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How Effective Web Design Can Make You Hate a Brand: PayPal

February 4, 2013 | Branding, Web Design

Some people have a hard time understanding the connection between design and branding.

No, design is not all that goes into branding. But design is a major part of what we call brand identity and an integral part of a what we call “a brand.”

Good or effective design can make you like a brand a lot more. It can also make you frustrated.

PayPal: Effective design, poor branding

I’ve written about PayPal before in this post about how PayPal’s brand can affect your own brand. Unfortunately, it’s not a brand that has a lot of love behind it. It is easy to implement on a web site and it allows you to take payments without ongoing credit card processing fees. People seem to grudgingly use it, but you rarely hear your friends singing the praises of PayPal.

Let me put it on the record that I think there is a huge opening for someone to build an online payment processing system that is simple and friendly. People are looking for alternatives to PayPal. They want to find a new brand to love.

PayPal’s design history

As a designer, I’ve always disliked PayPal’s graphics. People post their buttons everywhere, and they are pretty ugly. Also, if you have an account with them, and therefore log into their site a lot, you are very underwhelmed by their web design (see the last screen shot, below).

Recently, PayPal has spruced up its home page and some of the graphics that you see on the way to getting to your account information.

Here is the PayPal home page. They’re doing a number of things really well. The page is uncluttered. They are very effectively using their blue and gray corporate colors. In fact, this company is using their core colors better than many other brands out there. Clearly, they use custom photography that creates a very consistent brand identity for them.

PayPal homepage design

PayPal’s homepage design

But when I go to login, the trouble starts. Let’s take a look at that login area:

PayPal's login area on their home page.

PayPal’s login area on their home page.

After I enter my email address and password, I am compelled to click that blue “Sign up” button rather than the gray “Log in” button. But I’m already a registered user, I want to get to my account. Every time I hit the wrong key I end up having to enter my log in information again. Once you are a registered user, you access their site over and over and again. Instead of trying to get people to sign up, how about making it easy for your current customers to make the right click, easily!

After you log in, here is a typical screen that you see.

PayPal's web design

Design of a web page that you must go through to get to your account.

You have to get through this page to make it to your account. Look at that design. What button are you going to click? The large, yellow button that says “learn more”, or the little, plain-text button that says “Go to My Account?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on that yellow button, and landed on their marketing page rather than into my account.

This frustrates me. This is an example of how effective design ruins a brand’s image.

The design of the page is clear, simple and compelling. But it is compelling me to mistakenly fall into their marketing trap, rather that take care of business.

This makes me dislike PayPal even more.

PayPal’s original design problems

Once I finally get into the actual platform the design reverts back to its ugly roots. The type is very small. I hate the way there is a horizontal band for the navigation but it just ends rather than continuing the full width of the screen. Overall the design just looks poorly done and out-of-date.

Check out this screen shot, and let me tell you my last pet peeve about using PayPal.

Screen shot of the PayPal web site's withdraw page.

Screen shot of the PayPal web site’s withdraw page.

My last gripe about PayPal has nothing to do with design, yet still has to do with branding. This is where user interface design and thinking about what your customers really want factors into branding.

I use PayPal to accept credit cards from my clients. After someone has paid an invoice, I go to PayPal to move those funds over to my bank account. Every time, I want to withdraw the entire amount. For me, I don’t know why I’d ever want to withdraw anything less than the entire amount. Why is there not a button that give you that option, so that the amount can be automatically filled in for you? It is a little detail that would make my experience with PayPal so much better.

I hope this case study helps you understand what parts of web design affect a brand. And to clarify that good design can still mean a poor brand experience.

What do you think of PayPal’s web site design and PayPal’s brand?

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16 comments

  1. Michael | February 5, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Great discussion. I hate PayPal so much I haven’t used them for payment processing in years. We now have our own merchant account.

    As your screenshots point out, their user experience is piss-poor. Just take me to my account!

    I totally understand you pain…

  2. Emily Brackett | February 5, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Michael, thanks for your comment. I hate PayPal, too. I just do a few online-based credit card transactions and they still seem the easiest/cheapest solution. I am waiting for another product/service to come along and wake them up.

  3. Design Branding | February 7, 2013 at 3:56 am

    I’m excited to see your new website and its design. It’s been a while since I’ve been reading this blog. I would suggest that you redirect this domain to the new one.

  4. Emily Brackett | February 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for your comment. This is the new design you’re looking at. There is no new domain. Let me know what you think.

  5. Paul Profitt | February 9, 2013 at 7:24 am

    I use PayPal because they are the brand that people know and trust the most. I find navigating around the site a real pain in the ass, and the fact that they dislike Internet Marketers so much, makes me very wary of them.

  6. Kendra | February 9, 2013 at 9:56 am

    People hate PayPal? A site that get’s me paid?

    No way.

  7. Emily Brackett | February 9, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    @Paul Profitt Thanks for stopping by!

    I think that there is actually a vocal group of PayPal haters. Some people have experienced real problems accessing their money, etc. So they do not trust PayPal (see http://www.visiblelogic.com/blog/2009/04/how-paypals-brand-affects-the-brand-of-your-e-commerce-site ).

  8. Emily Brackett | February 9, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    @Kendra Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean: can’t bite the hand that feeds you!

  9. JB | February 10, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Way to concisely nail that one on the head. And clearly, PayPal is NOT the only company that would do themselves a huge favor by making their EXISTING customers more the focus of their attention. Well done! –JB

  10. Heather Stone | February 10, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Emily,
    In the case of applications like PayPal, design is definitely a huge part of branding. We’re not just talking about the visual design of the site or the logo, of course, but about the degree to which user experience is affected by overall Website design. In this case, a better Website would mean a whole new business, so, yes, definitely, anyone who can come up with a better design resulting in an easier online payment option certainly has a ready-made niche.

  11. Emily Brackett | February 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    JB, Thanks for your comment. I agree more companies should focus on existing customers. Make them brand evangelists!

  12. Emily Brackett | February 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Heather, thanks for your comment. I hope someone new steps into the field of online payments soon.

  13. Zealousweb@Hire PHP Developer | February 12, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Hi there. Nice information. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Regards

  14. Rochester Design | May 13, 2014 at 3:00 am

    Well! I believe that there are no much people tend to hate paypal. any way, thanks for nice discussion.

  15. Charles Daraghy | July 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I have been selling on ebay for 15 years and initially I thought paypal was great. I didn’t mind the graphics, it got the job done. Was bland, but, who cares. I do not like the new background videos. Like having to watch a trailer on a DVD everytime you pop it in, i’m really sick of the videos. The type face is TOO big now, and I miss not seeing multiple horizontal transactions and the left and right column layout. Lastly, it’s great they’re all for buyer security, but they are making even more money off the sellers’ backs now by making them wait longer for their money to show up in pending, and then making even more money off the float to wait for it to transfer to users’ bank accounts. I find it hard to avoid or implement anything other than paypal into my ebay auctions, and would like to see options to accept payment for auctions that aren’t paypal. And now i have to worry about a paypal feedback rating in addition to my ebay rating? As a ‘new user’ per their newer system, my low/inexperienced rating means I need to wait 21 days for my money to show up in ‘pending’ in my account. It’s b.s.

  16. Emily Brackett | July 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks for your comment @charles. The marketplace continues to be ripe for someone to come in and grab all the PayPal haters out there. Just need someone to make it happen!

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