Rebuilding payroll 01

Founding designer, Zeal
As founding designer, I was instrumental in building a reimagined payroll product from the ground up.

The result was a 16x increase in weekly active users and a $1.5 million USD increase in daily processed monetary value within 6 months post-launch.

As of spring 2024, Zeal is a Series B startup that provides medium to large businesses the ability to manage payroll and adjacent tasks for their employees.

I joined Zeal as its founding designer when it was a Series A, where I was instrumental in developing its design foundation, including its star product, payroll.

The problem

The payroll product we offered had been inadequately researched, leading to confusion and churn

The product team, including myself, had our suspicions as to why this was the case. Despite Zeal owning a suite of money movement products, only Payroll had been designed, however informally. 

This was the extent Zeal’s payroll design, which provides an oversimplified, linear payroll journey with limited user validation or support. Visually, it is low contrast and hard to read. 
This was the extent of Zeal’s product design system, which did not meet the needs of a complex software like payroll.

We also had to consider a painpoint specific to Zeal: it could only run a limited number of paychecks at a time, causing payroll to be super inefficient

In other words, Zeal ran payroll on a check by check basis, which is a very inefficient way of running payroll no matter what the company size. Most customers had between 100 to some thousands of employees.

This, in addition to a poor front-end experience, was causing customers to churn.

We conducted competitor research to understand how payroll could be solved 

Zeal is a B2B2C company, which meant that my team and I did not have direct communication with end users. This made research all the more important— we needed to learn what payroll software looks like on the market and leverage those solutions for Zeal’s business.

A look into our research on Gusto. We conducted research by finding whatever images of competitor products as we could, mapping them out and annotating them accordingly.

The solution
Based on these findings, the product team and I determined that in order for Zeal to be competitive in the market, both payroll’s front- and back-end needed to be redesigned.

We pitched our ideas within a Product Requirements Doc, which outlined a three-pronged solution:

Our Product Requirements Doc, or PRD. Here the product team outlined the problems payroll was facing and a detailed strategy to resolve them over time. 

1. Streamlining the payroll experience

The original payroll experience forced users to operate linearly, not accounting for potential errors or navigation mistakes. As we strategized how to re-architect payroll, we considered ways in which we could streamline this experience in a way that didn’t leave users feeling trapped. 

Annotations on old screens
UX layouts 
New payroll flow explorations

But we also needed to prioritize an experience that provided a technically feasible MVP. We had to take into account a limited engineering bandwidth due to their focus on making check processing more efficient.

2. Founding a design system alongside development

Zeal’s original design system was both sparse and restrictive. The system was too small to accommodate a complex experience like payroll, and it lacked any sort of guidance to ensure best practices.

I had experience building design systems, so I had an idea based off of Zeal’s product what the baseline system needed to be.

3. Developing a ‘product voice’ to unify payroll with the rest of the product and the Zeal brand

There were many instances where our product language didn’t put forth the professional and knowledgable persona Zeal wanted within the industry. When the team and I annotated competitor’s screens, we also annotated our own, keeping track of when language failed customers or just didn’t make sense.

It was important to me that customers weren’t expected to be payroll experts. Zeal’s software should guide customers to accomplish their goals, and language plays a major part of that. 

Many money movement products utilize a type of jargon that don’t inspire confidence. I felt strongly that we should rethink how payroll could be communicated to everyday people. 

Christina Glass, Zeal’s brand designer, and I teamed up to determine a consistent voice and grammar for all areas of the business, including both the marketing and product realm. 

And it paid off. Adopting a consistent and concise voice greatly improved navigability and trust— reducing ghost and rage clicks by 80% within 6 months of its full implementation*

*data pulled from FullStory


Payroll experienced a 16x increase in weekly active users and a $1.5 million USD increase in daily processed monetary value within 6 months post-launch

Rebuilding payroll proved to be a successful and educational endeavor, reviving customer interest and generating substantial revenue for the company. 

The team and I kept track of customer behavior within payroll during and after launch via FullStory, which is the software we also used to test our design system components.