At Simple, design is not a department. Design thinking pervades all departments.
Simple is a banking start-up from Brooklyn that saw a meteoric rise after relocating to Portland in 2011 and being acquired by Spanish finance giant BBVA in 2014. Hosting the first Designspeaks series event of 2015, they opened their doors to the public at their new space in the Pearl District and explained how design thinking itself is really the heart of Simple’s business and culture.
To a packed room of local tech players, designers and businesspeople, CEO Josh Reich discussed the three key elements that have engineered Simple’s success and growth:
- Agency - Employees of all levels are empowered to contribute to company dialogue and innovation. From developer to customer rep, employees are encouraged to comment on product features/bugs/plans and suggestions are followed through to their conclusions – sink or swim. It’s the idea that matters, and anyone can bring it.
- Customer Feedback - Similar to employee agency, customer feedback and amplifying that voice is of utmost importance. One look at Simple’s Twitter feed shows the level of interplay.
- Shared Purpose – Banking typically hinges on keeping customers n the dark and profiting off the confusion, Reich said. In fact, Simple was founded due to frustration with this model. Simple believes that making smart spending and saving choices should be easy. Everyone shares that mission.
According to Reich, approximately 65 percent of features come directly from the customer service team – an astonishingly high number for any company but especially a banking platform. The interaction is facilitated by a modified version of GitHub, which is the central command of feedback and innovation at Simple. At one point Reich shared an illustration highlighting the messy interconnected tangle of communication that goes on daily at the start-up. It was, he said, proof positive that the elements put in place were working. Each line represented connection between disparate parts of the company.
Creative Director Ian Collins opened his portion of the talk with a photo of an office directory which incorrectly, it turns out, lists Design as an existing department at Simple. Collins coded the company’s iconic logo and designed the lasercut card holder on recycled chipboard that users initially receive with their card in the mail (which doubles as a wallet). Collins also heads up a small team of creatives, including designer Jeff Walls who created dozens of original poster designs for the evening’s on-stage backdrop. Collins and Walls silkscreened the evening’s takeaway poster for attendees in-house. So it’s not strictly design-thinking on display at Simple. They’ve got the skill, too.
For more, see the Portland Business Journal‘s coverage of Design Is Not A Department – An Evening with Simple. Designspeaks partnered with Porter Panther to capture video of the evening, which will be available soon. The room and stage were lit by Henry V. Simple provided the food, drinks and presentation.
Designspeaks is a nonprofit event series exploring design within the multidisciplinary, from branding to commercial to experiential. 52 Limited is the marquee sponsor and often hosts at 52 Underground.