Jack Dorsey is the creator and executive chairman of the popular communications network Twitter. In 2009, he cofounded another company, called Square, which lets people accept credit-card payments with their smart phones. (See our March/April cover story on Square, “The New Money.”) At both ventures he emphasizes the importance of good design; there is probably no aspect of product development he values more. But design for Dorsey has a very particular meaning. He does not stress the visual components of design; he is happy enough if a product’s typography is simple and straightforward. Instead, Dorsey emphasizes the user’s experience—and believes that the measure of good design is that it should “fade away,” allowing the user to find serendipity in 140-character microblogs, or to quickly buy a cup of coffee with a credit card. Dorsey spoke to Technology Review’s editor in chief, Jason Pontin, at Square’s San Francisco headquarters.
TR: What is good design?
Dorsey: A good design is naturally transparent.
How so? When you talk about Twitter and Square, you sometimes speak about beauty, which is not the first word many associate with software. What does “transparent” beauty look like in a website or smart-phone application?
I think a lot of folks consider design to be a purely visual thing, like the layout of text on a can of Japanese tea; but to me, design is not visual but editorial. I ask, “What can we take away to get to the essence of what we’re trying to do?” What we’re trying to do with Square is accept payments. That’s it, simply. So we want to remove every point of friction between a user and his or her desire to get paid.
Good design disappears from the user’s point of view?
What I really love about a well-designed product is that you don’t think about it. It just becomes background.
You mean that how a product is used should be intuitively obvious.
Exactly. The phone in front of you on the table doesn’t have an Apple logo on its face. You know it’s an Apple phone because it’s so well built and has certain design characteristics. But when you’re actually using it, the phone fades away. It’s all about communications or the content. I want that for Twitter, too, so that when you’re using the service, you get the immediate value. If Kanye West is your thing, then Twitter fades away and it’s just Kanye.
Square is the same way. We have two sides we have to address. We have the merchant side—our users—and there are their users, the actual customers. We want the experience to be amazingly simple and beautiful for our users so that they never have to think about taking a payment: they’re just focused on selling whatever value they have. For the customer, I want it to be equally simple: I should be able to walk into a coffee store and order a cappuccino, enjoy it, and then walk out and eventually question if I’ve paid or not. It should feel that effortless.