How Principles of Design Thinking Can Revolutionize Mobile Payments

As I stopped by my local coffee shop this morning for my much needed latte, I casually glanced at the Google Wallet tap-and-pay machine and asked the cashier how often people used it. “Oh, almost never,” he responded. “It’s been broken for a while and we haven’t bothered to have it fixed.” This response summed up the disappointing reality of mobile payments today.

Long expected to lead to a sea change in how consumers pay for everyday items and increase reliance on mobile devices, mobile payment options have proliferated, but few have significantly improved the consumer experience. The primary reason for this seems to be that these different payment options only make a small dent in the challenge of our ever-growing wallet of cards, but none provide the “killer app” that truly moves the needle in terms of making our lives easier.

A few mainstream examples:


Google Wallet – Enabling users to load their loyalty programs, credit and gift cards to their smartphone app and pay via a wave of their phone, Google Wallet simplifies the payment process. However, with card readers that break down and increasing privacy concerns, the current version of Google Wallet hasn’t created a breakthrough in customer payment processes.


Square – Square has been heralded as a revolutionary payment tool. While it does greatly simplify a merchants’ ability to accept payment by paying lower bank fees, it also does little to truly improve the customer experience of a hassle-free, highly-secure payment.


Other high tech options such as Watch2Pay, a wristwatch that enables contactless payment or PayPal’s, where merchants take a picture to authenticate ID cards, have long term appeal, but both raise concerns about how secure credit card information will be. While many consumers have heard of BitCoin and its fully online payment system, its close tie to the “dark web” and online drug trafficking render it an unlikely platform for most.

Whether you are an app developer looking for funding or a financial institution looking to better connect with your customers, there is a substantial opportunity to develop a more impactful and useful mobile payment system. Keeping the key principles of design thinking in mind can be pivotal in developing a system that adds significant value to the customer experience, thereby increasing the perceived value of the brand and offering you create.

Key tenets to keep in mind...


While existing platforms demonstrate empathy for consumers’ desires to limit what they carry and complete quick payments, there is an opportunity to evaluate the below-the-surface context for mobile payments.

Key consumer sentiments to consider:

  • “The last thing I need is another app.” How can this payment system be fully integrated into all of the on and offline locations customers pay bills?

  • “With all of these breaches, I’m concerned about security.” How will this system address and limit the chances of security breaches?


Understand all aspects of consumers’ lives, preferences and influences to design a product that fits their lives as a whole.

Key consumer sentiments to consider:

  • “I’ve seen a ton of these payment systems and they all seem the same.”

How will you differentiate what your product stands for and how it compares and contrasts with competitors?

  • “My kids play with my phone. How can I make sure they don’t accidentally purchase things?”

As the smartphone becomes a central part of adults’ and kids’ lives, what are the implications for mobile payment systems?



While consumers want a finished product, their frustrations can be a developer’s source for new ideas and insights. Utilize a two-way dialogue to understand product and brand opportunities.

Key consumer sentiments to consider:

  • “My biggest frustration with mobile payments is…”

Listen to consumers vent and you will find the seeds of your newest platform or software update.

  • “I want to know that this payment system is going to change with the times…”

Consumers don’t have time to stay up to date on the latest and greatest trends in mobile payments, but they may be more likely to use an app that can convince them it is integrated and collaborative with the vendors and financial institutions that they trust most.

 As mobile payment developers consider integrating these key design principles, we may all be more likely to pull out our phone instead of our wallet the next time we are in need of that caffeine fix.