Anyone who has studied computer science is likely to be familiar with the unique connotation of “elegant” in the vernacular of technologists. It does not connote luxury or glamour or lavishness. It means, roughly, “the simplest, most intuitive, most technically economical design.” Programmers and designers have contests to see who can write a program using the fewest and most ideal lines of code. The winners are admired and envied, sometimes a little grudgingly.

The business world is filled with examples of elegant design, most of which are rousing commercial successes. Examples include

  • The iPhone and iPod. These devices are highly sophisticated, yet their user manuals are just a few pages long.
  • Southwest Airlines’ complex business model continues to evolve, yet customers consistently rave about the simplicity of traveling on Southwest.
  • Amazon’s One-Click online buying process is the simplest way to make an online purchase. Not enough time to change your mind!
  • While we may not like paying highway tolls, toll tags and their underlying commerce model are delightfully simple.
  • Twitter is just a text-message rebroadcaster. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Millions use it.

One common thread among these examples is widespread popularity. Make something that solves a common problem which just about anyone can use, and you have a hit on your hands. You also have a market differentiator.

In financial services, particularly in banking and P&C insurance, we have a tremendous opportunity to incorporate elegant designs into service processes, including self-service and agent-service processes. Several high-profile players have done just that, and the impact on their market presence has been predictably phenomenal.

Take a fresh look at your most frequently used service processes. Reduce steps, eliminate complexity, increase responsiveness. Customers will notice, they’ll tell others, and your bottom line will portend success.