Twitter Facebook Dribbble

Category “Business”

Brand x Product

Right now I’m working on a couple of design challenges for Tiller that sit right in the center of Brand and Product. I want to share some of the work-in-progress stuff because I think it’s an important and difficult part of any good product.

I’m exploring some solutions to the user onboarding flow and also some empty states, but I’m just going to focus on one specific empty state.


Quick Background

Tiller is a product that uses a combination of dedicated hardware and a macOS and Windows app to help people record what they do with their time. The main interface is a scrollable list of things you want to record time for (clients, projects etc.) that appears on your screen when you touch our device. It currently looks like this:


The Problem

The list is designed so that the item that is in the center of the screen is the thing you can ‘select’ to record time against. When a customer opens their list for the first time, there is this blank empty white area at the top because we put the top  item in the center.

In a couple of recent user interviews, some people asked if this area was meant to be blank and suggested we could use that space to communicate something to the customer or add some more valuable info.

This isn’t technically an empty or loading state, but I do find myself agreeing with these people that it does seem like an opporunity to add something to the product. It at least feels like something worth exploring.

Trying to understand what could go in that space and how it would be styled and presented is also thought experiemnt.


Brand x Product

Over the last few years working on Tiller and various client products, we regularly run into questions like, which colours should we use, what style of photos, which typefaces and what should the tone of the copy be?

These are not really product or architectual or structual questions, they are about how a product will feel and less about how a product will actually work.

The best product teams nwo days pay very close attention to both.

I would say that our teams DNA is certinaly more in the ‘how something works’ camp than it is in the ‘how something feels’, but I also think we have a huge amount of respeect for that part of the product creation process.


Tiller – Works vs. Feels

At it’s core, Tiller is very much about improving how something works. A lot of the value in the product comes from reducing the number of interactions it takes to complete a specific task (recording your time). By design, it’s as fast and frictionless as possible.

But, we also have a vision for how we think Tiller should feel. What Tiller’s point of view is about the role it plays in a customers life. This is still something that is growing, evolving and being refined, but the pulse is well and truly there.


Product Feels

I’m by no means a branding expert, but I do believe that a companies brand should be routed in what it does and does not beleive in.

When I started tackling the problem earlier tonight I wrote down the following bits about what I think we (and Tiller) believe:

  • Doing one thing well is good and important
  • Time passes and that is okay
  • People want to measure time for various reasons
  • Good work takes time
  • We don’t want you to feel pressured or stressed about recording your time
  • We exisit to make something that is difficult easy and maybe even fun
  • You should set your own pace
  • Always on is a turn off
  • Some information is better than none
  • Slower is sometimes faster
  • Notifications are distractions disguised as work
  • Switching is expensive
  • New things can be beautiful, but they wont be by default

I’ve just ended up adding a bunch to my origional list. It’s not perfect, but I think there is a tone in there that can be used to help set up the thinking for what could go in that space in the timer list (assuming we do end up putting anything in there).


Technical Considerations

Below I’m going to share some visual exploration that I went through while trying to define what we would put in the empty space in the list.

It’s important to note though that while I was exploring different options I was also considering a couple of implementation and usage considerations that did have an impact on what I ended up inclduing.

  1. Frequency of use – We know that some people switch between many timers through out a day. Therefore, this particular screen is something that people could be seeing 10+ times per day. So whatever we put in there probably needs to not be too static. It might need to be updated each day so that it doesn’t become boring and loose it’s impact.
  2. Source of Content – While this could be an important part of the product, it is by no means our key differentiator. If we want to use an illustration there, we can’t justify paying someone to draw a new image every day. Whatever the outcome, it needs to be scalabe and viable.
  3. Speed and Load Times – Some of the ideas I explored involved using images which I do think ended up looking pretty interesting. One concern though is how using them would impact the time it would take to bring the UI up compared to if we went with a typographic option.


Visual Exploration

[insert context on this]

Thoughts Voice Interfaces in Hotels

Last week Amazon announced that they are going to launch a custom version of Alexa for hotels. It’s a really interesting use case because the location helps reduce or refine the number of possible/likely requests the Alexa may get.

The idea there being that for now, voice interfaces will work best in two variations. One being when it has to understand only a few words (volume up, play song, call Mum), the other being when it can understand all words. Anything in between is difficult because you have no physical interface showing you what you can and can’t select/say (a menu).

This is explained well in this article by Benedict Evans.

Benedict also included the Amazon announcement in his newsletter which I forwarded to my partner Ed and kicked off a discussion about why hotels would or wouldn’t be good for Alexa.

Below is my final email response to Ed and his comments in green. Debating this stuff is really helpful and I appreciated Ed’s pushback on my blanket claim that “this is good” because it forced me to explain in more detail why I thought that.

IDEO on Autonomous Cars

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 4.37.03 pm

IDEO have built a nice site called where they explore ideas and concepts about the future of, among other things, driverless cars.

There are some really interesting stats on the site and some nice mock-ups of how cars may look.

One stat that caught my eye was this: “Each autonomous shared vehicle could replace 11 conventional cars”.

That is the first time I’ve seen anyone put a figure on it and that’s a pretty significant figure.

If you’re interested in the topic, the site is well worth a look.



Idea: Flight Status Update, Auto-SMS

The Problem

Last Sunday I took a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne with 3 friends. After we took off (and after I had turned my phone off), the pilot announced that due to wind conditions, the flight would be arriving 25 mins early at 12:50pm.

Normally this would be good news, however we had organised a car to pick us up at 1:45pm (allowing for a 1:15pm arrival and collecting our luggage). Because we were unable to use our phones during flight, we were unable to send a message to the person picking us up to let them know we were going to be early.

The result was that we ended up waiting at Melbourne airport for about 40mins.


The Solution?

As we landed, I thought a simple fix to this problem could be to add auto-sms update system. As you check in or book your flight, the customer is asked if there is someone picking you up at the other end who could benefit from know if the flight is early, on time or delayed.


Flight tracking apps already provide people with arrival time information, but they require the person picking you up to be proactive or have the app installed etc. An SMS (or I suppose email) is a very cheap and efficient way to keep everyone informed. Like any good relationship, communication is they key. The value to the person flying and the person picking you up is potentially very high.



Photo 24-09-2014 11 32 34 am

The Opportunity

A quick scan of the ‘Domestic airline on time performance’ stats for August 2014 (which is put out by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development in Australia), shows that:

  • 82.4% of flights departed on time
  • 83% of flights arrived on time
  • 1.8% of all flights were cancelled
  • Virgin Australia had the highest percentage of cancellations with  3.4%
  • Qantas had 1.1% cancellation rate
  • The Melbourne – Sydney route had the highest cancellation percentage 4.9%


Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 12.16.07 pm

Here are the definitions for on time departures and arrivals:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 12.19.36 pm

It seems fair to say that there are not a huge amount of flights that are arriving early or late or being cancelled, but there are certainly some and for the cost and complexity to build this, it could be worth the investment.

Why this may not get built

This idea is likely 5-10 years too late. It also could exists (does it?). A number of flights in America now offer in flight WiFI which makes this service redundant. Although in flight WiFi typically has to be purchased, which could mean this idea has some legs left in it.

Driverless Cars (1)

For most of this year I’ve been making time to learn about driverless car technology.

Humans driving cars is a problem. When we drive cars we are ‘machine operators’ and like any human who operates a machine, some are good and some are not. We get tired, we get distracted, we SMS, we get old, we get drunk.

Driving is dangerous. Driving is unproductive. Driving is wasteful.

My primary area of focus here is not the driverless technology itself, but the impact it will have on current systems and services and the in the new industries and services that will be developed as a result of it’s implementation.

Key benefits of the technology

  1. Health & Safety (lower incident rates of accidents)
  2. Productivity (more efficient travel times & ability to work or rest while in transit)
  3. Environmental (more efficient use of energy & a move to electric cars)

I’ll continue to research this topic and share links to research and development that I come across.


Below is a list of articles and videos I’ve found interesting so far and serve as a bit of an introduction to the topic:


1. (2011 TED talk) Googles Driverless Car by Sebastian Thrun


2. Google Self Driving Car Project (Official Google Blog, October 2010)


3. Google’s first prototype with no steering wheel (link)


3. Fortune Article on 3D printing human organs (link)

“A major source of organ donations? Auto collisions. Which means 3D printed organs won’t become a reality until we get self-driving cars, a surprising connection.”


4. How Google’s Driverless Cars Detect Aggressive Drivers (link)


5. Video of how the Google car navigates city streets

Product idea: SMS Based Personal Assistant

This past week I was in Brisbane promoting our upcoming design conference. I was scheduled in to give 15 presentations to design colleges / universities in 4 days.

The entire experience was made a lot easier because my amazing friend and business partner Leisha went to the effort of sending me an SMS at the beginning of each day with a list of the presentations I had that day, the address & location of the presentation and the room number and contact details of the person I had to check in with.


The Experience

While not highly technical, Leisha’s efforts made a huge difference to my week. Knowing I had all the details I needed in my phone meant I could focus on the task at hand and enjoy my down time without having to stress about where my next presentation was or how I was going to find the room.



Last month I was in SF staying by myself using Airbnb. At the time they were testing a new service named Local Companion. There service is an SMS style conversation with a person employed by Airbnb to help make your experience better.

In the screen shots below, you can see I was asked if I liked a band (based on a YouTube clip) and then offered two tickets to their gig that night.sms2 sms3


Surprisingly great

In each case, I’ve been surprised how great the experience has been. With the Airbnb example, I was travelling alone and I really appreciated some local suggestions of things to do and placed to visit. While in Brisbane last week, it was small thing to have locations and names SMS’d to me each morning, but knowing that I had the info with me meant I didn’t have to stress at all about being late or missing a presentation.


Other use cases

It’s easy to see how this kind of personal SMS based, assistant-style service would be valuable to a lot of people. Certainly organising appointments etc. is useful, but cafe or restaurant recommendations are great, but I can think of 100’s of other ways a service like this could be useful.

If the person at the other end knew I liked to cook breakfast on the weekend (which I do) I’d love to know if my local supermarket had avocados on special for example. The more the app/person knew about me, the more valuable it would become.


Could everyone experience this?

Airbnb has the resources to try this out without worrying about the cost and Leisha was doing her work on our company time, but is it possible that anyone could pay to use a service like this?

Here are some rough numbers I’ve been playing with.

I’ve estimated that 1 person might be able to handle 10 – 15 customers at one time. One of the tricky parts to this is that you can see this service being useful outside regular work hours as well as weekends so the amount of time required to service them is not clear to me.

Let’s work with the lowest and most conservative number of customers, 10 per employee.

Leisha was able to make a big different to my week by sending me a series of messages that I would think didn’t take longer than 30 – 45mins to put together. Across 10 customers though, that’s 7.5 hours or a typical work day.

If our employee is earning $60,000 per year, each customer would have to pay $6,000 a year or $500 per-month.

When I asked a couple of people about the idea today, then said they would like to pay “about the same as I pay for Spotify”. Spotify is $11.99 per month in Australia. So our new service is 41x Spotify right now.

Looking around online, some virtual assistants start around $30 a month and go to $200 and above, so it’s likely my estimates are off.



This wouldn’t be a difficult idea to prototype and test to get more information, but I don’t have the bandwidth right now to do so. I believe that people would love this kind of service but I think the challenge lies in creating a sustainable business around it.




The Positive Posters Problem

In March 2009 I pitched an idea to a small room of people. The idea was to build a website where designers could upload posters about the things that were meaningful to them. The ideas they wanted people to talk about.

We launched a crappy site built on WP that September and something like 350 from 50+ countries sent in posters. It was a competition model, so we closed the submission part of the site in November that year.

The competition continued to run annually for the last 4 years.

Over that time we made improvements to the site and our community grew. At one point was doing 10,000 unique visits a day.

Naively I never spent much time thinking about a business model for PP and as hosting charges increased and revenue (mainly from corporate event sponsors) decreased it became harder and harder to work on it.

Most of our team moved on to other positions in new companies. Unsurprisingly I started accepting paying offers to work on other people products and projects (The Loop, IDEO etc.) to help pay for my time on PP.

fast forward to today

On Sunday night I was thinking about the events of the last few days. What’s happening in Gaza and the tragedy of flight MH17. Since the brief of 2011, we’ve always let the PP community choose the topics that they create posters about. Sometimes they have been linked to events like the Japanese earth quake, or the riots in London in 2012. Other times they address issues that for the most part aren’t linked to a specific date like equality & equal rights, and global warming.


The design our community creates are simple, beautiful and often confronting. Visual styles differ from country to country, but the one thing they have in common is they all tell a story. They capture emotions, a feeling or a moment in time. They let us all stop and reflect on an idea we otherwise might have missed. And in a week like we’ve just had, I wonder what kinds of stories our community would be telling if we accepting submissions today?

Today I’m wondering why, 5 years after PP began, we don’t look at PP as more than an annual competition? I wonder why we don’t look at it as a product, a service that we put real development and design resources behind and keep it running 365 allowing people to create and submit designs when they want about the issues and ideas care about?

The value of PP isn’t the code thats behind it. The value is in the community. A passionate, talented, global community of designers.


The content is good.
If there was every any doubt about how ‘shareable’ the content is that our community creates, well you just have to look at this post by popular media site 9Gag from a few weeks back. They shared a poster that Joey Klarenbeek designed for the 2013 competition. It received close to 500,000 like on Facebook.


What happens next?
I don’t know. I know the right people to build PP into something great, the developers, designers, community managers etc. I also own a media company that could in theory help with monetisation (through advertising).

There certainly is a part of me that want’s to open the site for submissions and just see what our community comes up with, but we know where that road leads (ho$ting & re$ources).

Some people spend years trying to find product market fit and then build something great. For what ever reason, PP resonated with a lot of people and its weeks like this that I miss working on it and engaging with our community.

The path forward isn’t clear for PP right now, but its getting harder to make a compelling argument to shut it down.


Video Stores & Multi-level Car Parks

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 10.34.51 am

At the bottom of my street is an independently run convenience store. It sells various fruits, vegetables, home wares and liquor.

5 or so years ago it used to be a DVD rental store and before that a VHS rental store.

We’ve watched the space in the store dedicated to video rentals go from 100% to 90% to 80% and so on, as the owners added snacks, then drinks, then more food, adapting their business to the growing needs of their customers and the market.

It occurred to me that the changes experiences by the our local video store might similarly happen to multi-level car parks over the next 10-20 years with the introduction of driverless cars.

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 10.38.03 am

If we assume that driverless cars will become a part of daily life for most people in major cities in developed countries, we can see there will be a need for them to have a place to refuel and store them selves. It seems like a logical solution to this in dense cities would be to use existing multi-level car parks.

As VHS was replaced by DVD’s and DVD’s were replaced by digital video streaming, so might a single floor of a car park that is available to the general public today, in the future these may be replaced by driverless car spots.

The car parks might continue to be owned by private companies like Wilson (Australia), leasing individual spots or levels to either energy companies like BP or Mobil who will supply the fuel to the car manufactures, or to the car manufactures themselves who will refuel elsewhere.

Photo 24-05-2014 10 53 57 am


Designing the infrastructure to support driverless cars will be a very interesting project combining many key stakeholders from the private sector and government. Energy companies, insurance companies, storage companies, car manufactures, maintenance suppliers, roads and infrastructure. It’s game on.

Could be a good project for IDEO.


Post 35: Build Video


Post 33: The Oxygen of Good Design

Last night I was reminded of just how important customer research is when you’re developing a new product.

At a small design industry event in town I showed a bunch of people our product and asked questions about how they use other products like LinkedIn and Behance.

Photo 14-05-2014 9 42 07 am


As a two person team, we have assumptions about pain points people have and we think we can solve them. But nothing is more energising to a team than hearing your assumptions come out of the mouths of your customers.

One person gave us the feedback above when I asked her how she used LinkedIn.

While this kind of feedback doesn’t point to a specific solution, it does prove that there is at least some kind of pain point here and in the early days of product development, its this kind of qualitative feedback than helps point you in the right direction.


Photo 14-05-2014 10 40 21 am

Speaking to at least 5 customers each week is a goal I’ve tried to hit over the past 3 months. People love talking about things that piss them off about products & services, and if you listen carefully you can learn about where you should be focusing your time and energy.

Listening to Seb tell me about how he found it difficult to add that he’d written a couple of articles to his LinkedIn profile gave us the idea add a feature that lets people include things like articles, presentations etc. on their profiles.

“But talking to customers takes up valuable design time!”
Getting up from your desk to have a coffee with someone on the other side of town, or driving out to a bar after work is a pain. It takes at least 90mins each time and it’s easy to say “I could be using that time designing”. Yes you could, but you could also be designing something that no-one wants. This is the counterintuitive nature of customer research. I’ve never spoken to a customer about a design problem and walked away with nothing. In 100% of cases I’ve learned something I didn’t know before, or found an important problem with my design. In the end, taking the time to talk to real customers ends up saving you a lot of time.


Team Moral & Motivation
I’ve worked in teams where they feel like the thing they’re working on isn’t actually something the customer wants. And in my experience, few things kill company moral quicker. Putting a team to work on a real customer problem is energising and focusing. A great way to discover real customer problems is to talk to real customers. Sounds simple, but few people do it or do it enough.

The guys at Google Ventures echoed something similar in a recent article on their blog where they dive into more detail than I have here and explore some of the common excuses people give for avoiding customer research.

Maybe its the way we are educated, or maybe its just uncomfortable, but most designers I know would rather sit behind their 27′ iMac clicking and sketching away than get up from behind their desk and go and speak to the people they are trying to solve a problem for.

More than anything else, I’ve found that real customer feedback is the oxygen that fuels good design solutions.