The Co.Labs and Target Retail Accelerator challenged entrants to design and build an app that would extend the Target customer experience into new areas, leveraging mobile software—native or web-based—to produce new and pro-social effects in their community, family, school, or social network.
What was your role in working on Divvy?
I was the creative director on the project and also worked on the user experience. So I did the wireframe and designed the user flow. I was actually the first one to learn about the Fast Company Accelerator and so I put our team together. All of the guys I work with are really great thinkers.
What's your work background?
I grew up in England and trained there as a graphic designer. Then I kind of backpacked around the world for a year and a half and ended up in the States. I've been here about 20 years now, shockingly. The first 10 years of my career were as a creative director in print. My whole career has always been around building things that are usable. Even as a print designer, I was always trying to design things that had a life after the message they live in. So it was always about trying to keep it on somebody's desk as long as possible. That sort of naturally translated into interaction design and making things with utility that improve people's lives.
How did the team come up with the idea for Divvy?
We went through two or three rounds of ideation. For the first round of ideas we had somewhere between 10 and 15 rough concepts. We go through a rapid ideation process where we bang out as many ideas as we can. Then we come back and try to kill them—show why they won't work. We basically killed all of them in the first round. Then we sat with that for a couple of days and did another ideation phase and we killed all those too. Of course this is all going on after hours, over pizza and beer. After the second round we were getting a little bit like “I don't know if we can do this kind of project.” We're all pretty hard on ourselves.
As we went through the process more and more we decided that really what we needed to do was come up with something that was not too far away from what people are already doing. We know that a lot of people often share shopping lists. And a lot of the time at restaurants people need to split the bill. But there's no way of really doing that with shopping lists. So we naturally landed on the idea of a kind of multi-play world where people will share things, do things together, and build collaboration.
What are some of ideas from these brainstorming sessions that you scrapped?
The first one was an app called Flirtation. Basically, it was an idea where you could send somebody gifts from Target anonymously. Ah, it was one of the ones that was pretty out there. We thought about that for a while, and then we just realized that it was such a fringe case that it wouldn't really get much used. It would only maybe get used around Valentine's Day or something like that.
In general we definitely want to lean into users' existing behaviors. We don't want to try and invent something new. That's what we thought the Flirtation idea was. It was like a whole new type of experience and that's difficult to get people to understand.
What were some of the decisions and challenges you faced designing Divvy's user flow?
We looked at the current Target app first and tried to make our experience a bit more visceral and tactile, more like CoverFlow. We weren't exactly sure what the Target API could do, so we made educated guesses and built based off of that.
Do you have any advice for people out there who are developing their own app prototypes?
Part of a good prototype is that it's just a focused version of your app. So it tells the narrative of the experience rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of every single feature. With Divvy we tried to keep a clean enough narrative that people could get into the experience, understand the benefit of splitting the bill between people, and then also get an itemized receipt.
Our belief is that if a feature isn't helping the user experience or it's breaking up a smooth flow, then we should just lose that feature. A good target is to be able to talk about the user experience in just one or two sentences. If there's too many features or hurdles to jump through, then it's too heavy for a prototype.
Tell us about some of your other side projects.
Well, I've built a couple of apps before. One of them was a quitting smoking app. I'm a big believer that digital can help people with behavior change. I went to a seminar with B.J. Fogg around nine months ago. It was a long weekend summit where we taught about the psychology behind human behavior change. So I've been studying that kind of thing on the side and I came up with the idea for an app to help people quit smoking. I think digital can really help people with health issues.
[Image: Flickr user Jeff Turner]