A baseball craze hit New York City in the summer of 1865 like an epidemic. Suddenly, a game played only in the streets by factory workers was being called a “national pastime” by local journalists. Baseball was bringing Americans together, a year later there would be sixteen area clubs formed around the sport’s first governing body.

403 miles away, a young boy was suffering from a severe case of meningitis that would eventually leave him deaf and mute, consequently changing baseball forever. William Ellsworth (Dummy) Hoy was born in Houckstown Ohio in 1862, the son of a local farmer. Years later he would graduate as the valedictorian of his high school class. Hoy like many other deaf people during the day, started a shoe repair shop afterwards. Apparently, summers in Houckstown were characterized by folk not wearing shoes. This left Hoy out of work and often bored. To fill his free time he would play baseball with the local children.

The Opportunity

One day a visitor from out of town caught sight of him playing and was impressed. Intrigued by Hoy’s natural talent in spite of his handicap, the man asked if Hoy would join his team to play against their rival Urbana the next day. Hoy agreed and showed up to play. Although the opposing team’s pitcher, Billy Hart, was professional, Hoy had no problems crushing every pitch thrown at him. The next day, Hoy closed his shop and set off to start a career in professional baseball. He was picked up by a team in Wisconsin, and eventually found his way to Cincinnati.


The future of baseball was about to change forever…

Hoy was a successful left fielder and great batter, but because of his handicap he experienced difficulties during games. For example, he wasn’t able to tell if the umpire was calling a strike or a ball. To compensate for his, Hoy would look over at the third base coach, who would make a hand signal for a strike or a ball. Eventually this practice would move to the rest of the team as a way to communicate with Hoy. Realizing the advantage of hand signals as a proprietary communication method, the Cincinnati Red Legs started using a new internal language to communicate between team members, effectively inventing the modern day baseball hand signals.

Design By Removal

Innovation can, and often does result from the removal of what is considered to be a key component. In this case, a major innovation in the sport of baseball came from a player that was missing a common component in the system, hearing. The removal of one component in the system is often a rich place for ideas. Often we are so ingrained in our current method of product or service delivery that we don’t question components that have existed as part of our industry forever.

Ally Bank & Apple Iphone – Designed By Removal

Two great examples of Design by Removal are Ally bank and Apple Iphone. Banking, in the past has been a pretty dry and stagnant industry when it comes to innovation. Ally sought to shake things up by removing a key component of the traditional banking business model, namely, the bank itself. Ally operates totally online and is able to offer higher interest rates because of low overhead. Surprisingly, they have also been ranked #1 in customer service as they are able to staff central call centers with a large & well trained staff.

In an industry that continued to ask how to add more buttons and increase features, the Iphone rocked the world when it removed the concept of a button all together. Now there is only one button on the face of an Iphone. The rest is history.

Design By Removal Exercise

The sport of baseball changed through the removal of a common component often taken for granted. What are all the components of your service? Run a scenario, or even better, prototype a case where you remove that component from your service. Be bold, question the most basic and foundational components. What did you come up with?