Venmo: Split the Bill

*Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Venmo. All logos and trademarks belong to Venmo. This case study was a hypothetical design exploration.*


Splitting the bill is the pain. What if Venmo incorporated a split the bill feature, so as to lessen the hassle and increase precision of charging friends?


I love Venmo. I really, really do.

Yet every time I go out to eat, my friends and I run into this exact same scenario. One brave soul has to go ahead and whip out his or her credit card (usually it’s the more affluent of the bunch), and foot the bill for everyone.

Now when it’s two people, it usually isn’t that big of a deal-- we take out Venmo, split the bill evenly, and go our merry ways (assuming that neither of us are sticklers for pennies and have not ordered dishes that are too uneven in price). Yet once the party largens, it becomes much more difficult. Were there people who split an appetizer? Would it do justice to those that ordered cheaper dishes to split the bill evenly amongst a party of 5+ people? How will the person putting down his or her credit card not end up too many dollars short?

The Competitive Landscape

Thanks to a variety of different apps, it’s become slightly easier to decide on a fair amount to split the bill (Plates, Splitwise, etc.). However, Plates is not connected to Venmo-- which requires quite a bit of brainpower (or a pen & paper, which people usually don’t carry around to restaurants) to remember exact charges for any party larger than 3, and Splitwise was not built with dining in mind (it is much more geared towards once-a-month type of situations, such as dividing rent, etc.). Given these shortcomings in the most popular split-the-bill apps on the market, I started thinking about how we could avoid the problem of app-hopping at the restaurant, or having one person do a lot of the legwork once they returned home and potentially not ever receiving their money back.

User Interviews

Given the SF intern lifestyle, I spent a lot of time eating out with friends in the summer of 2017. I took this as an opportunity to conduct impromptu discussions with friends on their habits on splitting the bill & avoiding awkwardness when it comes to such nuanced group dining billing habits. I was particularly interested in 3 main aspects:

1) How important accuracy was in splitting the bill, and what they perceived as a ‘fair’ calculation, especially when it came to tax and tip

2) Their levels of immediacy when charging/paying after a meal with a group of friends

3) Their biggest pain points when it came to splitting the bill in a group


Usually, one of three types of personas started to emerge:

1) The ‘very precise’ person: This person cares about ‘not getting screwed over’ by his/her friends’ carelessness when it comes to the bill. They’ll pay, document the receipt (usually by taking a picture), then go home and message each individual of the party separately to identify what they got, before doing the math with some sort of calculator (extremes tend to like spreadsheets, whilst others rely on google + pen and paper). They will rarely (if ever) forget to charge, and usually have some sort of nice cash back / point system on their credit card, which softens the blow of putting down the first payment.

2) The ‘I’ll eyeball it’ person: This person does not care about a couple of cents difference, much to the ‘very precise’ person’s dismay. They’ll usually tack on a couple of bucks for tax and tip, and depending on their mood, they’ll either be more generous or more stingy with the amount they add in. After deciding on a ‘fair number’, they’ll proceed to immediately pay their friend who put down their card / charge their friend, as to avoid forgetting later.

3) The ‘Charge me, I don’t have data’ person: This person is much less careful when it comes to paying, and oftentimes is hunted down by different parties to pay their venmo bills. Usually, this person also has a very limited data plan/ terrible cell service, and will refrain from picking up their phone to pay their dues immediately.

Usually in any given group, all three personas were present. These different attitudes towards paying lead to some buried resentment (which built up over time to a lot of ‘reminders’ on Venmo and less eating out with certain friends) from different parties, unless the ‘very precise’ person was the one taking the lead to split everything in the most fair way possible. Yet with these different dynamics at play, I sought to see whether the latter two personas would be willing to adopt a more precise calculation, should there be an easy way to do so within venmo. Overwhelmingly, the response was yes-- the lack of attention towards precision was mostly due to a drive for speed and laziness.

Design Process

Given these three very different personas, I started thinking about how I could augment Venmo’s current charge/pay feature to allow for a streamlined split the bill action, and provide an immediate, easy way to complete the transactions at the dining table. From my discussions with my friends over the course of at least 10 dinners, I found that the majority of people preferred to pay/charge immediately, to lessen the possibility of forgetting their dues later. I also designed primarily for the mobile app (on iOS), as this was meant to be a quick and simple way to split the bill at the table, at restaurants where most receipts are printed (rather than handwritten).

I employed a brute force methodology over the course of 3 days to design and iterate quickly upon ideas. After each stage of fidelity (sometimes multiple times within one round), I sent it out to my friends to gather feedback and make changes.

For the most part, I adopted Venmo's style guide, and made a couple of small modifications in UI patterns to better incorporate the concept of groups within Venmo.

Mapping out the current flow

Venmo's current flow was quite simple and easy to understand, but with one flaw-- with the auto next after entering a recipient, it prevented users from understanding that group charges (of the same amount) were possible. I did not even discover this feature until after going through multiple online articles.

New flow

I developed a similar flow to Venmo's current flow, so as to not cause confusion between too dissimilar interaction patterns. However, I initially implemented two "blockers", one to prevent the auto next after adding recipients, and one at the beginning, where users would have to select from a group/individual charge. I later found that this additional blocker was unnecessary, which I will explain later.

Brute Force Iterations

Some questions that I explored during the comp stage included: whether matching an order to a person made more sense, or matching a person to an order; whether there should be a 'blocker' so that group charges were distinguished from individual pay/requests, and how to indicate the existence of previous groups.

Moving into higher fidelity, I explored different button styles, toggles between group and individual, and placement of the 'tray of people'. I also thought about how to incorporate shortcuts for splitting amongst the entire group, and how to visualize split evenly while keeping a record of the charges.

Round 1: Static Screen Feedback

After a couple of conversations with people, I was able to combine a couple of promising screens together into a quick mock to send out to different people for feedback. You can see the image I sent below.

During this round of feedback, the group creation process, splitting singular items and hierarchy of secondary actions such as adding tip were debated. Thanks to some insightful feedback, I made modifications to the flow as well as the UI on the last two screens, before going into the next stage.

Confusion on Groups v Individual: A handful of friends pointed out that having to select groups or individual ahead of the charge did fit their mental model, but was unnecessary. Instead of creating a categorization early on, they preferred to just have the option to enter in names continuously, much like the pattern on Facebook Messenger. I decided this would help simplify the group creation process, and ended up adopting a similar pattern-- by typing more names, the CTA would automatically change.

Hierarchy of Split Evenly & Tip Percentage: Another common question that popped up was confusion around whether turning the "split evenly" toggle on would trigger anything within the current layout in the Assign screen. In addition, the placement of tip percentage did not seem to clearly indicate that the dollar amount for each individual would change. These two areas of confusion clearly pointed to a need for rearranging the heirarchy-- by moving these two actions up towards the top of the page and standardizing their position, it would better fit the mental model of action> result in the Assign and Confirm pages.

Can it be split?: Some additional insightful feedback was that after assigning one user to a dish, it was not clear whether additional people could be dragged on (reference the Assign screen). I thus decided to add an indicator (a circle with dashes) in the following version, to signal that there was a possibility for extending the number of people assigned to each dish.

Round 2: Incorporating Motion for Feedback

Given the first round of feedback, I brought in motion to further validate my concepts, as the drag and drop motion was a key characteristic of my design. Here's a complete walkthrough of a demo I sent out for round 2 of feedback. This video demonstrates how a user would initiate a split bill action, and continue on to charging each individual.

After animating my prototype, I was able to hone in on finessing more specific details (micro interactions). The modifications were slight, but still helped further this prototype to become more polished.

One Dish, Multiple People: In this version of my prototype, many friends brought up the use case of what would happen if more than two people split a dish. In my initial considerations, I had made the assumption that usually only 2 people at most split a dish, and therefore had removed the dashed circle indicator after 2 people were assigned. This proved to be a wrongful assumption, and I decided to go with a continuation of extending the circle further right should there be multiple people splitting a dish. However, it was also interesting to consider whether there was a certain number at which this would not be meaningful, and if people would simply opt to split evenly amongst all dinner guests at a certain level of complexity.

Distinguishing Yourself: In the confirm screen, many users pointed out confusion as to whether they themselves would receive a charge. This was both a content issue and hierarchy issue, as I had placed the charger themself into the listing of friends. I chose to distinguish this more clearly in the final iteration, first moving it to the top and changing the name to "You". I also discussed with my testers whether there was any value in showing the charger in the list, and most people agreed that seeing how much they spent in comparison to their friends was a useful piece of information when charging.

Final Version: Key Interactions

In the following three videos, I've broken down the key actions refined after gathering feedback on the prior video: Creating a Group, Scan Receipt, and Split Evenly. Based on the feedback from round 1, I decided to go with a more intuitive "create group", so that once more names were typed, the CTA would automatically transform into group-relevant CTAs, and the user would not have to switch between group-individual through an additional tap. For scanning receipt, I added in an indicator light so as to clarify when list items were aligned properly. In Split Evenly, I opted to hide the components that allowed for drag and drop, so that users could maintain a record of the receipt but still charge evenly.

In the next three videos, I've broken down the key actions of: Editing a Scanned Charge, Assigning People to Items, and Changing the Tip Percentage. Since OCR is not the most reliable technology, I thought it'd be best to safeguard against wrongful scanning by allowing for editing capabilities. In the drag and drop assign feature, users are able to easily split one item amongst multiple people, and keep track of number of dishes per person in the bottom tray. For tipping, I decided against a slider, instead opting for a tiered tipping system with a custom field, so that the most common percentages could easily be pulled and changed (default to 15%).

Closing Thoughts

This project is currently still in progress! Additional things I’m exploring include how to simplify the group creation process (proximity sensing?), and changing the interaction pattern for charge.

Special thanks to my friends Phillip, Mojia, Jenny, Roshan, Andy, Mika, Brandon, and Sherrie for letting me bug them with a million questions about their venmo behaviors.

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