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Why Simplicity is Now Table Stakes in Business

In an experience economy, the role of simplicity becomes center stage in differentiating your product in a red ocean.  Everywhere you look, there are radical opportunities for simplification that are driving customers way and disrupting traditional businesses.

Yes, simplification is no longer an option in business.   The consumer has spoken in a very clear voice, putting experience as one of their primary criteria to choosing one product or service over another.  When it comes to creating new value, bringing a unique and simplified approach and differentiating through good design that keeps the user front-and-center, is propelling some companies to new heights, allowing them to disrupt entire industries by creating value through a simplified experience.

Square, one of the fastest growing companies in payments, designed their product by observing just how cumbersome it is for both sellers and consumers to make a payment with their credit card.  Today, most smaller businesses who want to accept credit cards have to apply to become a merchant, rent bulky payment terminals that require a phone or data connection, pay ongoing maintenance and network fees, and offer user-interface that looks like it was designed in the 19th century.  Once the equipment is setup, the process to accept a payment involves way too many steps for both the merchant and the buyer.  Keying information into the register, re-keying the amount from the cash register to the credit card terminal collect the famous autograph and issue a receipt.   It is so painful, we’ve almost come to accept it as a norm, until     Jack Dorsey, who founded Square, saw the frustration causes by an activity, which should inherently be simple and actually radically simplified it for both the merchant and the buyer.    For the merchant, it only takes a couple days to sign up and receive the free card reader that plugs into a phone or tablet, for the buyer, payments are a breeze.   Sales are transacted without a hitch, receipts are issued via SMS or email and the time spent at the register is cut by half.  Any wonder why 2+ million businesses are using square to process nearly $20 billion in annual payments?  Should global payment giants be worried?  I would be, if I were them.


Another example is Nest, which was recently acquired by Google for $3.2B.  Nest’s first product, designed by former Apple executive Tony Fadell (best known for inventing the iPod), completely re-imagined the complex, clunky programmable thermostat.   The Nest thermostat not only saves heating and cooling costs, but also learns the temps you like, turns itself down when you’re away, and has remote control through Wi-Fi.  With a price of 2.5 times the cost of a regular programmable thermostat, Nest sold out its entire launch inventory in just one week.  If you were the global leader in thermostats, would you be worried?  They are.

Aaron Levie, founder of, summed it up really well in this blog.   Levie says, “If you’re making the customer do any extra amount of work, no matter what industry you call home, you’re now a target for disruption”.   The evidence of embracing simplicity and experience design is becoming even clearer as a recent study by the Design Management Institute, has actually quantified the superior results delivered by design-driven organizations.  In the past 10 years, companies who put emphasis on experience design outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 by a whopping 228%.   All of this summed up, starts to frame a fairly compelling story.   Simplicity is no longer a choice, it is a must.

There is little doubt we are living in an increasingly complex world, but in a world more complicated than ever before, simplicity not only opens up new windows of opportunity, but is rapidly becoming table-stakes.

Image credit: Raining Rita/Flickr

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