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Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity

Alan Siegel's latest book shows what business can learn from simplicity and good design

by James Thorne in Culture on 03 May 2013

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Designers are more than floor lamps and logos—first and foremost, they are problem solvers. When Alan Siegel began his career in corporate design, he saw a problem with complexity. He saw insurance forms that were incomprehensible to policy holders and financial contracts that befuddled retirees. His first act as a pioneer of simplicity came in the form of an installment loan that was rewritten in plain English for Citibank in 1975. In doing so, Siegel was able to produce a document that empowered floor representatives with an easy-to-understand contract and gave peace of mind to customers.

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"The idea didn't come out of a management consulting firm, an advertising agency or a PR firm–it came out of a design firm," says Siegel. "I think the resurgence that design is having in our society and business is in recognition of the difference that designers can make in problem solving." Siegel's most recent book—written alongside Irene Etzkorn, executive director at Siegel + Gale—explores how principles of good design can make for societal change when applied to fields like health care and personal finance.

"Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity" is a case study in how clarity and openness can benefit organizations across the board. For Siegel, the starting point is empathy: understand the needs of the client or customer, and tailor your product around those needs. He sees jargon as a ploy that companies use to give themselves prestige, but recently companies have proved the value of straight-forward information and gained significant market shares in the process.

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In cutting down shopping choice, Trader Joe's did a service to the busy customer. Mayor Bloomberg gave NYC residents access to all local service departments through a single 311 phone number. Steve Jobs repeatedly squelched the impulse to enter new markets in order to focus on what was really important. Examples abound, but the core principles of clarity, empathy and distillation remain the same.

Required reading for designers and corporate strategists alike, "Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity" is available from Amazon.

Images by James Thorne

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