Co.Design

At Square, Jack Dorsey and Keith Rabois Are OCD About Design

Having just raised $28 million for their pay-by-iPhone technology, the company's founders are still maniacs for refining their product's design.

"Literally, in three minutes you can be ready to go and accept your first credit card payment," says Keith Rabois, COO of Square, the mobile card swiping tool for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. "We have a joke internally where we track the fastest record holder, and people are starting to get sub-three minute times."

Rabois, along with Square's CEO Jack Dorsey, are laser-focused on design, both for the product itself and the software behind it. It's one reason why the San Francisco-based company is doing so well, having just closed a $27.5 million funding round last month. Now, the service is growing by roughly 60,000 to 70,000 new merchants a month, and the company plans to triple its design and development force in the coming year.

[Dorsey, best known at the co-founder of Twitter, speaks about Square.]

"Jack and I are both pixel-perfect people--the product can always be better," Rabois says. "There are things about the product that infuriate me, and there's always this obsessive compulsive [tendency]. Why does the product not do this? Why does a user have to do that? Can't we make it only two minutes to sign up instead of three? One minute instead of two?"

Square--a simple, sleek, iPod-white device--does more than help streamline signups with its intuitive design. The device, which looks more Chiclet than hardware, also helps lower costs.

Rabois, formerly of Slide and LinkedIn, says lowering manufacturing costs was crucial, since they're giving Square away to merchants for free.

"The reason why we can afford to give these things away is that these things can be manufactured in scale at a reasonable cost," he explains. "Part of the magic is the design--the elegance in the design."

While traditional point-of-sale devices can cost anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000, Square is a free app that provides more accessible data for merchants with far less friction. Rabois says Square was designed to be the "Google Analytics" of small- to medium-size businesses, and unlike traditional POS systems, the app's simple dashboard design takes virtually no training to understand. All sales are tracked to the Nth degree, enabling merchants to easily compare, for example, their price of a cappuccino to a local competitor's, to the neighborhood cafes', or to the city's coffee shops as a whole.

What's more, Square's design has helped boost consumers' perception of the product's safety. Traditional card readers are designed for utility: think of the rugged and bland swipers often found in corner bodegas, where PIN numbers are dialed in on what looks to be some 1980s-style calculator. Square's design conveys a mass-consumer appeal lacking among competitors--it's a visual way of signaling to customers that the device is trustworthy.

"Design matters in security--the more well constructed a product is, the more people trust it," Rabois says. "If you see a broken window on a storefront, you think that store is kind of sketchy."

That's especially important for a new market technology like Square, which consumers might be less willing to swipe their credit cards through on some random mom-and-pop store's iPad.

"If something looks well designed, it appeals to people," he adds. "They understand that a lot of care went into it, and that helps--it's the best way to ease concerns."

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