions that cater to real human needs, steered by the belief that the best designs are those that seamlessly integrate functionality and aesthetics. This unique confluence of interests has shaped my approach to design, making my transition from a Computer Science student to a UX designer a journey of discovering how technology and creativity can come together to solve complex problems and improve lives.

Throughout my career, I've worked with various organizations, contributing significantly to the field. One of my notable projects was designing an inclusive digital profile service aimed at improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. This service leveraged mentor networking, social engagement, and personal empowerment to connect employers with potential candidates with disabilities. This work, which was both challenging and fulfilling, earned me a nomination for the UX Design Award, and IF Design Award.

Currently, at PayPal, I lead the UX design for Identity Verification experience. This project involves integrating advanced machine learning algorithms to create a more secure yet user-friendly transaction process. My work in this area has not only enhanced PayPal's security features but also streamlined the user experience, making transactions faster and more efficient. The impact of these innovations is far-reaching, extending beyond PayPal to influence the entire online payment sector. We've seen a reduction in fraudulent activities and an increase in user confidence in transaction safety. This has significantly contributed to PayPal's growth, as the combination of heightened security and improved user experience continues to attract and retain customers.

What does a typical day look like?

As a Product Designer at PayPal, a global company, my days are richly varied and infused with collaborative spirit and creative fervor. Given PayPal's worldwide presence, my mornings often kick off with crucial meetings with cross-functional teams, including Product Management and Engineering, especially with colleagues in India. These sessions are dedicated to discussing product design requirements and brainstorming solutions to design challenges. This global interaction ensures we're all aligned and moving forward together, despite the different time zones.

The structure of my day is designed to balance deep work with collaborative efforts. Mornings are reserved for meetings with the design team where we focus on tactical execution and creative exploration. These discussions are vital for maintaining a cohesive design language and approach across our products. As the day progresses, my afternoons shift towards strategic meetings with my team. Here, we delve into design strategies, conduct design reviews, and engage in rigorous ideation sessions. These meetings are pivotal for ensuring our design direction is not only innovative but also aligned with PayPal's overarching business goals.

Despite the collaborative nature of my role, I make it a point to block off time for focused individual work. This time is sacred as it allows me to dive deep into the design process, explore new ideas, and refine concepts without distractions. It's during these moments that I truly embody the essence of being a designer, allowing creativity to flow unabated.

Working remotely affords me a tremendous amount of flexibility, enabling a healthy work-life balance that I cherish. The autonomy to manage my schedule means I can choose to work during my most productive hours and still have time for personal pursuits. Occasionally, I opt to work from the office, not just for a change of scenery but also to connect in person with teammates. These office days are not just about work; they're also about building relationships, sharing laughs, and fostering a sense of community that enriches our professional environment.

My role at PayPal is a blend of global collaboration, strategic thinking, and creative execution, all while enjoying the flexibility and dynamism that remote work offers. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities to impact the user experience positively, making my journey as a Product Designer both rewarding and exhilarating.

What's your workstation setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

Delving deeper into my sources of inspiration as a UX Designer, it's clear that the process of creative inspiration is both immersive and expansive, encompassing a wide array of experiences and engagements with the world.

The exploration of other designers' works, whether through browsing online portfolios, attending design showcases, or simply stumbling upon a piece of street art, acts as a catalyst for creativity. This exploration is not merely passive observation but an active engagement with the thought processes and problem-solving strategies of others. Each piece of work, with its unique challenges and solutions, broadens my understanding of what is possible within the realm of design and pushes me to explore beyond conventional boundaries.

Museum visits offer a bridge to the past and an invitation to the future. They are a testament to human creativity and innovation, showcasing how design principles have evolved and been reinterpreted over time. Each artifact, painting, or installation is a lesson in aesthetics, functionality, and cultural relevance, providing a rich tapestry of inspiration that informs my approach to UX design.

Conversations with other designers, facilitated by platforms like ADPList, are invaluable. These exchanges transcend mere networking, fostering a community of learning and mentorship. Hearing about the challenges and triumphs of designers from various disciplines and corners of the world injects fresh perspectives into my thought process. It’s in these dialogues that I find insights into navigating design challenges, embracing new technologies, and understanding the ever-changing landscape of user expectations.

Nature, with its effortless design and inherent beauty, offers a profound source of inspiration. The act of hiking and being in nature is more than a physical escape; it's a mental and emotional rejuvenation. The patterns, systems, and forms found in the natural world often mirror the principles of good design—efficiency, adaptability, and harmony. This immersion in nature clears the clutter of daily life, allowing my mind to focus and generate new ideas. It's a reminder of the importance of designing experiences that feel intuitive and organic to users.

This multifaceted approach to finding inspiration—through the exploration of art and design, engagement with the creative community, and connection with the natural world—shapes my perspective as a UX Designer. It ensures that my work is not just a reflection of current trends but a contribution to the ongoing dialogue of design as a tool for solving human problems, enhancing experiences, and making technology accessible and enjoyable for all.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

One project that truly captivated me recently and epitomized exceptional design was "The Virtual is Real" by Elkanodata, a recipient of the Indigo Design Award in 2023. My role as a judge for this year's Indigo Design Award offered me a unique vantage point to witness firsthand the remarkable array of talent and innovation within the design community. Among these, "The Virtual is Real" stood out for its profound impact and the urgency of its message.

"The Virtual is Real" is an immersive portfolio sharing the stories of 11 survivors or victims of various forms of online violence and abuse from around the globe. The project's core aim is to underscore the reality that gender-based violence, regardless of where it occurs, is a severe issue, with consequences that are as devastating online as they are offline. This initiative by Elkanodata takes a crucial step in raising awareness about an often-overlooked aspect of digital interaction, highlighting the tangible trauma and repercussions of online violence.

What makes this design exemplary is not just its noble aim but the way it marries form and function to create an impactful user experience. The creators have skillfully designed and programmed an immersive and multimedia campaign, transforming horrific digital experiences into narratives that are as palpably real and tangible as possible. This approach not only draws attention to the issue but also fosters a deep sense of empathy and understanding in the audience, making the digital experiences of victims and survivors impossible to ignore.

As a judge and a designer, witnessing the power of design to address and illuminate pressing social issues was both inspiring and affirming. "The Virtual is Real" is a testament to the potential of great design to not just inform and engage but also to catalyze change and provide a voice to those who are often silenced or overlooked. It's a reminder of the responsibility and opportunity we have as designers to use our skills for meaningful impact. This project is a beacon of how design can transcend aesthetics and functionality to touch lives and challenge societal norms, making it a paragon of great design in my eyes.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

The PayPal Biometric ID Verification system, which has been a highlight of my career and earned recognition with the IF and Red Dot design awards, exemplifies not just a leap in design and innovation but also a monumental step in enhancing digital security on a global scale. This project wasn't just about introducing a new feature; it was about fundamentally transforming how security is perceived and integrated into financial transactions online for PayPal's vast user base.

In crafting the Biometric ID Verification system, the design challenge was manifold. We aimed to create a solution that was not only technologically advanced but also intuitively simple for the user. This system uses biometric data—facial recognition and fingerprint scanning—to create a seamless yet secure verification process. The beauty of this innovation lies in its simplicity for the end-user. Rather than navigating through multiple steps for authentication, users can now verify their identity in a manner that is both natural and secure, with just a glance or a touch. This ease of use significantly reduces the friction often associated with robust security measures, encouraging wider adoption and a better overall user experience.

The impact of this project on PayPal's fight against fraud cannot be overstated. In the digital age, where fraudsters employ increasingly sophisticated methods, the Biometric ID Verification system serves as a formidable barrier. It leverages unique biological characteristics of the user, which are extremely difficult to replicate or steal, thereby significantly reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access and fraudulent transactions. This advanced level of security is vital for safeguarding not just individual accounts but also the integrity of the PayPal platform as a whole.

Serving over 400 million users worldwide, PayPal's commitment to security is paramount. The introduction of the Biometric ID Verification system has been a critical development in fulfilling this commitment. By making security measures that are not only more robust but also more accessible, we've enhanced the trust that users place in PayPal for their financial transactions. This trust is the foundation of our relationship with users and is essential for the continued growth and success of the platform.

Furthermore, this project underscores PayPal's role as a leader in digital payments, showcasing our commitment to innovation, user experience, and security. The global impact of the Biometric ID Verification system goes beyond just protecting transactions; it sets a new standard for the industry, demonstrating how technology can be harnessed to create safer, more inclusive, and user-friendly digital environments. This achievement, recognized by the prestigious IF and Red Dot design awards, is not just a personal milestone but a testament to the power of thoughtful design in addressing some of the most pressing challenges in the digital world.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

In my role at PayPal, the canvas of challenges I navigate on a daily basis is vast and varied, deeply intertwined with the nuances of working for a global fintech giant. The act of balancing collaborations across differing time zones is an endeavor that tests my organizational skills and adaptability to their limits. This challenge is not just about managing my own schedule but ensuring that every team member, no matter where they are in the world, stays informed, engaged, and aligned with our collective goals. It's a delicate juggling act, requiring me to be proactive, patient, and persistent in my communication efforts. The goal is to create a seamless workflow that transcends geographical barriers, fostering a unified team dynamic despite the miles that separate us.

The transition to remote work, accelerated by global circumstances, while offering an unprecedented level of flexibility, has also layered in complexity to team dynamics and project execution. The essence of collaboration, so effortlessly captured within the physical confines of an office, now requires intentional effort to replicate virtually. I find myself constantly innovating in the ways we connect and collaborate, from orchestrating digital workshops to simulating brainstorming sessions through online tools. The objective is clear: to maintain, if not enhance, the creative synergy that propels our projects forward, ensuring that every team member feels connected, valued, and heard.

From a design perspective, my role demands a profound engagement with the principles of user-centric design, pushing me to craft solutions that are not only intuitive and accessible but also inclusive. The challenge here is multifaceted—designing for a global audience means accommodating a spectrum of cultural sensitivities, accessibility needs, and usage contexts. Every design decision I make is informed by a deep empathy for the user, guided by insights gleaned from rigorous research and testing. It's about finding that sweet spot where user needs meet business objectives, a pursuit that is both intellectually stimulating and creatively fulfilling.

Moreover, staying ahead of the technological curve, incorporating the latest advancements in AI, blockchain, and mobile technologies into our design strategies, is a challenge that keeps me on my toes. It requires a mindset of continuous learning and adaptation, ensuring that our solutions are not just relevant for today but are scalable for the challenges of tomorrow.

The multifaceted challenges of my role at PayPal—from navigating global team dynamics to pioneering user-centered design solutions—serve as a constant source of professional growth and learning. They push me to expand my boundaries, explore new horizons, and innovate relentlessly. In facing these challenges head-on, I am not just contributing to PayPal's mission but also evolving as a designer, constantly finding new ways to merge creativity with technology, empathy with efficiency, in the quest to create meaningful, impactful user experiences.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

To the ambitious designers poised at the threshold of their careers or those seeking to redefine their path within the vast, ever-evolving landscape of design, the journey ahead is both exhilarating and daunting. The advice I offer, born from my own experiences and reflections, is intended to serve as a compass to navigate this journey.

First and foremost, the journey begins with you. Understanding your own identity as a designer—your strengths, weaknesses, and unique perspectives—is crucial. This self-awareness is your foundation, the bedrock upon which you can build a career that is not only successful but also fulfilling. Echoing the wisdom of Steve Jobs to "think different," I urge you to internalize this mantra not as a slogan but as a guiding principle. Thinking differently isn't just about innovation for its own sake; it's about viewing the world through a lens that challenges conventions and explores new possibilities. This mindset should permeate everything you do, from conceptualizing ideas to executing designs, urging you to always seek out the road less traveled.

When it comes to the tangible aspects of your work, especially in product design, inclusivity should be a pillar of your design philosophy. The digital products we create are not just tools but extensions of the human experience, touching lives across the globe. Designing inclusively means recognizing and valuing this diversity, ensuring that what you create is accessible and meaningful to as wide an audience as possible. This commitment to inclusivity is not just ethical; it's practical, expanding your work's relevance and impact.

Being bold in your design approach is another cornerstone. Boldness, in this context, transcends aesthetics to encompass the courage to challenge norms, to advocate for change, and to envision how technology can be a force for good. It's about making deliberate design choices that advocate for simplicity, accessibility, and usability, ensuring that technology serves everyone, not just a privileged few.

To weave these threads into the fabric of your career, focus on building a portfolio that not only showcases your technical skills and creativity but also tells a compelling story of your design journey. Highlight projects that reflect your ability to think differently, your commitment to inclusivity, and your boldness in tackling complex challenges. Engage with the global design community, not just as a networker but as a learner, a mentor, and a collaborator. Embrace every opportunity to grow, whether through formal education, online courses, or real-world experiences.

So, the path to becoming a distinguished designer in today's dynamic environment is multifaceted. It demands a deep understanding of oneself, a commitment to pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation, a steadfast dedication to inclusivity, and the boldness to envision and realize a future where technology enhances every aspect of human life. Armed with these principles, you are well-equipped to navigate the challenges ahead and leave a lasting imprint on the world of design.

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