Visual Explorations – Square's Lingo
Every brand has a visual language that is used to construct it’s identity. At Lingo, a visual asset manager for teams, we’re fascinated by the stories behind these visual languages. Because of this we’re interviewing some of the amazing brand’s in our community so we can share their visual voice with you! The next customer we’re profiling today is Square, a simple payment tool that allows every kind of business to securely swipe all major credit cards anywhere.
How would you explain Square’s visual language?
Simple, flexible, clean, and accessible. We strive to make our interfaces easy to understand, trying to limit how much additional explanation is needed and as few extensive “walk-through” tutorials as possible.
What was the main inspiration behind your visual aesthetic?
We’re inspired by our sellers and the work they do, and we endeavor to serve them. A lot of our designs are built to serve their needs and the needs of potentially new customers. We adorn our office with seller photography, and bring our sellers to our offices through pop-up events, speaker series, and insight emails and presentations that are shared with all employees.
We noticed that Square employs mostly photography when talking about the customer or payment experience. Can you walk us through some of the decision making behind this catalog of images?
We put our sellers first, always. It’s important that they’re front-and-center in our marketing materials as well. Extending our marketing power to a seller could have a meaningful impact in their business. A seller highlighted in a national marketing campaign could see an increase in sales, and when our sellers grow, we grow. It also builds trust for prospective customers, they don’t hear how helpful our products are to a business from us, but from people that benefit from and use our products.
What are some of the challenges of extending the Square brand into a very focused touch point like an investor report or infographic?
Designing investor relations materials is really interesting because there isn’t a lot of attention to the design work happening in this space currently. There is a history of amazing annual reports, which usually get a lot of love, but quarterly financial statements often come from Microsoft Word default styles and attached spreadsheets. Introducing colors has been both a fun exploration and a great challenge. Some colors, like red and green, have existing meaning to an investor and analyst audience. It’s reminiscent of the lessons we’ve learned launching in other markets; a color may have a significantly different meaning to sellers in a country like Japan.
How are you using Lingo?
Our design groups are embedded in teams all over the company. The marketing creative group has developed a unified icon library and color palette that are used across our website, seller dashboard, in-app product screens, communications design, and more. Since the icons are primarily created for the web they’ve all been saved out as SVGs. But since so many of our designers are working on different projects—in different applications—we need dynamic file types. For example, the Communications designers spend about a third of their time in Keynote, which doesn’t support SVGs. So Lingo is great for this; it makes file cuts available in various formats automatically. A few of us also use Lingo as a shared inspiration board. With a sub-folder for each of us, we drop in imagery that we like and seamlessly create collaborative mood boards. It’s more effective for us than purpose-built tools like Pinterest, and is something we have open and in front of us every day.
How do you see your visual language growing over the next five years?
That’s a great question! As we said before, we focus on simplicity and ease-of-use for our sellers. We want to give time back to our customers, so if a retailer can hire a new employee and within a few minutes that person is using Square Register to make a sale then we’re doing right by them. We work hard to make our products intuitive and reduce barriers to entry. Five years from now, we’ll have added more products, features, and tools for sellers, so the goal will be to continue to add functionality while reducing complexity—and more importantly, give time back.
We work to have the freedom to explore what works best for individual customers of each of our product segments. For example, Square Cash is geared toward a different audience than our analytics dashboard that's available to anyone running their business with Square, thus they look very different. And we believe they will continue to diverge and intersect over the next five years along with our customer bases.
What are your must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?
- “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon MacKenzie. Incredibly entertaining.
- “Failed It!” by Erik Kessels. Short, refreshing, and a great reminder.
- “Design is a Job” by Mike Monteiro. No bullshit, seriously sound advice.
- “Several Short Sentences About Writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Every designer should write well.
- “Thinking with Type” by Ellen Lupton. Keep it on your desk, reference frequently.
- Dear Design Student, good reminders.
- the design team, beautiful and relatable.
- InVision, favorite email newsletter.
- GV Library, a lot of good stuff in here.
- The Year of the Looking Glass, because Julie Zhuo is a hero.
- The Apartment, smart tips from people like Femke of Design Life and Atomic.
- Design Life, inspiring, fun, and relatable. Focused on freelancers, but often universal.