A Digital KISS

The acronym KISS was first coined by Kelly Johnson, one of the most prolific aircraft design engineers in the history of aviation. Most people correctly translate this phrase as “Keep it simple, stupid” and assume it pertains to communications. For Johnson, however, it was a pointed reminder that people want products and services that are easy to learn and use. Focusing on this groundbreaking principle led to the development of the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, among many other world-renowned aircraft.

For Johnson and his team, simplicity was the key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity was to be avoided at all costs. Consumers certainly agree. Who among us doesn’t seek products, services, and experiences that make our lives simpler and less complex?

My company’s recently published Global Brand Simplicity Index uncovered in dollar terms just how much value consumers actually place on simplicity. This study showed that industries as diverse as grocery, technology, auto, fitness, banking, and train travel are leaving more than $25 billion on the table by not making their products and services simpler for consumers.

The business implications of this are actually encouraging. In an era when meaningful differentiation is hard to come by, and supply chain and ingredient costs are rising around the globe, the survey identifies real opportunities to create product demand while gaining pricing power and enhancing profit margins.

Of course, the challenge today is to enhance competitive position without increasing production costs. Innovative answers to that toughie can often be found in digital channels. Here are some ideas my design teams have suggested that could entice customers to pay more for products or services by adding utility and simplicity.

Grocery Stores

Cutting grocery bills and spending less time pushing around an overflowing cart are the goals of every weekly shopper, who would surely appreciate the opportunity to utilize these digital applications.

  • A cellphone or smartphone app that scans bar codes of products in the aisles of the store. By the time a customer pays, the stockroom has already bagged the order.
  • An online calculator that allows consumers to compare the unit prices of similar items.
  • Apps that display scannable coupons on smartphones.

Gyms/Fitness Centers

Staying motivated is often the hardest part of the gym experience. The digital solutions below can help even the most hardcore athletes maintain consistent workouts and improve their fitness.

  • An online personal trainer that provides new workouts every week based on selected preferences or goals.
  • Gym-specific apps that demonstrate different workouts using only machines found in that gym or that count calories based on classes taken, machines used, and length of workouts.
  • Interactive online profiles that demonstrate how a person’s gym attendance increased or decreased over time, and how it compares to other members.

Train Travel (Amtrak, Commuter Trains)

According to a recent survey from Orbitz¸ travelers are demanding flexibility and efficiency as well as cost savings. The applications below could help tourists and road warriors alike avoid the aggravation of long lines and late trains.

  • Mobile apps to buy and display a ticket using an iPhone or handheld device.
  • Mobile apps and e-boarding passes integrated with an expanded customer rewards program.
  • Live train tracking and arrival times.
  • Interactive city guides for travelers visiting new cities.


We love our cars, but who can remember the last time the brakes were checked? And there is nothing worse than the lack of transparency surrounding the in-showroom purchase process. Here are a few tools that could help avoid these frustrating car-related moments.

  • Mobile apps containing car manuals and repair information (recommended tire pressure, oil levels, and perhaps a link to the onboard computer).
  • Interactive displays for browsing optional features and various models.
  • An app or digital channel that lists car specs and offers prices for dealers to review and accept.

It’s my belief that there is significant opportunity for brands the world over to bake more simplicity into their customer experience. Keeping it simple is smart.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.