Google Hands Free

Pay without taking out your phone or wallet


My Role

I was the first designer that brought the product from zero to one with a product manager and several engineers. I also provided creative direction to two external agencies that created animations and sound effects.


The Problem

A team at Google developed a new algorithm that enabled proximity detection and asked teams to develop products with it. The Payments team came up with Hands Free, a payment service that used proximity to enable payment. While the availability of a new technology isn’t the best premise to start a new product, I still tried my best to identify people problems it could solve.

After some research and brainstorming with the team, the two problems we’ve decided to focus on were:

  • Brick and mortar store merchants don’t know their customers

  • Routine purchases are not rewarding for consumers


Creating a Vision

We were understaffed in terms of design and I needed time and space to work on a design vision. To get ahead, I ran a design sprint and leveraged help from designers across the Commerce org.

After a few days of sprinting, the basic user story we came up with was this – 

Kelly is a budget-conscious 23 year old that lives in NYC. She gets a cup of Skinny Vanilla Latte everyday from Johnny Teacakes on her way to work. One day, she noticed an ad for a new payment service at the cafe while waiting in line. She can download an app, put in her payment information, and pay by just saying “I’ll pay with Google” at the cashier. Also, as an incentive for trying out this new app, she’ll get $5 towards her first purchase. She downloads the app, puts in her payment info, walks up to the cashier, pays, and walks away with her coffee. She receives a payment confirmation notification later and a link to join the rewards program.

We prototyped and tested on Day 4 with a few research participants. A few problems were uncovered:

  • People will not download and install an app for $5

  • App download took too long and was still in progress when they got to the cashier

  • People don’t see a lot of value gained in not having to take out their wallet or phone to pay

People told us during research that although they won’t download and install an app for $5, they will do it to skip the line. This was a very significant insight as monetary incentive would be very costly for the company (although a tactic used by many teams). I prototyped a design where people can quickly re-ordered to skip the line when they get to the cafe.

The sprint was very successful and I took all the ideas and began designing our MVP for research.


Research & MVP


I mocked up a quick prototype and went on a research trip in LA. The trip included visits to small cafes and large retail chains. The smaller shops already had a few devices at their counter – store terminal, rewards program, etc. The larger stores have very outdated computers and welcomed any upgrades.


Employee Dogfood


I incorporated the designs into our employee dogfood app and launched our pilot testing at the Google store on campus. There were two apps, one for merchants and another for consumers, and the two apps detected each other via BLE. I designed an on-boarding flow to teach people how to use the service.

Google Wallet users can connect their account and use their stored payment info. As an option, they can specify whether a confirmation is required for purchases. This setting didn’t exist before because we wanted a smooth and seamless transaction experience. However, I added it after speaking with some parents who said they won’t use this app without this option because their kids will just buy whatever they want.


Merchants will be ready to receive payment once they’ve installed our app. They will need to see a list of nearby users (who have opted into our services), enter an amount and charge them.


There were a few problems that cashiers encountered. First, cashiers can’t match the person in front of them to the profile pictures in the app. Even though the images are large enough, people look different! They might be wearing sunglasses, makeup, or got a different haircut. We also can’t force people to use their face as their profile image.


We then experimented with a few ideas:

  • Initials

  • Name

  • Phone Number

We eventually went with the phone number design. We thought that a phone number will take the longest to exchange. However, when people say initials, they usually have to be very clear (e.g., C for Cat). Names are better than initials and cafes like Starbucks already asks for names. However, when it’s used for payment, cashiers have to ask for confirmation because the margin of error is higher or there could be two customers with the same name nearby (in that case we will be violating the other person’s privacy if we turn the terminal around and ask the customer which Tom they are).