Decoding Design

Jack Dorsey's design strategies for Square

Jack Dorsey's design strategies for Square

Posting in Design

Clean, elegant design is more than an aesthetic for mobile-payment device maker Square--a start-up from one of Twitter's co-founders. Design is a central business strategy.

For mobile payment device company Square--the start-up from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey--trust and transparency are two values that are important both among customers and among employees. After all, Square handles some $2 billion in credit card transactions a year. So how to best encourage honesty and accountability? Well, start by using design as a core strategy.

In a January 15 post "Design Sets the Tone at a New Startup," Nick Bilton writes on the New York Times' Bits Blog that "Design, [Dorsey] believes, has the power to determine a distinct mind-set, something he needs if Square is to succeed as a mobile payment system."

So what are the design tactics that Dorsey has used to fashion his new company's sense of trust and transparency?

  • Square borrows from the design cues of traditional, bricks-and-mortar financial institutions. Its sturdy-looking, square-shaped device that reads credit cards and plugs into smartphone headphone jacks recalls the angular, strong-looking lines found in banks and U.S. Mint buildings
  • Square aims to create an ultra-simple transaction experience, because “We need to build something that never gets in the way of our users doing what they want to do,” Dorsey said to Bilton in an interview
  • Square needs to convey trust immediately via product design, because as a start-up it can't compete with established banks such as JPMorganChase, which has invested in numerous television ads to promote its mobile banking offerings

As Bilton points out, although Square has attracted a million customers, this is only a fraction of the number of stores and other businesses accepting credit cards. Could using streamlined design really work to woo more merchants to a smartphone payment system? After all, clean design worked to sell smartphones--like the iPhone--themselves. Perhaps Square will become another example of the power of elegantly formed and easy-to-use equipment. Of course the proof will be easy to come by, in the numbers of transactions made via Square and its units sold.

Image: Square

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure